I stick to only one thing at a time in order to prevent scattering my attention.
Dimitar Karaivanov, CEO and Co-founder of Kanbanize is a Lean evangelist and Kanban practitioner with a strong background in the areas of software development and process improvement. With a career that started at a technical support center and went through system administration, quality assurance, performance engineering, software development, DevOps, management and process improvement, Dimitar understands what pains people at all levels in an organization have and embeds this know-how into Kanbanize, to make it the Kanban software for entire organizations.
Today, Kanbanize is an 8-digit growing company that provides both small businesses and Fortune 500 enterprises with the most advanced Kanban board software for workflow management and helps teams achieve higher levels of efficiency.
He is passionate about achieving optimal performance and efficiency at scale and applying Lean + Kanban outside of IT-related fields, pioneering this approach in fields such as Sales and Marketing. Through the success of this business, he has proven that the combination of Lean values and Kanban approach can be effective for every department of a company and not only software development activities.
Where did the idea for Kanbanize come from?
Back then, I was managing an RnD department in a large German software company. After a chain of “lucky coincidences”, I found myself in the midst of a Lean transformation. In a year, our department became so successful and effective that we were releasing high-quality releases for 20+ products all on time and with unprecedented attention to performance testing and quality assurance. Seeing the incredible effects and success of this transformation from a first person perspective was simply fascinating. However, there was one issue left that our Lean Thinkers team was still trying to tackle – Feature Management. There had to be a way to easily track the progress of work on features across 20+ products in 5 different groups. I realized we needed a Kanban system that would let us monitor, manage and limit work in progress, create transparency that would reduce the need for status reporting (and help product managers), and make it easy for teams to collaborate on projects.
This is how the idea for the tool was born, practically out of necessity for a better project and knowledge management solution. Together with my long-time friend, we developed a prototype. Eventually, seeing the potential of this product, we decided to quit our jobs and dedicate ourselves to the vision of Kanbanizing the world. This was, and still is, the best professional decision I have ever made in my life.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Every work day for me starts and ends with a Kanban board. I go through notifications, check the progress of task cards, leave comments and block cards related to various ongoing initiatives. This simple, visual way of processing my tasks gives me a bird’s-eye view on the state of things and the progress of different projects. I join morning stand-up meetings of the different departments to get a better idea of the status of the existing initiatives.
The rest of the day would be a mix of the following five main types of work in different proportions depending on the circumstances: communication with clients, replenishment of the team’s work queues, monitoring KPIs, syncing marketing and sales with engineering, and guiding the processes so that we can reach optimal efficiency in every team.
In the middle of all of this, the only way to get anything done is breaking down larger work items into smaller batches and maintain a very sharp focus. I stick to one task at a time, avoiding unnecessary motion, meetings and context switching.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I am very disciplined about what I start and finish. If I believe in an idea, I commit to making it real, it becomes an objective instead of a vague concept in the back of my head. My ideas become tasks on my Kanban board and, if I put efforts in something, I make sure that I see it through. Otherwise, all of the time and work invested in the idea becomes a total waste. And I’m not a fan of waste, to put it lightly. Working waste-free is one of the main goals of Kanban, after all!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
It’s exciting to see how Lean and Agile values are becoming more industry-agnostic. Professionals across industries start talking about adopting these values in all sorts of departments and teams, not just software development and IT-related fields. I believe this should be the new way of organizing all of our work in the digital age. Having access to more resources and tools than ever, startups and large corporations alike should focus on being efficient and delivering true value to their target market with every initiative. That’s what we’re fighting for at Kanbanize and I am excited to see that our community is gaining traction.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Doing one thing at a time. I am quite serious about this, be it work-related tasks or reading professional literature, I stick to only one thing at a time in order to prevent scattering my attention.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be braver and don’t be too hard on yourself. In life, it is more important to be healthy than to always be right. Don’t become a victim of shame and self-pity for too long because you will end up harming yourself and that never turns out well. Situations like these often remind me of the Henry Ford quote: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing”. Therefore, be strong and courageous, things always work out in the end, don’t delay your success with hesitations.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
I believe that the overall health of the workforce in a company can be measured with just three KPIs. Efficiency, Cycle Time and Throughput. When any one of them is not doing well, you have a problem to solve.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Read. Work Hard. Never give up. Keep learning, learn from every attempt, every mistake or success – draw conclusions and constantly improve. Stay focused and true to your goals, give it your best. Keep trying, it takes 121 attempts to catch your luck.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Fanatic attention to the customer and relentless execution. This has always been our top priority and understanding of a strategy. We are strategically interested in pleasing our customers. In the past three years, we have not missed a single deadline and this makes us a reliable partner for all of the thousands of business that we work with. Putting customer-centered thinking as a top priority in each and every team in the company leaves people happy with the product, making them recommend it to others and, of course, renew their subscriptions.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Making a promise I couldn’t keep. Back in the first days of Kanbanize, we promised our product would stay free and unlimited forever. However, the time came when keeping the promise would mean slowly killing the business, while breaking it would mean… well, breaking a promise you have publicly made to you customers. This promise was on our website and it very likely was one of the main reasons why many people used our product. Now, we had to get up in front of everyone and say that we take it back. As CEO of the company, I had the honors to do it. There was no way to go around. I was very disappointed with myself and considered it a personal failure. Eventually, it turned out that this course of action was undoubtedly correct. The fact that we had broken our promise actually allowed us to create and deliver more value to our customers faster.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A monthly subscription recruitment agency. The idea is that when you hire a person through this agency, you’d pay a small monthly fee, instead of one monstrous check at the beginning, when you know nothing about the actual potential of this person.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Literature. I believe in continuous improvement and that means learning from those who are ahead of you.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Obviously, it is the one we develop – the digital kanban board software Kanbanize. I use it for everything from managing my emails to organizing my tasks and automating low-level duties with runtime policies. This helps me to keep track of literally dozens of tasks I need to be monitoring
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth.
This book talks about the mechanics of personal and professional success, based on science. Why is that some people seem to be predestined to achieve outstanding success in everything they do in their life? No, they aren’t born with a genius gene of some sort. They just developed grit – the right blend of passion and long-term perseverance.
What is your favorite quote?
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” — Henry Ford
- Read. Work Hard. Never give up. Keep learning, learn from every attempt, every mistake or success – draw conclusions and constantly improve. Stay focused and true to your goals, give it your best. Keep trying, it takes 121 attempts to catch your luck.
- I stick to only one thing at a time in order to prevent scattering my attention.
Dimitar Karaivan on Twitter: @DimitarKaraivan
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