A guide to Kanban Project Management

Its use may be famous among tech and start-up companies, but companies across industries also use and benefit from the Kanban method.

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June 30, 2022

The Kanban Project Management method is one of the leading project management methodologies. Its use may be famous among tech and start-up companies, but companies across industries also use and benefit from it. The Kanban method helps a team or project manager manage the flow of tasks in a project in a visual manner.

An organization or team may spend a lot of time on creating a goal and vision, but when it comes time to execute, the plan seems to be just “get things done”. There is no clear organization of what tasks need to get done and when in order to progress towards the goal. For example, your sales team is ready to close some deals but has no clear plan on how to use their sales enablement tool to full effectiveness.

This is where the Kanban system and the Kanban board come in.

What is the Kanban Project Management method?

The Kanban method was developed in the 1940s by Toyota and comes from Toyota’s “just in time” production system. The term means “only what is needed when it is needed, and in the amount needed”. The purpose of Kanban is to make the project process and teams involved in it more efficient and productive by eliminating unnecessary work, inconsistencies, and unreasonable requirements. 

The Kanban method has four foundational principles and six core practices. Here they are:

4 foundational principles of Kanban
  1. Start with what you do now. Don’t make large, drastic changes right now. Make gradual, incremental changes as they occur naturally. Let your workflow evolve organically.
  2. Pursue incremental, evolutionary change. Changes should be made gradually so as not to alarm teams or cause resistance.
  3. Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities, and titles.
  4. Encourage acts of leadership from all levels of the organization. This will keep the mandate of continuous change for maximal improvement.
6 core practices of Kanban
  1. Visualize the workflow. Either physically using a notice board or whiteboard and sticky notes. Or, digitally through dedicated Kanban or other project management software (such as an alternative to Process Street).
  2. Limit work in progress. Multitasking does not equal productivity. Focus on one actionable task at a time so as not to lose efficiency.
  3. Manage flow. Observe and track the work and resolve any bottlenecks in the system to improve workflow.
  4. Make process policies explicit. Define and share these policies with your team(s).
  5. Implement feedback loops. These can be things such as review stages. Maintaining this practice also supports the principle of incremental changes and improvements.
  6. Improve collaboratively and evolve experimentally. Always keep pushing for improvement.

Now that you know what the Kanban system is, let’s look at how to implement it.

The Kanban board and cards

two men placing post its on a glass wall

The core of the Kanban system is its ability to visualize workflow and tasks in order to manage and track a project. At the heart of the Kanban method and practice is the use of a Kanban board and cards to visualize the workflow. The Kanban board and cards can be digital, such as dedicated Kanban software, or physical, like a whiteboard and sticky notes.

The Kanban board is the visual way to manage workflows and tasks with columns. The cards represent tasks, with each card being one task. These cards can be filled with information related to the task such as the required files, graphics, the conversational AI platform to be used, client data like caller ID information, and more. A member of the team or members can be assigned a card. A card (task) moves through the columns as it progresses.

How to use the Kanban board

Let’s take the components you now know (the Kanban board and cards) and show you how to use the Kanban board to manage a project.

Break up goals into tasks

Every company and organization has a goal (or goals) they have to meet. This goal may be at the level of the whole company, a department, or a single project team. To meet that goal, one project or many projects may be needed. Each project is going to have a list of tasks to complete; doing SEO, content writing, UI design, MLOps development, coding a page of a website, etc. The best mindset is simple, compact steps.

Start with three columns

After breaking up your goal(s) into tasks, the next step is to create a Kanban board. On this board, create three columns: To Do, In Progress, and Complete.

When a team is ready to begin a task, the task’s card is moved into the In Progress column. Don’t forget to ensure that only a few tasks are in the In Progress column at a time. The Kanban system wants a low work-in-progress workflow. 

Once the task is complete, that task’s card is moved to the Complete column to indicate to other members and the project manager that the task is complete. The entire team participates until all tasks are moved into the Complete column and the project is completed.

The great thing about the Kanban project management system is its customizability. The three columns format is not fixed: You can change, add, or take away columns as is needed for your organization or for each project. For example, you want to ensure that each task has been done a hundred percent correctly, so you add a Review column to your board for tasks to be put in before they go into the Complete column.

Working with multiple projects: swimlanes

If you have multiple projects that you need to keep track of, then you can make use of swimlanes on your Kanban board. Swimlanes are simply horizontal lines on the Kanban board to make rows. These rows can be used to separate multiple different projects so that each project and its tasks can be grouped in its own lane. 

You could also use swimlanes to manage different teams, activities, services, types of tasks, your omnichannel contact center software, etc.

Conclusion

person holding purple and white cards

As you can see, Kanban project management is a simple yet effective and efficient way to manage a project, department, or whole organization. It enables project managers to easily and efficiently visualize and manage projects without frustration. 

This is thanks to its principles of incremental improvement, low work in progress, and encouraging participation and leadership from all team members. The Kanban board and cards make it easy for a team or project manager to manage and track a project and its tasks through its simple, visual format. 

Start implementing Kanban project management in your organization now and see how it can benefit you and your team.

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