A Kanban board is a project management tool designed to help employees visualize their workflow with cards, columns, colors, icons, and other visual cues. It’s simple and a good way to keep everyone on the same page, which is more important now than ever with remote working on the rise. Most teams that use a Kanban board develop their own, unique configurations, but in most cases, the essentials are as follows:
- All work items are individually represented on a card.
- The cards are then placed on a board composed of vertical columns which represent the state of the task, such as “to do” or “in progress” or “done.”
- Task cards then move from left to right through the board until completion.
- Often, boards contain a backlog for new ideas and projects.
While this method can be performed using a whiteboard and sticky notes, a virtual Kanban board just makes more sense with the way we work today. This method helps colleagues see what everyone is chipping away at and what’s coming next in a single space. It can be an invaluable tool for a multitude of reasons. Here are some of them:
Kanban originates from the Japanese word for “visual signal”, which is the primary reason for using this methodology. A Kanban board provides visual cues which allow teammates to see the progress of a project. By making the workflow visible in this way, teams can quickly see the length of time a task takes and who is working on what. It also makes it easy to identify any blockages that may be slowing down the process or preventing the team from working at their highest level of efficiency. At a glance, the Kanban board can provide answers to questions, such as:
- Is cycle time going up or down?
- What is ‘so-and-so’ working on next?
- Which tasks had changed during the day?
- How soon will an employee run out of tasks?
- When will task X be finished?
- Where are there bottlenecks?
- Who is busy/free now?
- What tasks were reopened due to bugs?
- Is someone stuck somewhere?
- Should any tasks be merged/split up?
- Which tasks have taken more time than originally planned for?
All in all, visibility is key when it comes to working with teammates and clients alike. A collaborative project management board, like Kanban, allows you to easily share information between team members as well as clients and stakeholders outside your company.
Another great benefit of the Kanban board is that it can be introduced without overhauling existing workflows, systems, or processes that are already working successfully. So, whether you are already using an Agile method, like Scrum, or a more traditional method, like waterfall, a Kanban board can be overlaid onto current procedures. No big disruptions, no culture shock. What’s more is that a Kanban board offers easy configuration options as it allows teams to evaluate the process and make gradual changes to improve the workflow. In other words, the board evolves as the team’s development process evolves. Since there are no set phase durations, teams can easily reprioritize based on real-time data to prevent problems from occurring in the future. This makes Kanban a perfect tool for continuous improvement, one of the founding principles of agile methodology.
The Kanban board was first used by Toyota in the 1940s to signify stages in the production process. Today, individuals can apply similar principles to ensure things move along smoothly. When the group finishes a task, they pluck the following work item off the highest point of the build-up. Additionally, you can easily monitor and measure an activity’s cycle time, or the time spent working on a task from start to finish. As a result, you can see which tasks meet the estimated time and make adjustments to ensure the project goes to plan.
As much as we’d hate to admit it, multitasking hinders productivity. When we’re overloaded with work, we lose sight of what we are doing and who is working on what and when. The more obstructions that trip us up, the longer it takes to finish a project. Plain and simple. For this reason, a vital principle of the Kanban method is to restrict the amount of work in progress (WIP). Implementing limits is vital to Kanban as it ensures team members complete the task-at-hand before taking up new work. Thus, work that is currently in progress must be completed and moved to the “done” column before moving on. This keeps the workflow, well, flowing, which means new work can be pulled in by the team.
In most cases, the board displays the deliverable state, dependencies on the task, and the date of completion. Nobody wants to be the person who is continually working on the same task and not gaining new ground. Not to mention, blocking others from doing their job. Moving tasks across the board fosters a results-oriented culture as it motivates project progress. There’s a certifiable accountability in listing what you’re working on and what you’ve finished, visible to everyone involved on the project.
Nutcache’s collaborative boards make sharing ideas and information seamless, no matter where you’re working from.