Everyone has probably used a variation of the Kanban method in their lives, whether its been online Kanban software or using sticky notes—a form of Kanban cards!—to manage a flow of tasks.
No matter your level of knowledge, work can be made visually and even more efficient with a Kanban board.
In this detailed guide, we’ll take a deep dive into the Kanban project management methodology—what it is, how it is used for managing and improving project management, which projects to use it for, and how to build a flow of work using monday.com.
What is the Kanban method?
The Kanban methodology is a visual strategy where a board consisting of columns and cards is used to break down a project into actionable pieces, making it easier to manage. It is favored by Agile product development teams.
This method originated in a Toyota factory in Japan in the 1940s. It was used to implement the company’s “Just-In-Time” — or JIT— production process, where workers on factory floors moved cards across columns to provide real-time updates on inventory and tasks.
David J. Anderson took the concept from the world of automotive production and into the software development sphere, introducing Kanban to Microsoft in 2004.
How does the Kanban method work?
In this method, users start with a project board.
This board will have columns that show each stage of a project or a process in the workflow.
Your Kanban board can have a straightforward process with just 3 lists/columns for “Working on it,” “Done,” and “Stuck,” like below.
But this isn’t the only option.
If you have different tasks for different days, you might want to arrange your board to have 7 columns for the days of the week — although, this is closer to a Scrum board than a traditional Kanban board.
With the right platform you can adapt your columns to any variation a project demands. Your columns might even have something called Work in Progress limits (WIP limits).
You define the workflow and implement it using as many columns as you need.
Now let’s focus on the cards—each one represents a task or work item.
A card might show the title and due date, or it could have all task-related info in one place.
In a Work Operating System (Work OS) like monday.com, your task card will have everything an employee needs to complete their task, from descriptions and files to images, checklists, and comments.
As a team member works on a task and it is reviewed and approved, the card moves through the workflow from one column to the next until they’re completed as a part of a continuous workflow.
Let’s look at an example.
In a content writing workflow, a task card named “Article A” is added to the “Writing” column and assigned to a writer. Once the writer completes the task, they can move it to the “Editing” column, and then the editors will check and move it to the “Approved” column.
If “Article A” requires revision before it can be approved, the editor can move the task card back to the “Writing” column.
There are no limits on customizing the process. Every card doesn’t have to move through the columns linearly. So, if you want finished tasks from “Column C” to be moved directly to the “Complete” column, you can set it up that way.
The 4 core Kanban principles
The Kanban method is built on 4 key principles:
- Visualize current workflow: the Kanban system can be adapted to existing workflows rather than overhauling everything.
- Make incremental changes: sudden, extensive alterations lead to doubts and resistance. Kanban tackles this by encouraging users to make small changes that will lead to continuous improvement and revolutionize their workflow.
- Respect current processes and responsibilities: unlike other project management methods, such as Scrum, Kanban respects your current process and lets the project team decide where changes are needed.
- Inspire company-wide leadership: every team member is responsible for a task on a Kanban board. The method’s “incremental changes” philosophy can inspire team members to make small changes to evolve into future leaders.
What is Kanban used for?
Kanban has two main purposes.
The first is to manage workflows and to provide a way for all team members to be involved in keeping work management systems up to date, increasing autonomy, and ‘spreading the load’ of project management.
The second purpose of Kanban is to identify issues and bottlenecks in your process, and then find a way to fix them.
To help you understand its application better, here are four use cases for a Kanban board:
- Project management. Using Kanban, PMs can create a simple day-to-day task management board or elevate their entire project management strategy.
Here’s a basic project management workflow you can implement:
While basic Kanban tools are adequate for personal task management, team-wide project management calls for more features and functionality inherent to a platform like monday.com.
- Marketing campaign. Marketing campaigns can have complex demands because they have so many elements.A Kanban board can help PMs delegate these elements to team members and keep everyone on track.
- Inventory management. A Kanban board is perfect for inventory management.
