Kanban is a popular Agile project management methodology that focuses on visualising and managing workflow. It is based on the Japanese word “kanban”, which means “sign” or “visual board”.
Toyota originally developed Kanban in the 1940s to improve the efficiency of its manufacturing process. Organisations of all sizes and industries have since adopted it to manage various projects, from software development to marketing to customer support.
Kanban is also a very iterative methodology. Tasks are continuously moved through the basic kanban board as they are completed, and the board is updated regularly to reflect the current state of the workflow. This allows teams to respond quickly to changes and adapt their plans as needed.
What is Kanban: The Essence
Kanban is a method for managing work that emphasises continuous improvement and the “pull” system. In a pull system, work is only started when there is capacity to complete it. This contrasts with a “push” system, where work is pushed onto teams without regard to their capacity.
Kanban is based on the following principles:
- Focus on a steady flow of work: Kanban teams focus on moving work through the workflow as quickly as possible. This helps to reduce cycle times and improve delivery times.
- Visualise tasks: Kanban boards are used to visualise the workflow and track the progress of tasks. This helps to identify bottlenecks, improve communication, and increase collaboration.
- Optimise processes: Kanban teams continuously review and improve their workflow. This helps to ensure that the team is using the most efficient and effective methods possible.
The essence of Kanban is straightforward and clear, and that’s pretty much the whole philosophy behind it.
The Visual Representation: Kanban Board
Kanban boards are the primary tool used to implement Kanban. Kanban boards are a visual representation of the workflow, with tasks represented by cards that are moved through different columns as they are completed.
Kanban boards typically have three columns:
- To Do: This column contains all of the tasks that need to be completed.
- In Progress: This column contains all of the tasks that are currently being worked on.
- Done: This column contains all of the tasks that have been completed.
Other columns may be added to the Kanban board as needed, such as a “Waiting for Approval” column or a “Blocked” column.
Kanban boards are typically made up of the following elements:
- Columns: Columns represent the different stages of work. The most common columns are “To Do”, “In Progress”, and “Done”, but other columns may be added as needed.
- Cards: Cards represent individual tasks or work items. Cards typically include the task name, description, due date, and other relevant information.
- Visualisation: Kanban boards provide a real-time view of where work stands. This can help teams to identify bottlenecks, track progress, and make necessary adjustments
The Evolution of The Kanban System
Kanban systems were developed by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota in the late 1940s. Ohno was inspired by the American supermarket system, where products are only replenished when they are sold.
Ohno applied this principle to the Toyota production system, creating a system where parts were only produced when they were needed. This system, known as Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing, helped Toyota to reduce waste and improve efficiency.
Kanban played a key role in Toyota’s transition from a “push” system to a “pull” system. In a push system, products are produced based on forecasted demand. This can lead to overproduction and waste if the forecast is incorrect.
In a pull system, products are only produced when there is actual demand. This is achieved using Kanban cards, which signal the need to produce more parts.
While Kanban systems are still used in manufacturing today, it has also been adapted for software development and other fields.
In software development, the Kanban system is used to visualise the flow of work and track the progress of tasks. This can help teams to identify bottlenecks, improve communication, and increase collaboration.
Kanban is also used in other fields, such as customer support, marketing, and IT.
Kanban vs. Other Methodologies: Flow of Work
There are many other methodologies out there that are popular for building projects and software.
Kanban and Scrum
Scrum is another project management methodology. However, there are some key differences between the two.
Scrum is a more structured methodology than Kanban. It organises work into sprints, which are typically two-week long periods of time. At the beginning of each sprint, the team plans what work they will complete during the sprint. At the end of the sprint, the team reviews their progress and delivers a working product increment.
Unlike Kanban, Scrum also requires teams to hold daily stand-up meetings. These meetings are short, typically 15 minutes or less, and are used to synchronise the team’s work and identify any blockers. Conversely, Kanban systems use boards to track their work and progress instead of Sprints.
Kanban and Agile
Kanban is a subset of Agile. Agile is a set of principles and practices that focus on iterative development, adaptive planning, and early delivery.
The kanban system emphasises visualisation and flow. Kanban teams use Kanban boards to visualise their workflow and identify bottlenecks. They also focus on limiting work in progress and delivering work as quickly as possible.
Agile is a broader methodology that encompasses a variety of different practices. However, all Agile methodologies focus on the following principles:
- Iterative development: Agile teams break down work into small, manageable iterations. This allows them to get feedback early and make changes as needed.
- Adaptive planning: Agile teams plan their work iteratively, based on the latest information. This allows them to be more responsive to change.
- Early delivery: Agile teams focus on delivering working products early and often. This allows them to get feedback from users and make changes as needed.
Core Principles of Kanban
Kanban is a simple but powerful project management methodology that can help teams improve their efficiency, productivity, and quality. It is based on the following four core principles:
- Start where you are. Kanban can be applied to existing workflows without overhauling current systems. This makes it easy to get started with the Kanban system, even for teams that are new to Agile project management.
