Managing a project can sometimes feel overwhelming, with so many moving parts, disaster can strike at any moment if you fail to spot and address potential problems promptly. This is where project management tools such as Kanban Boards can make project management run smoothly.

The Origin of Kanban: What is it?

The Kanban system traces its roots back to the early 1940s. Businessman and industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno developed a system for Toyota’s car manufacturing process to help them maintain a competitive advantage over their American counterparts in terms of productivity and efficiency. This manufacturing practice would later be known as “Just-in-Time” (JIT) manufacturing, it ensures continuous delivery, avoids overstocking, and reduces 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. It makes 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.”

The Core Elements of Kanban

Fast forward to the early 2000s, David J. Anderson developed the Kanban method and further expanded 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.

How to Use 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: 

  • Board – The workspace or project space houses your workflow, divided into columns that represent the different stages of your project.
  • List or Lane – The space within each column contains the cards that are in the same stage of the production process
  • Kanban Cards – These contain the tasks that are needed to be accomplished.

The process is pretty straightforward. For example, a simple Kanban board could be divided into three columns – “To Do,” “In Progress”, and “Done”. A task is added to 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” column, and as the task gets completed, its related card is moved from the to the ”Done” column.

Having a visual workflow 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

Looking to try out the Kanban approach for yourself? Here are a few resources we recommend.

We use Microsoft Office365 so we have our Planner tool built in where we can create a project, break it down into tasks, and assign tasks with dates, it has a notes section where you can add links to documents, and it also suggests documents on your drive this task is connected to. We receive a daily email of upcoming actions that are due, a helpful reminder of what is coming up.

We have experience in using Trello which 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. 

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

The Digital Project Manager – 10 Best Trello Alternatives For 2022 (Free & Paid Options)

Zapier – 11 best Kanban Apps to build your productivity

Timecamp – Which software with Kanban Board is worth using? 

With all tools and software, make sure you trial at least 3 products to compare functionality and price, ensure that it is fit for purpose, suits your team and is compatible, and can integrate with your other systems. See also ‘Here’s the Project – Where Do I start?’ for more ideas for moving a project forward. 

Find out more about our Project Ninja.



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