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I'm using personal kanban and currently have 2 separate boards - one for job hunting and school, one for household chores. Each is has color coded task types in addition. I don't switch between boards very often during the day - generally only when burn out on job hunting approaches.

However, in the fall I will be back to taking online courses that will be pretty intense. I'm thinking of setting up a separate board for each course, still with the self imposed rule of not switching between boards.

Is it wise to have separate kanban boards? Should I more strictly limit the number of WIP (1 or 2 instead of 3) per board or impose a limit across all boards? Or should I try to mix this all into one board? (these boards are online, not physical)

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Add: The tool I'm using is KanbanFlow. Unfortunately, it does not have swim lanes. That would be an ideal solution. I like everything else about it so far. On my main board I have 5 sections - Backlog, Repeating, Ready, In Progress, Done. – Karen May 27 '13 at 15:54
JB, Thank you. Talk about getting an answer from an expert! Sadly I can't give you props yet. Please accept some virtual cupcakes instead. – Karen May 27 '13 at 16:09
Isn't this a question for – Jan Doggen Jun 17 '13 at 15:28
up vote 6 down vote accepted

It sounds to me like the online courses are a single project with multiple workflows. I would recommend keeping all the classes on one kanban so that you can see their flow and balance competing demands.

I would also recommend that you start out simple (Ready, Doing, Done) but look for every opportunity to detail out that workflow.

What online tool are you using? Will it let you have multiple swim lanes on one board? If so, I would suggest you try one board with three swim lanes (general work, job search, school). That way you will be able to streamline work when you have time to work, as opposed to treating yourself like three different production centers.

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If your activities (projects) are strictly separated by time/place, then it seems a good idea to separate the boards. E.g. if you never work from home, your business tasks can be separate from your householding issues, because it doesn't make sense arrange a meeting at home or fix your kitchen sink while being in the office. They don't compete for your time.

However, if you have 3 online courses that you are taking from home and you need to repare a sink at the same time, how do you decide what you'll do next and how do you avoid being in progress of 1000 of things?

  1. Either you put them all on a single board
  2. Or you have multiple boards plus a meta-board, where you assign priorities and time limits to all of your activities

Using the first approach you can end up with a huge board, which is hard to comprehand. You can use colors to emulate swim lanes (this means abandoning you current color usage logic). Still you definitely can have multiple backlogs and assign cross-project priorities when you pick the next task for the Ready cloumn.

Using the second approach you can end up with 7 boards with a WIP limit of 1 each, which isn't really helpful, and additional priority management complicates things a lot. And I think that trying to keep some cumulative WIP limit in you head will fail, because it's not as intuitive as a written number on top of the column. But maybe you'll get an insight and make it work;)

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I think that you could have three separate boards for your online courses, however if I were you I would create a one board with swim lanes. I don't know what kind of tool you are using but I guess it has a "collapse" feature that makes the board more transparent. As I know SwiftKanban, KanbanTool and other popular online application provide this possibility.

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I'd definitely vote for a single board here. That will improve overall visibility what's going on and where you are with all of your tasks. It will also reduce additional overhead of switching between these boards.

Assuming you're using KanbanFlow (as you stated in a comment), you may categorize your stuff by following ways:

  1. A separate color for tasks. You may then enable permanent 'Color legend' view on the bottom of the screen.
  2. Labels. I wouldn't really recommend to split your main groups by labels since it doesn't improve the visibility of the board.
  3. Swimlanes. One swimlane per category (this option is available in a Premium option only).

If you're using free version of KanbanFlow, I'd vote for a first option, as it would give an immediate visual feedback on your workflow state.

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