Kanban board is the most important tool of Kanban project management practises, which itself is an Agile management methodology. The board helps visualize the process and control workflow. It becomes easier to manage work processes, reduce waste and maximize results.
The word Kanban comes from two Japanese words, meaning “sign” (“kan”) and “board” (“ban”). Shop owners would put boards telling about their services outside their shops to attract customers. Just like Kanban boards today, these signs would clearly show the content.
The second step in Kanban history happened in the Toyota factory. In the 1960s, the company’s director Taiichi Ono began to use paper cards to track demand and progress in the factory. The cards would allow to gauge demand and production numbers. Transparency of the processes was increased, overproduction decreased.
Finally, in the 21st century, the Agile manifesto was born. Such concepts as Scrum and Lean were explored. Companies began to use modern versions of Kanban systems again, often combined with Scrum and other concepts. Microsoft was one of the first companies to integrate Kanban into the workplace. In the 2010s, more and more companies began using Kanban and many various boards were created.
How does a Kanban board look?
So what are Kanban boards? Firstly, they are a part of the Kanban framework and its most important tool. Kanban boards are composed of several columns, swim lanes, and cards. There are many variations of Kanban boards, but all have three main sections: To Do, Doing, and Done. Some of the popular additions allow to see the priority of the tasks and to measure progress.
Secondly, all Kanban boards have cards, similarly to the ones used in Toyota factories. These cards show task names, team members assigned, and due dates. Of course, digital boards have much more freedom than a physical board: you can add comments, files, even sub-tasks.
Finally, a Kanban board also imposes limits. Usually, one member can only do one task at a time and the WIP (work in progress) limit is equal to the number of team members. This way tasks are finished quicker and problems noticed right away.
The principles of Kanban
Kanban is not just a board: it is a system. As a system, it has some important practices. Different people list different principles but two of them stand out as the most important ones.
Visualizing the workflow. The cards and panels make it easy to see which tasks need to be done, which are in progress, and which are done. It provides a great understanding of the workflow. Understanding the workflow boosts productivity and can help prevent misunderstandings and problems.
Limiting work in progress. As we mentioned before, team members finish the tasks quicker this way and nothing is forgotten. It is easier to focus on a task and react to changes better. It also allows managing the workflow easier.
Other principles include managing the flow, explicit policies, feedback, and continuous improvement. All of them are related to visualising and managing the flow, as well as being clear and striving towards constant improvement.
How to use a Kanban board
- Gather your team and decide what you need for the board. Talk about what panels are essential for you to manage the workflow well. Usually, the main panels are to do, doing, and done.
- Create the board. Find a whiteboard and a marker or a larger sheet of paper and some post-it notes. Of course, many people today choose digital Kanban boards instead of paper sheets or corkboards. Digital boards allow team members to see them wherever they are, as well as bigger space and more opportunities.
- Note all the tasks you currently have, are doing, or have finished. It will help you visualize the present situation.
- Start working!
A Kanban board is a method of visualizing the flow and tracking progress that has existed in some form for a long time already. Nowadays, it is a part of the Agile model and helps implement Agile ideas, such as being clear, transparent, and flexible. The main rules of a Kanban Board are visualizing the workflow and limiting work in progress.
It is easy to start using the board. A sheet of paper and some post-it notes or a whiteboard are enough. Of course, digital boards offer much more possibilities. Note all the current tasks on the boar and continue to mark new ones.