Why your kanban board needs a “done” list

Jack Wallen explains what a done list is and why your kanban boards should include one.

kanban done list board
Image: realstockvector/Adobe Stock

Kanban boards make your project management life easier. With an at-a-glance approach, it takes seconds to see where every task associated with a project stands in the workflow. As a task graduates from step to step, all you have to do is drag its associated card from column to column until it’s finished. It really doesn’t get simpler than that.

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Even though most kanban boards aren’t created equal, they all offer the ability to customize your boards to perfectly match your project’s needs. If not, you should be looking for a different solution. Thanks to the ability to transform your boards as needed, it means you can add whatever columns or lists you need. There is, however, one list that many people forget about — the “done” list.

What are they done lists?

This column actually serves a very important purpose by giving all completed tasks a home. This home serves as a location where anyone involved in the project can see the work that has been completed, which can serve as a good motivational tool to either spur people on to work or remind them that their work is paying off.

But it’s much more than that. With a done list, anyone can go back to a task and see exactly what was done and who did what. Should you need to repeat that task, or use it as a foundation for another task, it’s right there for the taking. Think of it as a repository for everything your team has completed that can be repurposed or simply serve as an archive of data, and we all know how important data is to businesses.

The done list is the opposite of the to-do list. Think about how you feel when you see a lengthy to-do list. When it gets long enough, panic can set it. Will you get the project finished in time or will it be late? Is the to-do list so overwhelming you’re not certain if the project will ever come to fruition?

Compare that to a lengthy done list. All those completed cards mean a task is finished and the project is much closer to completion. If your done list is longer than your to-do list, it means the project is moving forward, rather than backward or not at all. That’s some peace of mind we could all use.

What’s wrong with a typical done list?

The biggest problem with done lists is that they can become overwhelming. It might sound strange, but when a done list gets very long, you might have problems finding the cards you might need to refer to.

That is why I tend to use card separators — or, if a kanban board doesn’t support separators, special cards with a background color — to break those long lists up. You can break them into weeks, months or tasks. Just make sure once you’ve separated the cards that you keep them organized. That might sound like a painfully arduous task, but it’s one that will pay off. By keeping your done list organized, the data is more accessible and easier to use.

Another idea you might consider to dramatically improve your done lists is to use automation. If your kanban board features automation, you can employ it to do things like automatically color a task when it is moved to the done list, send a notification to you, or add the date of completion. There’s no limit to what you can do with automation in your kanban board, so you might as well take advantage of the feature.

Instead of thinking of the done list as nothing more than a cast-off pile of completed tasks, think of the done list as an organic and effective piece of the kanban puzzle that can give you even more insight into how a project is moving along.

When you start viewing this list as a crucial part of your workflow, your kanban boards will become more effective and you’ll find you are better capable of keeping that project on target for its delivery date. Even if it only offers you a small win, there may be moments when those small wins are the things keeping you and your team afloat. As long as you can see that done list continue to grow, the confidence you’ll have in your team will grow significantly.

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