When starting a team new to using kanban boards (in this case a physical board) how do you assign tasks to them and get them in the habit of checking the board for new responsibilities?

Team Background

Edit: The team is a few experienced engineers/techs and a handful inexperienced techs.

Tasks come sporadically but have a typical flow. For example, one engineer may be assigned to research a COTS product, then the manager would take care of making sure it finally gets purchased and delivered. We'd plan on having a few main lanes, something like "propose", "research", "approve/reject", "done".

My Idea

  • Start a sticky note and assign a users name to it
  • for the first few weeks email the person responsible and mention 'check the board for status!'
  • Have a temporary lane labeled 'emailed responsible user' to denote the task has been assigned via email. this would get deleted as people got used to the board

My concerns with this idea

  • People may become reliant on the email and forget the board

  • Deleting a 'temporary lane' disrupts the momentum gained over those weeks

  • The original assumption "people won't jump on the board idea" could be wrong and everyone is looking at the board

  • Assume people will look at the board and use a less formal verbal discussion "hey Bob did you research that one issue with the PC? I threw it up on the board 2 days ago and sent you an email with the details"

Ideas from Other SO Questions

this question and this question address how to visually show who's responsible but not how to tell that person they are responsible for the task (again assuming people won't be in the habit of browsing the board)

For each team-member, use a magnet with it's name on it and put the magnet on the sticky (the task).


A yellow note represents a project and an avatar shows who or which team is working on that project

  • 3
    If your team is so big that no one knows who's working on a WIP task, your team is too large to be agile. Consider splitting into smaller teams.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Nov 30, 2016 at 2:09
  • the board is for 'backburner' items that used to get lost in digital media like email, sharepoints, etc. We think the board will help our 'bigger issue' so I left those details out to focus on this simpler implementation question.
    – Bageletas
    Nov 30, 2016 at 13:43

2 Answers 2


I think you might be able to solve the issue with simple but very effective processes such as a Daily Kanban Meeting (where each team member might discuss specific problems that impede their progress on tasks they are currently working on and what they might take up next after finishing their current work) and perhaps a Weekly Replenishment (or simply, a planning) Meeting where your team - and your internal or external customers/ stakeholders - can discuss and prioritize what set of work items need to be worked on next by the team overall.

Kanban boards are not only to visualize work (and assignments) but also for collaboration and discussions that you would never have if you just used non-visual tools such as the ones you mentioned.

Once you start to do this, you might also establish some explicit policies (which is something Kanban emphasizes) such as how people on your team pull the next work item (or get assigned to one), how many work items can they work on simultaneously (WIP Limits), etc.

All of these should help you address the problem you have described.

  • I'd add to this that you might want to have your daily stand-up actually in front of the board, so that you can review the tasks in real-time as you talk. As for reminders and discussion at other times, a real-time chat tool like Slack is far superior to email, as well as allowing other interested parties to comment on and discuss the issue.
    – flith
    Dec 9, 2016 at 14:52

Have you considered avoiding the problem entirely by having the team self-assign tasks? Teams should know their own capabilities far better than any manager could. Top-down assignment of tasks is very command-and-control style, whilst self-assignment is better application of Theory Y.

If Alice assigns herself a task, and then forgets that she has to do it, then you've got an entirely different problem.

  • The team is a mix of experienced engineers and techs with a lot of inexperienced techs. I think the hybrid approached mentioned in some of the articles would be worthwhile.
    – Bageletas
    Nov 30, 2016 at 1:32
  • 1
    I gave a +1 because your answer hits on the important point that for Kanban to be truly effective, it must be a pull system, not a push system.
    – Daniel
    Nov 30, 2016 at 21:07

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