Business Center

Spotlight on Innovation: Laura James

By Tiffani Madle, Process Improvement Intern

August 23, 2018

Laura James

Laura James

Laura James works as an intern for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) in the Office of Process Improvement. She takes pride in finding ways to create a more organized and efficient work environment for herself and for others. In a recent interview with Laura, she talks about her inspiration for implementing the Kanban boarda visual management tool that organizes a limited number of daily tasks into “to-do, doing, and done” columns, using sticky notes and tape or a paper template.

Interview with Laura James

What inspired you to pursue this innovation?

“I came up with the idea to use the Kanban board as a response to managing conflicting priorities. At one time we had four interns offboard in about two or three weeks and all of their assignments were handed off to the rest of the interns. Tracking all of my projects on the Trello system became overwhelming and wasn’t working for me. A while back, we went to the Denver Office of Human Resources for a Lean Summit and I noticed that they used a system where each team tracks services that are being provided by moving sticky notes around on whiteboards. In addition, I did some research on visual management and found that it was mostly used for teams and so I scaled it down from a team aspect to an individual level.”  

“I created the ‘to-do, doing, and done’ columns and prioritized the work tasks to include the most-urgent at the top and the not-so-urgent but-still important towards the bottom. Laura was inspired by a TED Talk that covered human productivity and limitations. ”You can only do so many things within a day before you start to feel overwhelmed, which made me think about the size of the columns for each category. For example, I adjusted the size of the ‘doing’ column to fit about three sticky notes since each task alone can take several hours to complete. While the Trello board is great for larger team projects, the Kanban board works better in helping me to manage myself. I like reducing inefficiencies and enjoy knowing I can get more done in the same amount of time.”

Why do you feel that innovation is important at CDOT?

“I like the Lean Everyday Ideas program because it focuses on respect for people and it encourages people to innovate. It’s essentially saying that ‘we respect that you’re an expert in this and you have something valuable to say and we want those ideas because they’re good ideas.’ This program seems to work well because it’s for all employees within the organization.”

At CDOT, Laura has “seen a lot of innovations...where it’s just a standardized new process to make something more streamlined” which improves the team’s efficiency. Laura says that improvement “makes us more engaged as employees when we recognize the value of our own contributions.”

Do you have any encouraging words for other CDOT innovators?

“If something seems inefficient or unproductive...and you have any power at all to change your portion of it, I recommend that people at least try to do that. I don’t think anyone can individually change a huge process, but we can all change little aspects of it. I would encourage others to play around with their ideas, especially when they are low-risk and if it doesn’t work the first time, then try something else.”


For questions or additional information, email Laura James at [email protected].

Learn more about successfully implemented Lean Everyday Ideas here.

Have a solution to a problem? Want to share your innovation? Submit your ideas here.