Visualise your Workflow with Kanban Boards

Streamline your process and improve productivity by visually mapping out your workflow using Kanban boards.

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Kanban Boards

kanban boards

Kanban board is a lean tool that provides the teams with a visual management system to manage project tasks, visualise workflows and optimise work delivery. Along with visualising the workflow, efficiency is maximised, and continuous improvement occurs. The Kanban system optimises the work delivery across multiple teams in a single board. Kanban boards visually depict the various work stages of a process, with cards representing work items and columns representing each stage of the process. By providing a visual system for the teams, kanban boards can manage the project tasks and communication, giving a bigger picture of your workflow.

What is Kanban System?

Kanban translates to "Cards you can see". A popular Lean visual workflow method, Kanban boards, can help you track the workflow and get informed about the progress of each task. Kanban marks the available capacity to work. A lean concept, the kanban system is linked to Just in Time(JIT) production, where the schedules tell you what to produce, when, and in what quantity. Kanban visualises the operational workflow and the actual work being carried out in the process. By identifying the bottlenecks in the processes and helping to fix them, Kanban boards ensure the smooth flow of operations at throughput and lower delivery lead times.

History of Kanban Systems

The Kanban system was introduced by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota Automotive, Japan, in the 1940s. Ohno tried eliminating the overproduction by introducing new inventory only when it was absolutely necessary. The factories were reorganised to make the production and assembly of the parts happen at the same rate- the Just in Time method. He introduced paper-based physical Kanban boards where the cards could be sent back to the production of the parts once the material was used, and this would indicate to the team what material was used and how many more should be restocked.

Kanban systems evolved to control the entire value chain from the supplier to the end user. Supply disruption and overstocking were avoided at every stage of the manufacturing process. The Kanban system thus became popular in a variety of production environments. Over time, Kanban started being used in different industries that needed the visualisation of a large volume of Work in Progress.

Kanban Principles

Kanban Change Management Principles include :

  • Start With What You Do Now:
    The existing workflows, systems, processes and things already in place are not disturbed. Kanban is directly applied to the current workflow. With minimum disruption, the issues to be addressed and need plan changes are addressed gradually over a period of time at the pace the team is comfortable with.
  • Agree to pursue Incremental, Evolutionary Change:
    Designed to cause minimal resistance, Kanban boards encourage small continuous incremental changes in the currently running process. A significant change in the process flow is discouraged as the resistance may be high and will likely be hard to implement.
  • Respect the Current Processes, Roles, Responsibilities and Job Titles:
    Kanban does not implement organisational changes, so changing the existing roles and processes may not be required. Team collaboration can identify and implement the changes as per the need.
  • Encourage leadership acts at all levels in the organisation:
    Kanban encourages team members to collaborate, take ownership of the issues, and address them accordingly. Through a culture of safety, Kanban allows the team to take the lead in the actions, fix the issues and grow professionally.

Kanban Practices

Carefully executing these steps can help you implement the Kanban method in your organisation.

Kanban Practice
  • Visualise the Workflow:
    Kanban systems visualise the workflow with the help of a board with cards and columns. Each column on the kanban board is a step in the workflow, and each card represents a work item. The Kanban board forms the visual representation of the actual workflow of the processes with all its risks and specifications. Kanban boards can vary from simple to complex, depending on the operational complexity. In its simplest form, Kanban boards contain three stages: To Do, In Progress, and Done. This sequence across the stages is referred to as the workflow. The Kanban system visualises the work, its flow and the business risks. Each card represents individual work in the tasks, and looking at what column they are in, the task status is easily understood. Moving from left to right in the Kanban board gives an idea about workflow stages. The business risks can be visualised through the details of the card as well as the process status. The columns with the stages can show the bottlenecks that slow down the work.
  • Limit Work in Progress(WIP):
    Understanding the fact that switching the team's focus hallway through can harm their productivity and multitasking is not going to do any good. Limiting the Work in Progress ensures that the right amount of cards are on the board and that the available resources can handle the right amount of work. This can be achieved by implementing a pull system where the new work is only pulled when there is enough capacity to deal with it. For the proper working of it, limits to the Work in Progress should be set and adjusted accordingly. Thereby Kanban boards ensure that only a manageable number of active items are in progress at any point of time. No WIP, no Kanban. Setting the number of items per stage helps them manage the pulling of the cards in the subsequent step when there is an available capacity.
  • Manage Flow:
    Managing the flow refers to the movement of work items across the production processes as represented in the Kanban board at a predictable and sustainable pace. To create a smooth and healthy workflow, the workflow should be managed with visibility on blocks, bottlenecks and risks. Instead of micromanaging the people and keeping them busy all the time, the work process should be managed so that the workflow is efficient and moves faster through the system.
  • Make the policies explicit:
    Understanding something can help to improve that better. For the same, you need to define your process, publish it and socialise it. When the common goals are defined, it becomes easier for the team to work towards them and make progress in them.
  • Feedback Loops:
    Gathering feedback at different stages of the process ensures that the organisation adequately responds to potential changes and enables knowledge sharing between the stakeholders. Team-level cadences or feedback loops can be the daily team meeting, and the feedback loops can be set according to the context, team size or the discussion topic.
  • Improve Collaboratively:
    An organisation can improve continuously by implementing changes based on scientifically proven methods, feedback and metrics.