A basic board for managing inventory would have 5 columns depicting available resources, starting with “Fully Stocked” and going all the way to “Out.”
You can rearrange columns based on which ones you want your team to focus on first.
- Lead tracking. Sales teams can use a Kanban board to track their management of leads, time spent per conversion, and more . Each card can represent a client. This card will move through the sales cycle, with columns created for “Lead In,” “Contact made,” “Meeting Arranged,” etc.
The benefits of using Kanban for project management
Here are three main benefits of embracing Kanban:
- Keep your team focused: in the Kanban method, every team member is assigned one or more tasks to handle. Their responsibilities are clearly outlined and they know what to focus on.
- Increased transparency: while everyone focuses on their tasks, they can also see the entire workflow. This transparency has 2 major benefits — motivation and accountability.
- Improved organizational skills: project managers can organize tasks and schedules effortlessly with a Kanban board. Adding and editing tasks becomes a breeze, while they can monitor progress in real-time. Team members can also plan their work better and meet deadlines efficiently.
When to use Kanban for project management?
There are 3 key times when Kanban is perfect for project management.
1. Projects with incremental changes
Teams that want to change their project approach or start new projects without overhauling the entire process will benefit from Kanban.
2. Consistent, repeated work process
Teams with a consistent, repeatable work process, where every card moves from one column to the next (with limited exceptions), can use the Kanban method.
So, a workflow where Task 1 moves from Column A to B to C… until “Complete” is ideal.
The Kanban method is ideal for linear task completion, where tasks go from one process to the next in a smooth flow rather than going through the same phases multiple times.
3. Limited task dependencies
A work process where each task is relatively independent is best suited for Kanban. For example, a writing workflow where each card represents a different piece of content and each task can be completed individually.
And when should I avoid using Kanban?
Here are four scenarios where using another framework might be more beneficial.
1. Overhauling existing work processes
If your team wants to bulldoze and rebuild their entire project workflow, then Kanban isn’t the right fit. Since Kanban focuses on incremental changes, a complete overhaul is unfeasible.
2. Iterative projects
Kanban isn’t suitable for iterative projects — like app feature development — where one or more tasks could go back to design several times.
3. Shared tasks
While you can assign multiple workers to the same card or task, the Kanban system largely relies on everyone completing their own work.
So a project where many tasks need interdepartmental collaboration or a large number of shared assets isn’t suited to Kanban.
4. Dependent tasks
Kanban is generally designed around discrete tasks. When you have activities that are dependent on others, it becomes difficult to track and manage them in a Kanban view.
PRojects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE2) is a leading waterfall project management framework. It’s a comprehensive method that leaves nothing to chance.
In the PRINCE2 method, projects are divided into different stages. Each of these stages has different processes to follow along with defined inputs and outputs.
This method may not be a viable option for small agencies, since the principles and themes can become too burdensome for small, straightforward projects. It’s also not ideal for projects where there are a lot of unknowns and flexibility is a priority.
Scrum is an Agile framework that aims to improve communication, collaboration, and production.
The cornerstone of this framework is the Scrum Team — a small team of people including a Scrum Master and a Product Owner.
The team works on items in a Backlog, which is a list of requirements or user stories that is defined by the Product Owner.
Backlog items are divided and completed in “Sprints”, which are development cycles that last 1–4 weeks. During a sprint, there are daily scrums or meetings to report on project progress and issues.
At the end of a sprint, there is a sprint review where the entire team analyzes the completed work and plans subsequent sprints.
Many agencies combine the elements of Scrum with other methods like Kanban to create a hybrid methodology called Scrumban.
3. Six Sigma
Six Sigma is a framework that aims to improve work processes with the ultimate goal of increased customer satisfaction and a better bottom-line.
It falls under the Lean methodology, which is a popular approach to streamline manufacturing and transactional processes.
It’s a fact-based, data-driven methodology to eliminate workflow variations, cycle times, and waste, while simultaneously promoting standardization.
