Kanban boards offer a system that instantly shows you which phase each project is in and who’s working on it.
Because of their visual nature and flexibility, Kanban Boards have become popular project management tools. But what is a Kanban Board? How can you use a Kanban Board with your team, and are there some Kanban best practices to follow?
In this article, you will understand what is Kanban and its importance to help project management teams to increase productivity.
What is a Kanban Board?
Also famous as ‘Visual Management’, Toyota System’ and ‘Just in Time System’, Kaban first use was in Japan by the Toyota Company in 1960. The initial objective was basically to minimize delays with a system that coordinated the production of parts with the demands of the company.
With this method, each activity was described on a card and this card only advanced to the next step if the activity was completed. As an example, we can say that: a part would not go from stock to the assembly if the part that was in the assembly was not to be painted.
With Kaban, Toyota started to produce the right amount of cars, without the risk of running out of cars to sell. The great advantage of the Kanban system is that it can be adapted to any type of company that adopts teamwork and is interested in making its processes more agile and it is routine more dynamic.
Can your company adopt Kanban?
The Kanban system can be used very efficiently outside the industrial sector as well. Companies that are based in offices or services also use the technique of visual management to prevent employees from getting lost in the production process and to ensure that all activities are carried out within the time defined for them or, preferably, before the allotted time.
But always aiming that the previous actions are not done before the later ones, making the agile process that is presupposed of the Kanban system unfeasible. Each activity has its deadline to complete.
The use is very similar to that of the industry, with murals, post-its, or software to carry out the management, communication, and dissemination of organizational information on deadlines, activities, and professionals responsible for certain actions.
7 tips to work productively with Kanban boards
Now that you realize Kanban boards are the best ally in your management projects, let’s see a few clues to help you work better with Kanban boards.
1. You need to start. And that’s the most important thing
A Kanban board serves to see the workflow between different states until it gets to “finished”. The basic principle of Kanban is to have columns representing states and cards representing tasks. The goal is to move the cards in the columns that tell you how the activity is going. So when you look at the board, you get a good view of what’s going on at the agency.
But if you don’t know where to start, focus on the three basic columns: to-do, in-progress, and done. This will help you get a sense of what a workflow should look like.
Keep in mind that cards only go one way, from left to right, as this is a basic rule of thumb in workflow visualization. Just as a river only flows in one direction, having the same at work helps to identify problems in the flow.
After that, write your tasks down on paper (or add in the appropriate place in the software if you are using a digital platform) and put them in the correct columns. Make sure that each card represents an independent portion of the work, as it is not good to create dependencies between tasks. Otherwise, you end up hiding complexities in your Kanban board, and you can miss potential problems in your processes.
The types of columns you use depend on your existing workflow, task type, and agency team structure. One of the tips for Kanban is to keep it simple, but you can have more control and handle more scenarios if you have more columns.
2. Pull your team up!
What can you pull toward completion today? Unlike how a Westerner reads a frame (left to right), Kanban is read from right to left (it was created in Japan, right). That’s because completing one task is more valuable than starting another.
When we complete a task, we realize the value. So first check if anything can be delivered. Then see if there are both capacity and cards available to be pulled to the next column and replace the completed items.
3. Make “work in progress” kanban boards
Bottlenecks are bad! And they happen when you’re working on too many things at once. That’s one of the coolest things about Kanban: rather than looking at a bottleneck as a local problem, you look at it from a global flow perspective.
Thus, by applying limits to the number of cards in the “in progress” column, you can manage bottlenecks efficiently. Compare your workflow to a busy street.
It’s much cheaper to create a steady flow of cars than to build more tracks. Start putting limits on ongoing tasks and see how this impacts your performance and time management.
4. Create efficient policies on using Kanban
A great tip for Kanban is to set guidelines for how to use the board and make it clear to everyone on your team. However, this is one of the most forgotten rules of Kanban, even though you must get the best out of the system.
Your policies must cover: what conditions each card must meet to enter a column; what conditions a card must meet to leave a column; how and why you are setting a limit on the number of cards in a particular column; and lots of other information like who is allowed to move cards on the board or when you should remove a card.
You don’t have to be verbose and explain everything in minute detail, but everything should be clear so that the whole team understands how to use Kanban.
Also, a very important thing is the Definition of Done (or definition of done). If everyone agrees on what a completed task is, you avoid a lot of problems (incomplete work being submitted for approval, undefined responsibilities, and team tension, for example).
5. Measure your team’s cycles duration
One of the biggest benefits of Kanban is that it helps you focus on work to get more done in the same amount of time. A good Kanban tool will help you measure this, especially if it’s integrated with the agency’s finances.
Want to know how many tasks your agency is completing in a given period? Then measure the throughput between columns, which means the number of items completed. How long does it take for a task to go from service to delivery to the customer? Duration of the cycle. And the time for an item to go from in progress to finish? See the runtime.
6. Go beyond “to do”, “in progress” and “done”
This tip for Kanban refers to the first topic, about the simplicity of the tool. It is very common (and effective) for Kanban beginners to use generic columns. But in real life and everyday practice, Kanban must define steps that add value to the process.
So break your moorings by sticking with such elementary processes when you start getting more adept at Kanban. Your team, your business needs, and the type of work are unique. And your processes should be too. So you get ahead of the competition, being smarter and faster than others.
7. Give constant feedback to your team
The Kanban board should not be done once and left as it is forever. As your agency grows, your processes evolve as well. You’ll quickly see room for improvement in your workflow and you’ll want to modify it.
So it’s a good tip for Kanban to go back to the beginning regularly, look at your board and your work processes, and make changes to your agency as you go.
It could be a new column; or set up a new way to visually distinguish the different types of work on your board (with more colors, for example); it could be a change in usage policies, or it could be the introduction of a management platform that has an integrated Kanban.
These constant feedbacks are often overlooked in the Kanban methodology, but they help a lot to keep the system efficient in the long run.