A Kanban board is a visual-organization tool. It enables teams and their managers to keep track of workflow, particularly in project management. Kanban boards are designed with a simple, streamlined layout, allowing users to make changes by moving cards with drag-and-drop functionality.
Kanban boards include multiple columns that represent different stages of the team’s progress. These may be organized using terms like ‘under review’ or ‘ready to start’, and users add tasks to each column by simply shifting the cards. A Kanban board typically incorporates various colors to reinforce the user-friendly, highly accessible nature of the tool.
This way of working will be familiar to anyone with experience using project management tools, such as Asana and Trello, which are based on Kanban boards. This style of template is simple to set up and implement at a company-wide level or just for specific teams.
The idea behind the Kanban board surfaced in the 1940s. An engineer (Taiichi Ohno) with Toyota devised the tool as a way to boost the company’s efficiency and drive its manufacturing capacity to new levels. Ohno wanted to replicate the methodology he’d seen in supermarkets at the time, which saw new items ordered to replace current stock only when most of the inventory had sold out.
As a result of Ohno’s insight, Toyota’s workforce started to rely on cards as a way to recognize when one step in a process was complete and the next was ready to take.
Implementing cards transformed the workers’ routines and increased awareness through visibility: all team-members saw which tasks had been completed, which needed to be done next, and how far an overall project was through its progression.
Since then, Kanban boards have become a staple of the agile method, brought to wider attention by David J. Anderson in his groundbreaking book ‘Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business’. Countless companies leverage project management tools based on Kanban boards on a daily basis — whether they know it or not!
Kanban boards offer businesses an impressive list of benefits, including:
When you organize tasks visually by card, accountability and productivity are in the spotlight — it’s clear to see when milestones are achieved and, equally, which deadlines aren’t being met. In this way, Kanban enables users to quickly ascertain how efficient the current workflow is.
For example, a manager might notice a particular stage of a project has slowed down due to a breakdown in communication or a lack of data for guidance. As a result, they and the rest of the team might look for ways to avoid such issues in the future, maximizing efficiency, performance, and — hopefully — end results.
The beauty of Kanban is its sheer versatility. Companies can integrate it into their entire workforce’s processes, from manufacturing and sales to software development.
The tools are easy to set up and teams can start using them with minimal training. What’s more, the card-based functionality makes staying organized, and handling problems, much simpler than relying on outdated methods. Every user can see how tasks are progressing, who’s working on them, which tasks are up next, and more.
Kanban is a lean organization method, helping stakeholders to focus on key tasks and goals.
Projects are broken down into manageable chunks so that teams can handle them one at a time. They rely on only the resources, tools, and tech they need to complete the current task. This both minimizes waste and increases productivity.
Traditionally, Kanban boards incorporate five key elements:
Efficiency is a crucial aspect of Kanban. Each card within a board should contain the essential information only — avoid anything that could distract users or create confusion.
Even those cards relying on text, rather than visual data, should be designed with this in mind. Give the user only the details they need to do their job in the best way possible, nothing more and nothing less.
Packing cards with superfluous information eliminates the at-a-glance convenience so necessary for effective Kanban.
As we mentioned earlier, columns are a defining element of Kanban boards. Several vertical columns will be presented on a board, each standing for one specific workflow stage.
Users will add cards to different stages as they progress on a task. For example, one job completed will be moved to the ‘finished’ column, or one demanding another look could be slotted into a ‘review’ column.
Columns should be planned carefully, and teams must understand how important proper organization is to prevent boards from becoming confusing.
Teams will not be able to add an endless amount of cards to a Kanban board for a single project. Work-in-progress (WIP) limits are vital to stop boards becoming overloaded, and ultimately slowing teams down as they struggle to navigate their way.
Any tasks added to a Kanban board will be completed by the respective team. This clarity ensures workers at different levels can see which work a team has committed to, and what stage it is currently at in the development cycle.
Finally, the point of delivery is a card representing the team’s completion of a task. This creates visibility for an overall goal and serves as a clear signal for when a job is complete and finished.
Kanban boards may prove helpful for companies, and their teams, that are struggling to follow a clear workflow. Workers may complain of not knowing whether a task needs their attention, not knowing what the end-goal of a project is, and of other concerns that might impede overall efficiency.
In scenarios like these, teams can find that their entire approach to achieving goals is transformed through the use of Kanban boards.
That being said, the Kanban approach to project management can benefit all teams. It’s a neat, easy to follow method for agile working, which focuses on getting the most important tasks done, in the most efficient way.