A couple months ago in the article Kanban as Multiban? I questioned the applicability of simple Kanban boards for managing complex software development projects, and suggested the concept of Multiban. This short word inherits the practice of visual project management with boards taking the baton from Kanban, and looks like a good coin term for this innovative concept to me. "Ban" stands for "board" in Japanese, Kanban is a "signboard", and Multiban is a Japanese-English mix which means "many boards". In this article I will tell more about the use of "many boards" for visual project management, showing how Multiban differs from Kanban, and when it's better to use Multiban instead of Kanban. Shortly, a Kanban will work well for a small company with only so much of work items, and with a straightforward development process. For a larger organization with many teams and many projects, a traditional Kanban board will not be enough. If you want to get the best of all the project Big Data in your organization, it's time to consider Multiban. It doesn't matter if your development process is Kanban, or Scrum, or any other lean or agile or whichever process. The Multiban covers everything.
There are 2 basic entities that Kanban and Multiban have in common: a card and a board. Let's look in to the differences.
How a card in Kanban is different from a card in Multiban?
A Kanban card can be pinned only to one board. No matter if the Kanban board is a physical or an electronic one, the card is tied to it and can't live anywhere else. Besides, a Kanban card usually signifies work items only. Now take a look at the list of Multiban cards:
Pretty impressive, huh? Apart from being impressive this diversity of cards powers the very ability to visualize project work in many different ways. Here's another crucial point of difference: one and the same Multiban card can live on many boards. If cards are available only for work items, as in Kanban, one can visualize how work streams through development states, pretty much as in material production. Software development, however, dictates the need to take many ad hoc factors into account. Big IT projects in a large enterprise company can be anything, but straightforward, unlike a car assembly line. If someone wants to control this complexity, without too much extra effort and time, a set of various cards visualized on many boards looks like a must-have gear .
How a board in Kanban is different from a board in Multiban?
With Kanban, a board is just one board to which the cards are pinned. With Multiban, a board is a slate of switchable data axes (or lanes), with custom intersections. This slate can also be converted to a list view, or a timeline view, or a card details view. Actually, it's for that reason that one and the same Multiban card lives on many boards. With switchable lanes, it can appear in various contexts. A Multiban tool has the switcher of those axes and perspectives (see the full list of available combinations) that allows to set up any board as a custom 2D data grid in no time:
Next, given that we deal with one digital screen, the single option of using board as a pinboard will not be enough. If all you have is a visualization with a board and cards only, this will pose a limit on the versatility of visualizations. What if you need to see work items and other entities as a list? Or as a timeline? Or what if you want to zoom in on just one entity? With Multiban, the electronic slate can be tweaked. It's now rather not a board, but a flat white space that turns into a list, or a timeline, or a board with cards. Check the purple arrows on that screen. They highlight the 3 basic switchers that are used to set up any board.
This image gives an excellent summary of the Multiban approach:
The "see data" stage is where you configure a custom visualization of any data entered to your project management tool that supports Multiban. You will want to ask yourself: "How do I need to see this?" instead of "What will this board allow me to see?" All those many boards are available, waiting to be picked by you.
Too many cards, too many boards... Do I need this?
It might seem that it's so easy to get lost in this versatility of cards and boards. Sometimes, freedom of choice is more intimidating than no choice at all. It does take some time to get used to the switchability of everything in Multiban. Too many cards can be sorted, filtered, paginated, zoomed in or out. Too many boards can be stored in folders, as in a file management system. It might seem an overkill to use Multiban if you're happy with a simple Kanban board for one project, with < 100 cards, and with a straightforward development process. But, for example, a fixed Kanban board will not be able to showcase a portfolio of projects like that:
If you want to learn more on when and how it's best to work with Multiban, check out these use cases... or look into the peephole in the fence on the right.