Kanban Board features and components

Kanban View- Kanban Board features
  • Kanban Cards:
    A visual representation of tasks, the cards contain information about the tasks, such as to whom is assigned, the deadline and the task description.
  • Kanban Columns:
    The column on the board represents the different stages in the workflow. Every card goes through these workflows until they are completed.
  • Work in Progress Limits:
    WIP limits restrict the number of tasks in the different stages of the workflow. By helping the teams focus on the current tasks and not overloading them helps to finish the tasks faster and more effectively.
  • Kanban Swimlanes:
    These horizontal lanes help organise similar tasks and visually separate the different work types.
  • Commitment Point:
    The work item in the work process is ready to be pulled into the system at this point.
  • Delivery Point:
    The final stage in the workflow where the work items are considered completed.

Types of Kanban Boards

  • Physical Kanban Boards:
    Physical Kanban board is the basic version of the Kanban board where the teams use paper cards representing the tasks on a whiteboard. As the work progresses, the cards placed in the work stages represented by the columns move from one stage to the next.
  • Digital Kanban Boards:
    Kanban software possesses additional features than physical Kanban boards. By bringing more visibility into work progress, the boards are accessible virtually from anywhere, anytime. These platforms also provide the flexibility of tracking multiple workflows in different categories and organising them accordingly.

Top 5 benefits of using a Kanban board

Kanban Benefits
  • Increased transparency:
    The visual representation of the work progress helps the teams better understand the workflow and progress. Team collaboration and team communication get better. Kanban boards also help identify roadblocks slowing down the processes and improving the team's productivity.
  • Enhanced Flexibility:
    Kanban boards focus on the task in progress and add work only according to the capacity allocation. Kanban boards, thus, can be introduced without disrupting the existing workflow and processes that are running successfully. The Kanban board offers easy configuration options, allowing the team to evaluate the strategies and improve workflow. The board evolves as the process evolves.
  • Less Cycle time, increased output:
    In the Kanban system, everyone in the team is responsible for smooth workflow throughout the process. Cycle Time in Kanban refers to the amount of time elapsed between the start and end of the task. Optimising the cycle time can help the team adjust the work accordingly, and the team's productivity is increased.
  • Resource Allocation and Waste Reduction:
    Kanban, a lean tool, is often associated with resource allocation and waste reduction. The visibility into the workflow helps make it easier to identify how the team members are performing and understand the wasteful processes and bottlenecks.
  • Encourages Accountability:
    The Kanban board displays the deliverable state of the task, the task dependencies and the completion date. This increases the accountability of the process by moving the tasks across the board by listing who is working on what and how much has been completed is visible to everyone involved in the project.

How to create a Kanban Board?

  • step 1

    Create a basic Kanban board version.

    Name your Kanban board and create columns with TO DO or READY TO START, IN PROGRESS and DONE.

    TO DO/ READY TO START - This column lists all the committed work orders.

    IN PROGRESS - The work items move to this list from the TO DO list once the team commits to completing the task.

    DONE - All the completed work orders are listed here in the cards.

    The Commitment Point in the board illustrates the point in your work processes where the teams signal whether the work is ready to be started.

  • step 2

    Define and map the workflow.

    Map all additional columns that will further define your workflow, and these columns will mirror the organisation's workflow step by step. Choose the columns through which the work items are likely to move, and this should make sense to the team. Identification of the problems can be made easy with this. Let's look at this with an example: Moving the task's progress from In Progress to Waiting creates an additional step that shows the task needs to take additional steps or needs further action.

