The Traveling Card Box

This personal management system can keep you from missing important deadlines

by V.E. Annamalai

You are probably accustomed to using some type of planning method,1 including the popular plan, do, check, act (PDCA) cycle, popularized by W. Edwards Deming.2 Unfortunately, most people plan only the major activities and their expected time of completion. They don't pay much attention to the subactivities related to a particular project because they have either overlooked those subactivities or didn't expect them in the planning stage.

If you have ever done this, you likely ended up facing two project implementation difficulties:

1. Integrating the activities of multiple projects.

2. Revising the total plan when an activity from an earlier part of the plan was overlooked.

A New Approach

Follow these steps to overcome your implementation problems:

1. Write up a PDCA for each of your projects.

2. Mark each project's independent activities.

3. Set aside one 3 x 5 in. note card for each independent activity. Write the name of the activity and its expected completion date on the card. All activities should be easy enough to complete in one day. If an activity or test must take two days, create one card for the day you start it and another for the day you plan to analyze the results.

4. Arrange the cards in a box according to their planned completion dates (see Figure 1). Use thin pieces of cardboard to create separation between the dates.

5. Label each section, beginning with a "yet to start" section. Mark the next section "1" (for the first day of the month), the next section "2" and so on, until you reach "31." Mark the last section "completed."

6. Put each activity into its respective section according to its planned date of completion. If you don't know when an activity is to begin, put it in the "yet to start" section.

7. Give each team member a box of activity cards.

8. Each person should look at the cards in that day's section on a daily basis. These are the activities that need to be completed on that day in order for all the projects to be done on time.

9. At the end of the day, the team members should revisit their cards, mark down the status of each activity and move to the next section. Completed activity cards should be moved to the "completed" section, and activity cards that lead to another activity should be marked and moved to the section that corresponds to the date the next activity needs to be completed.

An Example

Let's say part of the plan to purchase an instrument says you need to search the internet for a few suppliers, correspond with the suppliers, get price quotes, complete a purchase request, follow up with the purchasing department and receive the new instrument.

The project is complete only after the instrument is purchased and you have received it. But what if some of the suppliers don't respond with a quote? Supplier A may want to set up a meeting, supplier B may need some clarification, and supplier C may want you to contact its headquarters. If you use the traveling card method, each interaction with each supplier will become an independent activity housed on a separate card.

You should file only one month's workload at any point in time. If you end up with two cards, one for Aug. 1 and another for Sept. 1, you can keep both in the first section of the box. You just need to make sure when you take the card for Aug. 1, you don't accidentally take the card for Sept. 1.

The Benefits

There are several advantages to using the traveling card plan:

  • All the steps in a PDCA are covered.
  • The subactivities of all your projects are taken care of.
  • Any activities that need to be completed for each project are apparent.
  • Something for each project will be done every day.
  • New activities are easily accommodated.
  • The card for each completed activity turns into a record of how it was conducted.
  • Repeated delays in the completion of a project indicate an opportunity for process improvement.
  • Upper management is aware of everyone's workload. They can look at their subordinates' cards on a daily basis to help even out everyone's work assignments and to help understand when the activities were completed during project reviews.


1. G.K. Kanji and Mike Asher, 100 Methods for Total Quality Management, Sage Publications, 1996.

2. Dale K. Gordon, "Where Does Quality Begin?" Quality Progress, March 2002, pp.103-104.

V.E. ANNAMALAI is a deputy general manager­technical at Carborundum Research Centre in Chennai, India. He earned a doctorate in ceramic engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board on www.asqnet.org, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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