Managing a project can sometimes feel overwhelming, and with so many things happening at the same time, disastrous results can happen if you fail to spot and address potential problems promptly. This is where project management tools like Kanban Boards can help a great deal.

The origin of Kanban

The Kanban system traces its roots back in the early 1940s when businessman and industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno, developed a system for Toyota’s car manufacturing process to help keep abreast with its American counterparts in terms of productivity and efficiency. 

This manufacturing practice would later be known as “Just-in-Time” (JIT) manufacturing. The goal is to ensure continuous delivery, avoid overstocking, and reduce waste by limiting inventory or work-in-progress (WIP). 

By using visual cards, workers get a visual representation of the current status of each task as it moves through various stages of production, making it possible to immediately spot process bottlenecks that could potentially disrupt the manufacturing flow. This visual system was called Kanban, meaning “signboard” or “card you can see.”

Kanban Core Properties

Fast forward to the early 2000s, David J. Anderson developed the Kanban method and further expanding its application to knowledge work and software development. In his book, “Successful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business,” he identified the core properties of a successful Kanban implementation: 

  • Visualise workflow – Create a visual representation production workflow, with each step being represented by a column on the board.
  • Limit work-in-progress – By keeping just the right amount of work in progress and resolving issues that restrict the process from moving to the next step, you can deliver your work faster.
  • Measure and manage workflow – Analyse the workflow and identify opportunities to improve response and cycle time.
  • Make process policies explicit – By clearly identifying what task is needed to be accomplished by whom and at which stage of the production process it falls under, you limit the possibilities of confusion or misunderstandings in the team.
  • Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally (using models and the scientific method) – continuously seek to make evolutionary, incremental improvements.

Using the Kanban Board

A Kanban Board helps you visually manage your project, allowing you and your team to see work in progress and identify potential process bottlenecks; better communicate your processes, tasks, and responsibilities; and improve overall productivity and efficiency. 

A Kanban Board has three basic elements: 

  • Kanban Board – The Kanban Board is essentially your workspace or project space. This houses your workflow, divided into columns which represent the different stages of your project.
  • Kanban List or Lane – This contains the cards that are in the same stage of the production process. 
  • Kanban Card – The Kanban Card contains the task that is needed to be accomplished under the related column or list.

The process is pretty straightforward. A simple Kanban board, for example, could be divided into three columns – “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done”. A task is added on the card and placed in the “To Do” list. Once a task is ready to be worked on, the card is moved to the “In Progress.” As the task gets completed, its related card is moved from the “In Progress” to the ”Done” column.

Kanban encourages collaboration, reduces waste, and most of all, improves efficiency. The Kanban Board is a simple and flexible approach to managing projects, which explains why it is now widely adopted by businesses, IT managers, and software development teams. 

Popular Kanban Boards to try

There are a number of Kanban Boards available for you to test. Our preferred Kanban Board is Trello which provides free use but still has a number of features available on the free option. It also has a reminder function and the flexibility to expand a card into checklists, comments and reminders. We suggest you start with Trello and test the product to see how a Kanban Board could work for you. 

See below some articles on popular Kanban Boards, their usage and pricing: 

The Digital Project Manager – 10 best Kanban Boards of 2019

Zapier – 11 best Kanban Apps to build your productivity

Timecamp – Which software with Kanban Board is worth using? 

With all tools, make sure the tool you use suits your business needs and it’s useable for your team. See also our blog ‘Here’s the Project – Where Do I start?’ for more ideas for moving a project forward.