  • step 3

    Visualise all the Work.

    Visualising with the help of a card or note represents every work item on the Kanban board. Every assignment that should be done but not yet started can be listed in the Backlog column. This way, kanban boards visualise all the works.

  • step 4

    Work Policies made clear.

    For the proper functioning of every Kanban board, you need to establish the rules for executing the process. Making these policies and guidelines visible to everyone and keeping them in an accessible place will make it easier for the team to understand. This helps establish a common understanding of using the work categories, defining when the new work will be starting, when a task needs to be completed etc.

    Do not rush to overdo this. Make sure only a few work policies are created the first time. By defining and keeping your policies simple, you can make them visible and open for discussion and continuous improvement.

  • step 5

    Adding Work in Progress(WIP) Limits.

    In the Kanban system, there is a continuous flow of work. To ensure a smooth workflow, the capacity to do the work must be considered. By limiting the WIP, a limit is placed on the capacity of a column on the Kanban board. The more work items in the process, the slower the delivery becomes. For instance, you can define that one person should not be working on more than the assigned task at the time. Before finishing this work, he must not accept any more item in the column as it exceeds his WIP limits. Limiting WIP also counts the number of pending or unfinished items on the list before accepting new ones.

  • step 6

    Feedback friendly atmosphere.

    As time changes, the process also evolves or changes accordingly. Being open to the team and the stakeholder's suggestions can help you understand these changes and adjust accordingly.

Kanban in Lean Manufacturing

In lean manufacturing, Kanban is a scheduling system to optimise production and minimise waste. The Kanban system aims to achieve Just-in-Time (JIT) production, producing only what is needed when needed and in the required quantity. This helps minimise waste and reduce inventory levels while improving efficiency and quality.In the Kanban system, each work centre or production cell has a card or other type of signal that indicates when more parts or materials are needed. These signals are sent to the upstream work centres or suppliers, who produce and deliver the necessary parts or materials to the downstream work centres.

The Kanban system helps to ensure that the right parts and materials are available at the right time without overproduction or excess inventory. It also promotes continuous improvement by highlighting bottlenecks and other areas for improvement. Overall, Kanban is a key tool in the lean manufacturing toolbox, helping organisations to streamline their operations and improve their competitiveness.

How to choose the right Kanban board software?

Choosing the right Kanban board software is important for any team looking to adopt the Kanban methodology. Here are some factors to consider when selecting the right Kanban board software:

Kanban board software
  • User interface and ease of use:
    The software should have a user-friendly interface that is easy to navigate and use, with a clean and organised layout.
  • Customisation options:
    Look for software that allows you to customise your Kanban board to meet your team's specific needs, which includes adding custom fields, swimlanes, or columns.
  • Integration with other tools:
    If your team uses other project management tools or software, choosing a Kanban board software that integrates with those tools is essential. This avoids duplicate data entry and streamlines your workflows.
  • Collaboration features:
    Kanban is all about teamwork, so choosing software with collaboration features such as real-time updates and notifications is important.
  • Analytics and reporting:
    To track progress and make data-driven decisions, analytics and reporting features are a must. Look for software that provides useful metrics and reports.
  • Security and data privacy:
    Make sure your chosen software meets your company's security and data privacy standards. This includes data encryption, secure login, and access control.
  • Pricing and licensing:
    Finally, consider the pricing and licensing options of the software. Look for software that fits your budget and offers flexible licensing options.

Considering these factors, you can choose the right Kanban board software for your team and get the most out of your Kanban implementation.

How can the Kanban board affect your ROI?

Kanban board can positively impact your ROI (Return on Investment) in several ways:

  • Increased productivity:
    Kanban board helps teams to visualise their workflow and identify bottlenecks, which leads to an increased productivity with faster delivery of projects and a higher ROI.
  • Improved communication:
    Kanban board promotes communication and collaboration among team members. Improve your Return on Investment with a better understanding of project goals and faster resolution of issues.
  • Reduced waste:
    Identifying the areas of waste and inefficiencies in the workflow can help the teams to eliminate the waste, reduce costs and improve ROI.
  • Better resource utilisation:
    With the Kanban board, teams can identify the most important tasks and prioritise accordingly. This helps to optimise resource utilisation, leading to better ROI.
  • Increased customer satisfaction:
    By visualising and tracking the workflow, the Kanban board can help teams to deliver projects faster and with higher quality. This leads to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, positively impacting ROI.