Everything you need to know about Kanban project management
Sticky notes are one of the most underrated technological advances of the past century.
And when they were combined with a dry erase marker, project management (and the world) changed forever.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, teams were able to easily move tasks between project stages, and PMs everywhere took to the streets in celebration.A Kanban board (the evolution of sticky notes and dry erase markers) keeps your team members informed of task assignments, due dates, and any other relevant information in one, easy-to-understand place.
Changes need to be made mid-project? Simply update the card on the board. Someone stepping in to take on a task assigned to someone else? Just change the name.
Read on to find out what Kanban project management is as well as its core principles, benefits, and how you can use it for your projects.
What is Kanban project management?
Kanban project management is a methodology in which a project’s workflow is visualized and broken down into actionable pieces. Workers in a Kanban team are assigned to tasks and only have to worry about their own work.
The method originated from Toyota’s “Just-in-time” (JIT) production approach implemented in the 1940s. In this system, workers on factory floors used cards to provide real-time updates on tasks and inventory.
Kanban, which translates to “billboard or sign,” is a more advanced and modern form of this system. And it’s become a prominent workplace asset over the last decade.
The Kanban board
A Kanban board consists of columns and cards. Each column signifies a process in the workflow and provides context for the cards within it.
Each card signifies a task. It contains the specifics of the task and can be assigned to one or more individuals.
Once one stage of a task is completed, it’s moved into the next column (the next stage of the process).
This method forms a continuous workflow, in which every card moves through the columns on its way to project completion.
There’s usually a limit of how many cards are allowed in each phase at a time (I.e., no more than 2 per team member).
The core principles of Kanban project management
There are 4 essential aspects of Kanban project management:
#1: Current workflow
Kanban’s flexibility means that it can be implemented within your existing workflows without being disruptive. Start with what you have now — don’t scrap everything for a new solution.
#2: Incremental changes
Radical changes often lead to doubts and resistance, but smaller ones are more likely to be accepted.
Kanban’s philosophy is based on making incremental (small) changes that revolutionize your workflow.
#3: Respect current processes and roles
The Kanban methodology doesn’t bulldoze your existing process and roles. It allows the project team to decide and implement changes where needed.
Kanban doesn’t expect you to use fancy new job titles like Scrum does.
#4: Inspire company-wide leadership
Kanban’s “small changes for evolution” philosophy drives all team members towards continuous improvement to reach optimum performance.
When to use Kanban for project management?
Kanban is best for projects that are:
Kanban is useful for projects where tasks don’t go through phases multiple times.
Iterative projects like app feature development, where you might go back to design several times, aren’t ideal for the Kanban framework.
#2: Have limited dependencies
Every card on a Kanban board is its own independent work item. This works well for teams where everyone has separate tasks to fulfill, like a writing team where each article is a card.
However, it isn’t practical for projects where most tasks require shared resources, or where the completion of some cards relies on others being completed first.
Teams with a consistent work process, where cards will move from column A to B to C and so on with limited variations, will thrive with the Kanban method.
Frequently fluctuating workflows, however, can wreak havoc on a Kanban board.
The Kanban system’s flexible enough to accommodate mid-project task changes.
For example, if a client wants task C delivered before task A, the project manager can inform employees about changing priorities quickly and move the cards around.
Why should you use Kanban for project management?
The Kanban method provides 4 key benefits:
#1: Boosts focus
Online project management software, like a digital Kanban board, clearly underlines each team member’s responsibilities.
An employee can completely focus on their work, knowing that their colleagues are handling everything else.
More focus means fewer errors and quicker project completion.
#2: Increases transparency
Transparency alleviates workplace confusion.
Only 71% of online project management system users say they can see a detailed overview of where projects are in their workflow.
In an online Kanban board, 100% of team members can see the status of every card in the workflow.
This oversight eliminates doubts about progress towards team goals and gives employees a better understanding of their role in the project’s completion — as well as a unified direction to move towards.
#3: Improves communication
With more teams becoming virtual this year, effective communication is crucial.
However, research shows that most companies struggle, with 8 out of 10 people rating their business’ communication as either average or poor.
An online Kanban board facilitates better communication as team members gain a better understanding of project needs. The ability to add comments to cards also helps with this.
#4: Improves organization skills
A report from earlier this year revealed that less than 14% of people believe their company has excellent project management efficiency.
Organizations can solve this by using Kanban project management since it improves planning, prioritizing, and tracking.
How to use a Kanban board for project management?
#1: Choose your Kanban software
You can build a Kanban board the old-fashioned way with post-it notes on a whiteboard, but software makes the entire process easier and more efficient.
Research shows that a majority (77%) of project managers believe it is important to have software that has features like task management and collaboration.
A Work OS with Kanban functionality enables project managers to create entire boards with a few clicks. It’s also easier to keep cards up-to-date and manage the workflow digitally.
Need to add details to a card? Simply click on it and update the necessary information.
Imagine a marketing team that has to create 3 different campaigns for a client. Creating 3 different workflows on paper can be tedious.
Using Kanban software makes the entire process easier. Managers can simply use a template to create boards for each campaign and customize everything within it.
#2: Create a Kanban board
Proper work delegation is a key priority for project managers.
70% of project managers say their project management tool was missing a feature that could make their work easier.
Task boards was the most popular missing feature followed by collaborative features such as @mentions, commenting, and tagging.
An online Kanban board can give managers all of this and more, and they can be created in just a few simple steps:
- Identify the major processes in your workflow.
- Choose an appropriate template for this workflow.
- With the template as a guide, edit the columns.
- Create cards for each task.
- Update all required details for each card. Details include:
- Assigned members
- Due dates
- Place cards in their respective columns.
- You’re done!
When there are multiple projects, managers can use the Kanban framework to create numerous boards.
Platforms that provide customizable templates should be a priority since they are easier to set-up and save time.
#3: Move cards along the workflow
After a Kanban board is created, the focus turns to task completion.
Once a phase of a task is complete, its card is moved to the next column in the Kanban workflow. For example, a writer can complete their draft and move their card to the Review column. An editor can take over from there.
If changes are needed, then the task can be moved back to the previous column, and managers/supervisors can use the comments to outline necessary changes.
Kanban boards help managers quickly identify workflow issues since cards in a problem area tend to pile up.
Similarly, if cards tend to stay in one column longer than the others, changes might be needed in the process.
A 2018 report by PMI surveyed project management professionals and reported that roughly half (48%) of the previous year’s projects weren’t completed on time.
Using a Kanban board, project managers can track task completion in real-time, quickly address problems, and enable continuous improvement.
They can also track the average length a card takes to move through the workflow and see how many tasks were finished in a specific time frame.
Platforms such as monday.com allow for more comprehensive metric measurement since they have dynamic templates that allow for multiple views, including a Kanban view.
Kanban project management is a quick and efficient way to execute projects. It breaks down complex projects into smaller pieces and enables transparency throughout the team.
To ensure your entire team is on track, you can use monday.com’s weekly-to-do list template to quickly create a Kanban board and gain oversight on team tasks and progress.