If you are familiar with agile methodologies, then Kanban makes it to the top tier. While organizations small and big have used Kanban and seen phenomenal results. 

If you’re a beginner looking to know what a Kanban board is, the basics, elements, and how to use it, then here’s a descriptive guide that we’ve compiled so that you shouldn’t have to scour the internet for research.

Let’s jump right in! 

What is Kanban Board?

A Kanban Board is an agile project management tool created to help envision workflow in your organization. It is a tool to help limit work-in-progress and optimize efficiency.

Elements of a Kanban board

Kanban boards help visualize the workflow. But how? The Kanban Board has elements that help do it. There are four elements in the Kanban board- 

  • Kanban Cards: Kanban cards are the visual representation of tasks. Every card contains details of the task such as deadline, assignee, description, and the like. 
  • Kanban Columns: The Kanban columns represent different stages of the workflow. The cards which represent tasks go through different columns until they reach closure. The stages in the workflow can be ‘To do, Work-in-progress, ‘Complete.’ 
  • Work-In-Progress Limits: Work-In-Progress Limits are the number of cards a column can have at one time. For example, no Column can have more than three cards at one time. It is to ensure that the workflows don’t have to be clogged with too many in-progress tasks. The WIP limits ensure that the team can focus on the tasks that are underway. This helps in clearing congestion in the workflow.
  • Kanban Swimlanes: Kanban Swimlanes are rows used to group tasks on a Kanban board. Swimlanes can be used to increase productivity in the following ways- 
    1. Create tasks in the order of priority 
    2. Balancing team allocation optimally
    3. Handling tasks based on user stories and phases 

How to use a Kanban Board

Kanban Boards might seem complicated given the above information, but it isn’t. 

Start a Kanban board by creating a simple structure and improve it by following the below steps-

  • Identify workflow hurdles on the Kanban Board: There isn’t any better tool like Kanban to visualize workflow and spot hurdles in the workflow easily. Here’s a simple tip! If you find any column with many tasks that arrive when they reach completion, the work starts to mount, and the team is burdened. The cause could be a minor problem that can be resolved quickly. One way to make the workflow more efficient is to label the columns with details of the task progress. In addition, limiting the number of tasks in the workflow will ensure that the team is devoting their time to tasks that matter. The Kanban offers flexibility to distribute the team’s efforts on tasks that need immediate attention.
  • Limit WIP and focus using the Kanban board: Kanban can help the team to take on tasks that they can complete. By setting work in progress limits in one column, you will limit the tasks in progress. By limiting tasks, the team will only take on new tasks once they are finished with the previous tasks. So, if customer satisfaction, faster time to market, productivity, and profitability are your goals, work on current tasks instead of having backlogs.
  • Save time on unproductive and unnecessary meetings: A golden benefit of using a Kanban board is that it helps you save your precious time on pointless meetings, meaningless reports, and other unproductive discussions. The board will keep the stakeholders informed about the progress of the tasks. This ensures that they are kept in the loop of any developments or problems that the team encounters while working on the project. This saves you countless hours spent on unnecessary meetings and progress reports that take forever to prepare.
  • Visualize the work obstacles on your Kanban board: The Kanban board allows you to make a mental map of the work obstacles that prevent the team from progressing. The hurdles can be easily marked on a physical or digital Kanban board. This helps you correct and remove the hindrances to work your way to success. For example, in the case of a digital Kanban board, the team can mark the obstacle as blocked and work on another task without increasing the WIP limit.
  • Automate work processes on the Kanban board: Do you find yourself tired of doing repetitive tasks manually and hope to have an easy alternative instead? Kanban boards have become automated these days. Teams have to deal with repetitive tasks, inform teammates about changes, fix reminders about approaching deadlines, and smooth handover of responsibilities. This takes up more time than necessary. New Kanban boards allow you to automate the workflow and set triggers for fixed events. This ensures greater efficiency, improved productivity by minimizing wasteful activities.
  • Track important workflow metrics and make progress: Digital Kanban works in real-time and collects data related to lead time, cycle time, and other important metrics. This will enable you to make data-driven decisions and take measures to improve the workflow. The charts help you track workflow delivery and improve task or project delivery.

Learn how to apply Kanban practices to Scrum with Professional Scrum with Kanban(PSK) Training

Benefits of using a Kanban Board

So, we discussed the definition of the Kanban board and its elements. But what are its benefits? 

Does it offer anything apart from organized workflow and customer satisfaction? It does, which is why we’ve listed the following benefits- 

  • High Visibility: Visual representation is the heart of the Kanban board. Every project has a backlog of tasks. The stages through which the task needs to go through to reach completion are many. Kanban uses visualization, which enables everyone to see how the tasks are moving in the workflow. Any problems can be spotted easily and can be resolved.
  • Increased efficiency: Every project manager wishes that they could increase their output by 1.5x at least. Using extra resources could get the job done, but what if there is a budget constraint? Mapping the workflow will point out the areas of inefficiency in the process. This will help you evaluate and work on solutions to resolve the bottlenecks, abandoned tasks, and too many WIP tasks.
  • Improved productivity: An increase in efficiency is directly proportional to the rise in productivity. The prime metrics in Kanban are cycle time and throughput. While cycle time measures the time taken for the work to start and finish, throughput determines the number of tasks completed during a particular time frame. The faster the cycle, the better will be your productivity.
  • Stops team burnout: Conventional project management methods encourage burdening them with infinite tasks. The result? Less than mediocre output due to inefficiency. The Kanban negates this since it uses the pull system, where teams can only work on tasks that they are capable of doing. Not to forget, the work-in-progress limits where teams can’t work on more than three in-progress tasks.
  • Enhances team focus: Having too many things on your plate will only lead to nowhere. While multitasking seems like an achievement, in reality, it will only lead to a waste of time that can lead to subpar results. There is a cap on the number of in-progress tasks that can be marked in the workflow with work-in-progress limits. This lets the team focus on tasks with undivided attention rather than juggle tasks.
  • Minimizes wastage: Kanban propagates the principle of value addition. Value addition refers to anything that adds value to the product. Any output that consumes resources without adding value is a waste. Kanban eliminates any task that leads to unnecessary expenditure of resources that leads to any monetary value. This reduces waste, saves time for the team.
  • Flexibility: In this age of rapidly evolving customer needs and cut-throat competition, business agility has become the need of the hour. Kanban promotes prioritization where only the product or feature that adds value to the customer is given importance. The product owner assesses the backlog items and only assigns the next task after the existing tasks in the work-in-progress limits are finished.
  • Better collaboration: Kanban meetings are conducted frequently to ensure the cross-functional teams are aware of the progress of the product. Members of different functions can interact and determine the future steps needed for the product’s success. 
  • Renewed company culture: Frequent collaboration ensures the entire workforce is on the same page when accomplishing the common business goals. 

With employees given independence and no micromanaging, the best results are bound to come. 

Confused between Scrum and Kanban? Read Scrum vs. Kanban

Conclusion

The use of Kanban has helped many organizations eliminate the impediments to workflow, as a result, they experienced an uplift in productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction.

By focusing on a few tasks and eliminating unnecessary meetings, Kanban can just be the tool you need for your business.

So, when are you getting started with Kanban?

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Agilemania

We are a team of Professional Scrum Trainers (PST) and Enterprise Agile coaches actively working as Scrum Trainers, Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters/Product Owners aimed at delivering quality and consistency for our students across the globe.