Six Sigma is often used for improving internal workflows and processes, rather than tackling client-based projects. It is best suited for organizational change and business improvement.
Implementing a Six Sigma infrastructure requires considerable time and effort, rather than approaches like Kanban or Scrum, which are easier to adopt.
To learn more about different project management methodologies, you can read this article.
How do you use Kanban for project management?
Once you’ve decided that Kanban is the way to go for your projects, you can set up and use a Kanban board by following these simple steps:
1. Choose your Kanban software
Choosing the right software doesn’t mean finding the most expensive, best looking, or most robust in terms of features.
The best software is one that can adapt to all of your needs, like monday.com. It lets you be in charge and make your Kanban boards as simple or complex as you want.
It has all the features to implement a 3-step workflow or a dynamic process with 10+ steps.
2. Create a project board
To create a Kanban board for your project in monday.com, you need to add a project board to your workspace.
This board can be used to list and group all your tasks. You can add columns for deadlines or priorities or any other task details.
Once you’ve added all your tasks, you can use the Kanban view to automatically convert your project board into a Kanban one, where tasks and processes are divided into lists and columns.
3. Identify and add the steps in your workflow
To implement a custom workflow, first, identify the steps in your workflow and add a column for each.
These steps could be just “To-do”, “Working On”, and “Done”, or they could be a complex workflow with many steps — it’s all up to you.
4. Add cards
Add as many task cards as needed in their respective columns and update them with all the relevant information. On monday.com, you can go beyond deadlines and titles to add detailed task descriptions, checklists, images, and files. You can also assign each task card to multiple team members.
Comments can also be added to task cards so team members can talk in context.
5. Task management
Once you’ve added your columns and cards, it’s time to manage them.
When a task is completed, it can be moved to the next step in the workflow. Users can do this by dragging and dropping it in the required column or clicking on a card and updating the “Status” field.
PMs can quickly identify any workflow issues using a Kanban board since task cards in that stage or column will pile up, or they will stay in one column longer than the others.
PMs can use Kanban boards to analyze past and current projects.
They can track how long cards take to move through the workflow or see how many tasks were finished in a specific time period. PMs can use this information to identify issues and make improvements for upcoming ones.
Why monday.com is your ideal Kanban software
monday.com helps you effortlessly build and manage Kanban boards for every project.
Here’s a small taste of what we offer:
1. Easy setupWe have 100+ project templates for you to choose from. Whether you’re working on software development, interior design, marketing, or construction projects, monday.com can help you get started on them in minutes.
2. Detailed task management
With detailed and highly customizable task cards, no one using our platform will have to go looking for task information.
Ever have someone on your team ask you a question about a task, and you have no idea which task or detail they are talking about? Using our platform, you can ensure that work-related conversations happen in one place and within context — making collaboration a lot easier.
When most tasks follow the same process, you don’t have to waste time manually moving them. Instead, you can set up automation rules, so certain tasks move to a specific column or a particular team member gets notified when a new card is added.
5. Multiple views
Kanban is just one of over eight views for project boards on monday.com. You can gain new perspectives on your project using a Gantt chart, timeline, calendar, and more.
You can also implement a hybrid framework and split view where you use Kanban in combination with another view.
Track project progress, workloads, and budgets all in one place with a project dashboard.
monday.com’s Dashboard lets project managers add 23 different visual widgets to track and understand every project aspect. Widgets are updated in real-time, so there’s no delay in data transmission.
7. Customer support
At monday.com, we understand that fast customer support is essential for project management.
This is why we offer 24/7 support through our live chat to all our customers regardless of their payment tier.
Kanban brings efficiency and visibility to your project
Kanban project management is one of the most efficient ways of tracking tasks and overall progress. The method is easy to understand and implement for teams of all sizes and across different industries.
With monday.com you can build your perfect Kanban board, since we offer all the features you’ll ever need at reasonable rates.
You can test out our platform and build your own Kanban board by using our Project Tracker template.