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Kanban with Outlook

Kanban, esp. Personal Kanban is very popular. Last year we published a short description how to build a Kanban system in Microsoft Outlook. In general we post our ideas here in German language. One of our readers suggested to translate the original German post into English language (credits to M. B.). So, here it is. I appreciate any comments (and corrections of my spelling). (Von diesem Beitrag gibt es eine deutsche Version.)

Kanban is an easy system for managing tasks in a team. The instructions are easy:
  • Visualize your work. Start with a table that has three columns: backlog, work in progress, done
  • Put all your work into the backlog column.
  • Limit the number of tasks in the "work in progress" column. This is the WIP limit.
  • You can start new tasks only if other tasks have been finished (pull system)
That's all. If you like to dig deeper, read Jim Benson's book and blog (/1, 2/). There are a lot of Kanban tools out there. I really like trello. But some users asked, if there is a Kanban version for Microsoft Outlook.

I like Kanban, too. But a I have problems with additional tools:
  • I have a least 2 work places. My Kanban board has to travel with me.
  • I manage my tasks with Microsoft Outlook®. What I really like is Outlook's function to drag an e-mail into the task folder for making a task of it. I'm having about 50 - 100 tasks in my task list. I don't like to transfer tasks from one list to another.
  • Switching of tools interrupts my flow of work. I don't want to have so many tools.
I've figured out how to build a Kanban board with Outlook today" and three task folders. Inspiring was a blog article by ShamansTears. Unfortunately the post has been deleted. This is how my "Outlook Today" looks like (Fig. 1). It is very easy to drag one task with the mouse from one column to another.
Fig. 1: Outlook Today as Kanban board
The trick was creating a simple HTML table and adding an Outlook view control to each cell. You will find more information about Outlook view controls at the following places:
The content of the HTML table cell looks like this code:

        <OBJECT classid=CLSID:0006F063-0000-0000-C000-000000000046
                width="100%" height="430">
            <param name="Namespace" value="MAPI">
            <param name="Folder" value="WIP">
            <param name="DeferUpdate" value="0">

Instead of "WIP" use the names of your folders. The HTML table is stored somewhere on your computer. Use that file as home page for a special folder in Outlook. Jim Boyce offers a short description how to add a custom Outlook Today view.

This is my point: A good idea like Kanban needs a technical solution (e. g. w/ Outlook) in order to use it effectively and very quickly in your daily business. Next time, when you wonder why a good idea is stuck, ask yourself if you have the right tools.

Teams who work with Kanban report real improvements (/2, 4/). Every team has to visualize its work; at best with a real board in your office. That motivates the team. If your team is scattered over different places, start with a simple solution based on public folders in Outlook.




  1. Hallo,
    ich habe es mit verschiedenen Aufgabenordner probiert (Aufgabenordner1, Aufgabenordner2, Aufgabenordner2), allerdings wird dann nichts angezeigt. Wenn ich auf den Default-Ordner (... value="Aufgaben">) zugreife, dann funktioniert alles.

    Wie greift Ihr auf die einzelnen Aufgabenordner zu?

    1. Hallo Anonym, bitte schicke mir eine E-Mail (siehe wer bloggt hier). Dann schicke ich Dir die HTML-Datei. LG, Jan

  2. The Jim Boyce site is down and I can't quite figure this out. We have an html table stored as the home page for a special folder but I'm not sure how to add the custom outlook today view without the Jim Boyce link. Please help and thanks!

    1. Hi docTorb, pls. send me an email to jan.fischbach ((a t)) y ahoo. com and attach your HTML file. Bye, Jan

  3. Another great Kanban knowledge source is Kanban Library - http://kanbantool.com/kanban-library/introduction. It is an online collection of blog post, articles and presentation, organized by topics. Except Personal Kanban related materials, you will find here information on how to start with Kanban method, how to design Kanban board, how to read Kanban analytics and metrics, what is the difference between scrum and kanban, what is scrumban. Moreover, case studies and book reviews.

  4. Good Morning Jan, I notice that you have a pomodoro timer in your kanban view, I think that is very helpfull for the process, and I would like to use in my Outlook. Could you please bring me some steps to implement this in my kanban view? thanks in advance for your help.

    Camilo Garzon


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