Answering the Big Question: What is Kanban?

Answering the Big Question: What is Kanban?

Maximizing potential, improving workflow, and finally answering the hottest question in project management today.

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Small businesses, corporations, and software developers have sought solutions for productivity problems for decades. In recent years, project managers and agile software developers alike have begun unlocking the key to unfettered productivity by harnessing the power of a visual management tool created by Toyota in the 1940s. The Kanban methodology utilizes complete transparency, clear communication, and visual cues to improve productivity, as well as reduce bottlenecks and backlogs in work.

Inspired by the restocking practices of local grocery stores, Toyota’s engineers cultivated the Kanban principles to create clear pathways to problem solving and improved outcomes. Kanban, which literally translates to “visual sign” or “card”, uses a simple board that is broken down into simple columns that represent a stage in the process. Which each Kanban board is fully customizable, the basic board includes at least three columns: Backlog, New, and Complete. While the Kanban definition only truly requires these three stages, it is common for project managers to insert additional stages between New and Complete. Each Kanban board has cards that represent items in the backlog, and within each column, there are limits to the number of cards that are permitted at any one time. As the boards and cards move through the production, users are able to identify potential sticking points or bottlenecks that require immediate attention. The end goal is to move all of the cards through the board efficiently and smoothly, ensuring consistent forward progress.

The Principles and Practices of Kanban

principles and practices of kanban drawn in circles

The entire Kanban visual management system relies less on the physical boards and cards (though those are critical), and far more on what the boards and cards represent: transparency and communication. Kanban principles are broken down into four concepts:

  • Visualize Work (Create a visual model of your work and workflow)
  • Limit Work-In-Progress (Establish limits and boundaries surrounding work-in-progress, or WIPs)
  • Focus on Flow (Use data to identify any barriers that disrupt the flow of work and prevent future problems)
  • Continuous Improvement (Constantly make analytical and data-driven decisions to improve the process)

Through these four basic Kanban principles, processes that range from automobile making to product design sprint can move efficiently and effectively, improving outcomes, and maximizing productivity. To find out more about achieving success in business, read this article.

The Benefits of Kanban and How to Use Kanban for Project Management

male manager standing in front of the board and sorting the work papers

Kanban is a simple project management tool that can be created and implemented within minutes – literally. While the Kanban principle might seem overwhelming, and understanding what a Kanban board is and how to use it may feel daunting, the reality is the system is only as complicated as you make it. One of the greatest benefits of Kanban is the flexibility and adaptability inherent in the system. Each column on the board, every WIP card, every threshold is fully customizable – meaning each project manager or software developer is able to identify the parameters that measure success, and through simple adjustments on the Kanban board or thresholds for the cards based on analytics, each project has a limitless possibility for improvement. The result? Clear, calculated, data-driven workflow pathways that have a clear beginning, middle, and end combined with clear timelines and expectations. In other words, Kanban is every project manager’s dream. And don't think that you can use Kanban only for digital projects. This tool can serve various industries, from healthcare to retail.

The Time to Improve is Now

Understanding what Kanban is and how the Kanban board works is just the first step on the pathway to efficient productivity and workflow. With numerous resources available online such as Atlassian Agile Coach designed to fully coach results-driven project managers, businesses, teams, and software developers alike in maximizing productivity through Kanban, there is truly no reason for any organization to be struggling with workflow or efficiency. The Kanban principles might have been developed in the 1940s, but they are more relevant today in the modern virtual market than ever before. The time is now, and the possibilities are endless.

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Answering the Big Question: What is Kanban?