by Jonathan Garro
Published on 26 November 2013
LeanKit Review - Team collaboration made easy
Businesses have an abundance of moving parts that can be difficult to keep track of, and managing disparate teams working on several projects at once can be a logistical nightmare. Fortunately, there are several solutions available to help organize your teams in order to help them work more efficiently and communicate more fluidly. LeanKit aims to help you visualize what team members are working on, delegate tasks, and arrange projects more effectively. In this LeanKit review, I will examine the way that the app approaches team collaboration and consider how it can be used to solve your organization's needs.
LeanKit eschews simple to-do lists that many team collaboration solutions utilize. Instead, the platform borrows from Lean and Kanban principles to resemble a board upon which "cards" represent tasks to complete. The structure of the board is highly customizable, and you can choose how to use LeanKit based on your own needs. To get started, you can begin with a blank board or choose from one of the many templates that the LeanKit team has made available. These templates include options like Software Development, Sales, and Education. For the purposes of this review, I will cover my experience starting with a blank template.
Regardless of the template you choose, the basic structure emulates the Kanban method and revolves around lanes and rows. I decided to use LeanKit as a software development team's task organizer and collaboration tool. The blank template provides you with three lanes titled to-do, Doing, and Done, though you can change the names. Cards are the actual items that populate these lanes and rows, and can be used as to-do items, deliverables, improvements, issues, and projects. Cards progress through lanes, and can shift spheres of responsibility along the way for your team members.
You can use LeanKit as a productivity tool just for yourself, but you will likely want to use it as a way to collaborate with teammates. Adding team members to your board is simple: Just send an invitation to them, and after creating a LeanKit account, they will be able to interact with the board.
Across the top of the window are the controls you need to customize the board's structure, track changes, access analysis tools, configure filters, and more. Let's take a look at how all of those work.
I decided to add another lane called ideas, for things I might eventually move into the to-do column, but for now, am not sure about. Using the "Edit the Board Structure" button, all of the existing elements, such as the name and location of the lanes and rows, become editable. Using the "Add Lane" button, I placed a new lane and name it "Ideas." To give myself some space, I increased the width of that lane.
Rows can be used to divide a lane into subcategories. For the purposes of the fake software development company I am creating, I want to divide the "Doing" lane into two rows, one for iPhone apps and the other for Android apps. Now, we can add a card for the iPhone app called "Design Buttons." Using the "Add Card" button, a popup launches asking for information for the card. Here you will name and describe the card. You can customize the size and color of the card, and use rich text formatting with the included font controls. Priority can be established and a due date included using the drop-down calendar. Advanced settings allow you to include links, tags, and designate the lane you want the card to go. Finally, you can assign cards to any of the users you have connected to the board.
Now that we have created that task to create buttons, we want to place it under the appropriate row in our to-do lane. The interface allows a simple drag and drop motion and the card stays where you want it. When that task is complete, rather than clicking a checkbox or having it crossed off, you simply move it to the "Done" lane. Clicking on cards brings up a menu that gives you a bunch of options. Assigning the card to a teammate makes him or her responsible for that task. Subscribing to the card alerts you whenever the card is altered, which can be a useful tool for project managers. Bringing up the card details give you access to the same panel that you saw when creating the card in the first place, with the addition of tabs to view comments, track changes, and post or view attachments (for which there are no restrictions on file format).
LeanKit's analysis tools make it an excellent way to not only track how your team is working, but effectively delegate tasks and to find areas for improving efficiency. You will be given access to several different ways to analyze the board activity.
Cumulative Flow is a left-to-right graph that shows the relative amount of work per team member over time. Scroll over a specific time period and larger areas for a team member (designated by a color on the chart) means that he or she was relatively busier than other team members. Cycle time helps you visualize the amount of time cards take to go from creation to completion. Card distribution provides data in pie chart form, and a variety of inputs can be used. The efficiency view shows the distribution of statuses for the cards on your board, so you can determine whether too many cards are waiting in the queue, or perhaps too many are presently being worked on.
In addition to these analysis tools, the board page allows you to create filters that help you hone in on what you need by only showing the cards, tags, or any other parameter you choose.
Three pricing tiers are available for LeanKit. The free Basic plan allows you to create three boards and invite ten people to collaborate with you. The $15 Team package allows unlimited users and boards, and offers basic metrics and taskboards. Finally, the $19 Portfolio package expands on the team offering by adding a portfolio dashboard, role-based security, advanced metrics and taskboard. The paid-versions of the service are billed per user.
LeanKit mimics several other board-based collaboration tools, most notably Trello, but does offer its own interesting features that set it apart. The interface is not particularly appealing from a visual standpoint, but its functionality makes up for that shortcoming. Simply being able split lanes and rows up as you need makes LeanKit wildly customizable. The card system offers a great degree of flexibility, allowing you to go beyond simply using them for tasks. The analytics section helps you move beyond collaboration and start retooling organizational flow on important projects.
Aesthetic problems aside, LeanKit is extremely expandable and could be utilized in just about any industry, and with the free option, it's definitely worth taking for a spin.
Don't believe me? Give LeanKit's Kanban application a go for yourself!