Kanban, which stands for Japanese term (かんばん) that translates roughly as “billboard”, is a method that helps organizations visualize, plan and organize their work by controlling various logistic elements and prioritizing tasks on boards.
As a result, Kanban helps teams eliminate bottlenecks and achieve outstanding quality improvements. To put it simply, Kanban offers a project manager and his team the place where they can manage their tasks, lists and files. This boosts the team’s productivity and helps them complete their projects more efficiently.
One of the most quoted sayings in Kanban is: “Stop starting and start finishing”. With so many tasks at hand, this seems like a mission impossible. However, with Kanban’s philosophy, you will be able to create a perfect scheduling system that will tell you what to produce, when to produce it, and how much to produce.
There’s no doubt that Kanban has entered a variety of business areas and is becoming all the rage. In today’s business world Kanban is known as one of the clearest, simplest and the most effective tools for project management.
First implementation of Kanban
Back in 1940’s, a Japanese Toyota engineer Taiichi Ohno was fascinated by the system American grocery stores used to stock their shelves. They stocked only as many items as that day's customers needed.
This inspired him to apply the method in Toyota production system and deliver the same level of efficiency on their assembly line. Basically, their goal was to keep their inventory low but always adequate to meet the demand for the parts. They named it Kanban (Khan - Ban), also known as “just in time” system.
Although it was initially gaining popularity in manufacturing industries, it has undergone some changes over the last few years and has been modified by David Anderson. With the rise of IT world and the digital age we are all part of, Kanban method is usually presented online as visual panels with virtual sticky notes which you can move around to organize tasks and to-do items.
Six core practices of Kanban
Ater using Kanban system at Microsoft in the mid-2000s, David J. Anderson was so thrilled about the positive results that he decided to use the method as the essential ingredient of future continuous improvement of company’s workflow.
In his book Kanban - Successful evolutionary change for your technology business, he focused on five practices that lead to such positive outcomes:
- Visualize your work - use the board to represent your workflow, columns to represent the steps in this process, and list the relevant tasks of work items.
- Limit work in Process (WIP) - be more effective and accomplish more by doing less. Delegate only ideal number of tasks to your team. Don't pull more work until your team completes something.
- Manage Flow - start where you are, with the existing process, review where inefficiencies lie and improve continuously. Learn from your mistakes and prevent bottlenecks from arising again.
- Make management policies explicit - define the whole process and make sure everyone understands how things work and what your goals are. For example, define the criteria that each step of the process has to meet to called “done”.
- Improve collaboratively - when your team clearly understands the theories about work, processes and workflow, they are more likely to exchange their ideas and suggest improvement actions.
Four basic principles of Kanban project management
Kanban project management is a philosophy which suggests that you can gradually improve whatever you are working on and implement continuous, incremental and evolutionary changes. To achieve this goal, you need to follow the four basic principles that underlie this revolutionary method:
Start with what you do now
The good thing about Kanban is that you don’t need to make big changes before you implement this methodology. You can simply overlay Kanban properties on your existing workflow, address issues and make some important changes over time.
Pursue evolutionary change
Encourage small but evolutionary changes to processes and run project management that will meet minimal resistance.
Respect the current roles and responsibilities
While you may be satisfied with how certain elements and processes are working, you also need to seek out the way how to drive out fear to be able to make necessary future changes. By agreeing to respect the current roles, responsibilities, and process, you will gain broader support for Kanban initiative. This will help you implement Kanban method more easily.
Encourage acts of leadership at all levels
You don’t need to be a team leader or an executive to encourage continual improvement and reach optimal results. With Kanban, some of the best leadership comes from everyday acts by common people who are a part of a team.
A Kanban board is a field on which Kanban Cards represent the individual tasks in progress which are categorized according to priority and delivery. Simply put, Kanban is an excellent way to keep track of your team’s workflow. Today, Kanban boards are mostly used in Agile or Lean software development teams in the form of online collaboration tools aimed at boosting team’s productivity and stimulating inspiring ideas.
The integral part of Kanban board is Kanban cards. Each card represents individual work item or a task, and each consists of important data for that specific task. Cards are placed on the board in a visual way in order to show the current stage of the task and they are usually color-coded to show what type of task they are.
Kanban board consists of three sections:
- Work in progress
- Completed work
After the tasks have been delegated, the team will take the cards and move them across the sections as they complete their tasks.
Keep in mind that Kanban board can be used in many forms and that today teams use it in different ways to share ideas and manage their workflow. The most straightforward way is the old concept of putting sticky notes on a whiteboard to show the stages of the project development and its progress.
Essentially, Kanban is based on the pull system. Whether you work in a small business or anywhere else on the value chain, pull systems will help you minimize inventories and make necessary changes to the production system as the demand arises. They provide you only with what you need which consequently reduces costs and waste.
Why should you use Kanban?
- Kanban helps you recognize bottlenecks in work processes
- Kanban helps you work on continuous improvement and expand your knowledge through the lessons learned
- Kanban limits multitasking which, in turn, increases the quality of the process
- Kanban can be the fastest way to deliver positive results which will help you gain competitive advantage on the market
- Kanban allows you to reprioritize your project plans at any given time based on the new information and new business climate or increased customer demand
- Kanban helps your team visualize all the tasks and have a clear overview of all the stages and process which further upscales team collaboration
Is Kanban the right choice for you?
As it was mentioned before, Kanban is an approach which will help you make changes to the management that is designed to meet minimal resistance. Therefore, if you have some processes that are working well, Kanban will help you improve over time without massive and radical change.
Kanban is a great solution for projects of different sizes, complexities and urgencies. Although Kanban works well in most industries, the practice has proven that it works best in product development environment.
Finally, If you want to build trust within your organization and take productivity to a whole new level, opt for Kanban and see how it works for your business.