The definition of a Kanban Roadmap can be split into two. Firstly, Kanban itself is a Japanese concept that promotes the use of cards (although the literal translation is equal to something like ‘billboard’). In Product Management, this is more akin to a visual representation where digital cards are used on a digital board. These cards can have a wide variety of information contained within them and are also dynamic. This means they can be moved about the digital board into different lists depending on their status (as tasks for example). They can be grouped by whether or not they have been started say, are in progress, or have been completed. Popular applications that use this concept are Jira and Trello. Secondly, a roadmap in this context would be the definition of a guide that allows the follower to attain future goals. The roadmap allows for timing of events and deadlines, and also sets the agenda and can also include specific events such as dependencies within a project. Effectively, a roadmap can show you where you were, where you are, and where you still have to go to get to the primary objective.
Kanban is a methodology that was created by Toyota in the middle of the 20th Century. The idea was to create a system that harmonized the ordering of materials from suppliers in manufacturing with the scheduled production process so that efficiency would be maximized, waste minimized, and overall cost reduced. This is considered to be a type of ‘Just-In-Time’ (JIT) manufacturing. A card system was used in the manufacturing plant so that when the installment of a specific part occurred, the corresponding physical card was processed in parallel. In this manner, the supply chain became more streamlined and robust, and oversight became more comprehensive. The system was an intuitive representation for the workers and made them able to visually understand the manufacturing process. It also created improved communication between different sections of the entire production line.
Since Kanban was designed to be a project management system, it was natural to translate the concept into other areas such as agile software development. Although Kanban itself is not specifically designed for strategic planning per se, it had inherent flexibility enabling its adaption and adoption elsewhere.
A Kanban Roadmap is adaptable in that it can be applied across all manner of products or services that are in the midst of their manufacture.
Lists can represent the stage of a task. In a schematic format, these would be digital columns (on the vertical) and the task would be a digital card. As a task moves through production, it can be placed in a list and then advanced to another (which intuitively works from left to right). For example, developing cloud support for a software application will start in an “outstanding” list but be moved into an “underway” one once work has begun. Naturally, moving it to a “complete” listing on its finalizing may then occur. A Product Manager may want an assessment period for quality assurance purposes. This may give rise to another list entitled “under review’. Should that task (the work) pass final muster, its card could then be advanced to a list called ‘waiting’ and then finally to ‘delivered’ once the definitive version has been incorporated into the wider product. Equally, when a card reaches the ‘under review’ list, and the work is not up to standard, it could be bumped back to ‘underway’ for further development, and by this method will pass through the developmental process again.
In contrast to the above, A Kanban Roadmap can depict the different departments of an organization by showing them horizontally. When considering the progress of a task in the vertical, and then also the department in the horizontal, a visual representation can be created to illustrate at what point of the wider process a particular task (and its corresponding card) is at, and with which group of people it currently sits. In the case of developing cloud support for the software application, the work might pass from a programming team in the first development wave to a marketing team once the ‘building’ has been completed. In this way, the Kanban concept is dynamic. Commonly, to aid visual understanding, techniques such as color-coding can be incorporated.
All the projects that are ongoing around the development of a product can be recorded, monitored, and easily communicated. But, beyond this, any intangible or aspirational elements of the development of a product can also be captured. In essence, the Kanban concept caters to both highly strategic planning but also factory-floor, tactical day-to-day, output, and promotes a clear distinction between them.
A Kanban Roadmap can be used to broadcast different aspects of the development of a product to different stakeholders. It is evident that a group of investors will require broadly different information in a product status appraisal compared to a developmental update being disclosed to the development team. The status of the product remains the same in both instances but the Kanban method enables the appropriate and relevant information to be disseminated to both groups concisely.
Kanban Roadmapping is best deployed when an organization is subject to a constantly evolving and fast-moving marketplace. Especially in regard to agile product development, the Kanban concept is responsive to a business model that must continually absorb and utilize new market data, and thus regularly reassess their development priorities. The Kanban concept ultimately enables a Product Manager - and their constituent stakeholders - to continuously examine and reexamine their decision-making thereupon making it possible to shift developmental direction when the need arises. In this regard, the commitment to previously established deadlines or specific initiatives can be reviewed so that the whole development process can remain dynamic.