Whether you are dealing with developing products or providing services, you have certainly used—or at least heard of—the famous Kanban system at some point. It was invented by Toyota in the 1940s, with the goal of reducing inventory and making a better-optimized and prioritized workplace.
Nowadays, this dynamic system is used in every branch of the economy, from IT to agriculture. It is cost-efficient and easy to implement, thanks to its intuitiveness.
Making classic to-do lists proved to be less effective than the visual, priority-driven Kanban method. Here’s an overview of Kanban and a look at how different elements in Kanban help you improve your task management and have a better view of your project at the same time.
How does Kanban system actually work?
To put it simply, Kanban consists of columns and a flow of tasks between them. It’s most common to see these main columns:
1) To-do: this is your “near future plan” column. Here you place every task that needs attention, minor or major, and list the work that needs to be done.
2) In Progress: as the name suggests, the second stage fixates on tasks that are already on the way, and have gone through the process of prioritization already (more about that later).
3) Done: finished jobs, altogether with the related communication/messages, links, and files that have been added to the tasks over time.
Of course, there exists a possibility of broadening the number of columns with special conditions and multi-phase tasks, which depends on every project individually. However, the essence stays the same. So, let’s get right into it, and see what Kanban brings on board (pun intended).
The Kanban board view
One of the best things this system achieves is giving you a bird’s eye view of the project. With the zoomed-out perspective, you can grasp the scope of the whole project and improve on your planning, resources and reports. Standard to-do lists can be less flexible and more difficult to manage between different members, while Kanban boards provide a space where tasks can be moved around and tracked easily along the way.
The famous Kanban Cards
While the original Kanban cards were squares of paper, in modern project software, Kanban cards have evolved into digital cards with the ability to host lots of information related to the tasks, with each card having features to add members, labels, deadlines, checklists, files, and conversations.
This way you can organize every bit of info and keep it in a central place where other team members can easily access and update it. Let’s not forget that you can create templates for repetitive jobs or cards—and get your mind off of dull day-to-day stuff, making space for new ideas.
We mentioned priority as an important part of the In-Progress column. Whenever you decide to start with a task (and move it to the In-Progress column) you will have to decide how important it is at that moment. The board’s main view enables you to shift tasks up and down by dragging and dropping them into new spaces, depending on current project requirements.
As every great project manager knows, making the difference between urgent and necessary is essential if you they want everything to go well. Having a space to clearly organize your backlog of tasks and decide what needs to be worked on first is important, which brings us to the next part.
The beauty of the Kanban system is its versatility—while the premise is beautifully simple, the Kanban method can be employed at many different levels of complexity. There is no need to “get by” with an overly simple board or to feel swamped with too many features and details. Get your team on board, and together find the best design for your board. What features do they need in order to communicate essential task info? What features do they NOT need or want? What design creates the fewest distractions while providing the right level of detail?
A Forbes article states that a well-designed office can contribute to team productivity by a large margin, and the same rule applies to your Kanban planning board. Be creative in order to boost creativity and problem solving simply by making sure your board has a layout and functionality that works for the majority (or can be customized for each member according to their preferences).
Logs and reports
Naturally, you want your board to look clean and easy-to-use, and Kanban tools allow you to archive finished projects. This helps you keep the board mess-free, and will not have to worry about clogging it with unnecessary cards. At the same time, you’ll be able to pull out an old finished task and extract some data out of it whenever you need to. Modern project management tools with Kanban boards allow you to access everything that has ever been on the board, eliminating the need for archiving software and speed up the process of creating reports.
As a tricked out to-do list, Kanban boards are easy to use for projects ranging from education to software development and construction (and beyond!). One of the best parts about following the Kanban method is that you can customize Kanban tools to integrate with other tools that you use for getting your job done.
Likewise, other project tools usually come with out-of-the-box integrations with, at a minimum, Trello (a popular Kanban tool)—as well as a few of the many Trello alternatives out there. There is no job type where Kanban is not applicable, with a few tweaks!
This is one of the biggest benefits of using a task management system like Kanban, especially in the IT and marketing sector. Development and marketing teams often deal with a lot of online activity, and rely on social media to some extent. Kanban tools, with customizable integrations, provide a great playground for planning large-scale, reproducible online campaigns.
Using the more advanced capabilities of Kanban software, you can make modifications to automate many day-to-day actions (like posting, or sending emails) by setting up custom workflows that automate the tasks in your Kanban cards. This leaves your team enough space and time to focus on more important, or even urgent, issues.
Last but not least, a major benefit of using Kanban methods is that it’s easy for everyone to get on-board and immediately understand the system. You do not need to be tech-savvy to implement Kanban into your workflow.
With everything we went through in this short article, there is no reason for you not to try implementing this straightforward, easy-to-use, and intuitive system to help you get the job done as fast as possible.
Image Credits: Kanban Tools from Karashaev/Shutterstock