- Incremental change. Kanban emphasises evolutionary change over radical transformations. This means that teams can start small and gradually make improvements to their workflow over time.
- Respect current processes. Kanban recognises the value of existing roles and responsibilities. It does not mandate specific team roles or processes. Instead, Kanban teams are encouraged to work within their existing frameworks and adapt Kanban to their specific needs.
- Encourage leadership. Kanban promotes leadership and innovation at all levels. This means that team members encourage acts of leadership to contribute ideas and take ownership of their work.
These four core principles make Kanban a very flexible and adaptable methodology. It can be used by teams of all sizes and in various industries.
Key Practices of Kanban
Kanban is based on a few key practices, including:
1. Visualise work. Kanban teams use Kanban boards to visualise their workflow and track the progress of their work.
2. Limit work in progress (WIP). Kanban teams limit the number of tasks they work on at any given time. This helps to improve focus and reduce bottlenecks.
3. Manage flow. Kanban teams focus on moving tasks through the Kanban board as quickly as possible. This helps to reduce lead times and improve delivery times.
4. Explicit policies. Kanban teams clearly define and communicate how tasks are handled and processed. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that work is completed consistently.
5. Feedback loops. Kanban teams gather feedback from both customers and team members. This feedback is used to improve the Kanban process and deliver better products and services.
6. Collaborative improvement. Kanban teams are always looking for ways to improve their workflow. This is done through collaboration and experimentation.
These six key practices make Kanban a very effective project management methodology.
Visualise Your Workflow: Dive into Kanban Mastery
Kanban, derived from the Japanese word meaning “sign” or “visual board”, has transformed the realm of project management with its emphasis on visualising and managing workflow. Originally developed by Toyota to enhance manufacturing efficiency, Kanban has been embraced by diverse industries, from software development to marketing. Its core principles, such as focusing on a steady flow of work and continuous improvement, make it a standout methodology. If you’re intrigued by the power of visual representation and the pull system, our Kanban Training and Certification is your gateway to mastering this agile approach.
Benefits of Using Kanban
The Kanban process is a flexible and adaptable methodology that can be used by teams of all sizes.
Here are some of the key benefits of using Kanban:
- Visualisation: Kanban boards provide a clear and concise view of the workflow, making it easy to see what tasks are in progress, what tasks are waiting to get started, and what tasks have been completed. This can help to improve communication and collaboration within the team.
- Collaboration: Kanban emphasises teamwork and clear communication. Kanban boards are typically shared among team members, which makes it easy to see what everyone is working on and to identify potential bottlenecks. Kanban also encourages team members to communicate with each other regularly to discuss progress and any challenges they are facing.
- Continuous improvement: Kanban is a continuous improvement methodology. Kanban teams are constantly looking for ways to improve their workflow and deliver better products and services. This is done through collaboration and experimentation.
- Flexibility: Kanban is a very flexible methodology. It can be adapted to teams of all sizes, industries, and project scopes. Kanban can also be used in conjunction with other project management methodologies, such as Scrum.
Overall, Kanban is a powerful project methodology that can help teams to improve their efficiency, productivity, and quality. It is a flexible and adaptable methodology that can be used by teams of all sizes and in a variety of industries.
Here are some additional benefits of Kanban:
- Reduced risk: Kanban helps teams to identify and mitigate risks early on, which can help to reduce the risk of project failure.
- Improved quality: Kanban helps teams focus on delivering high-quality work by limiting work in progress and ensuring that tasks are completed in the correct order.
- Increased customer satisfaction: Kanban helps teams deliver products and services on time and within budget, which can lead to increased customer satisfaction.
If you are looking for a way to improve your team’s workflow, Kanban is a great option to consider.
Getting Started with Kanban
The first step to getting started with Kanban is to create a Kanban board. This can be done physically using sticky notes and a whiteboard or using a software tool.
If you are using a software tool, there are many different options available, such as Trello, Asana, and Jira. Choose a tool that is easy to use and that meets the needs of your team.
Once you have created a Kanban board, you need to define the stages of work that your team will use. These stages should reflect the way that your team currently works.
Some common stages of work include:
- To Do
- In Progress
You can also create additional stages as needed.
Once you have defined the stages of work, you can start adding tasks to your Kanban board. Sticky notes, Kanban cards, or any other type of marker can represent tasks.
For each task, include the following information:
- Task name
- Task description
- Due date
As you work on your tasks, move them through the stages of work on your Kanban board. This will help you to visualise the progress of your work and to identify any bottlenecks.
If you have a remote team or if you want to take advantage of additional features, you may want to consider using a virtual Kanban board tool.
Virtual Kanban board tools offer a number of features, such as:
- Real-time collaboration
- Task notifications
- Reporting and analytics
Kanban is a project methodology that can help teams improve efficiency, transparency, and collaboration.
If you are looking for a way to improve your team’s workflow, I encourage you to experiment with Kanban.