Kanban's principle hardly needs an introduction - rarely is there such an easy to implement method of work organization as the Kanban Board. The principle originates from Toyota's lean manufacturing system, where it was used to minimize inventory levels. Kanban, which means card or receipt in Japanese, accompanies parts or containers in the production process to control the reordering or call-off process. With Kanban, the reordering parts follows the pull principe, as soon as a trigger amount is reached. This principle thus enabled a smooth production flow and prevented the accumulation of material.
In Agile Project Management, we pursue the same goals of efficiency as lean manufacturing. The practice has, therefore, been adapted to suite the demands of Project Management.
For the use of the Kanban Board in Project Management, we do not need much:
- A wall or board
- Multiple cards or sticky notes
- A workflow or process
And off you go.
The Kanban principle:
The goal of the Kanban principle is to minimize the "Work in Progress" (WIP). Minimizing the WIP should shorten the throughput times and identify bottlenecks in the process faster. Due to the fast progression we avoid getting bogged down and stuck in the individual tasks. The scope should, therefore, remain small to be easily understandable. This way we achieve continuous progress and moments of success, which should increase the team's motivation.
Above all, there are three guiding principles in Kanban:
- Making the workflow visible: The card moves from left to right, according to its work progress. The cards are dragged into the processing step by whoever takes on the card themselves. According to the pull principle, the card must not simply be moved to the next step when the work is done but must be dragged into the task field of the following step's successor. If the process is works well, this should take place close to the completion of the previous step.
- Limit work started: There should not be more than double the number of tasks in a development step than people are working on it. Thereby creating a WIP limit to keep the work efficient, as switching between tasks takes time and energy. As a result, productivity decreases rapidly when working on more than two tasks. If working in groups or pairs is desired, the WIP limit should be lower than the team's number.
- Own your workflow: Each team member is responsible for constantly driving the workflow. This means taking work from the backlog and "releasing" the work after completion. By doing so, the development process becomes more transparent, and reduces the management effort
Structure of a Kanban Board:
As already mentioned, it does not take much to set up a Kanban Board.
We use a wall, or a white board, brown paper or whatever else is to your disposal to structure a board. From left to right we visualize the workflow and divide it into three phases.
- Backlog: To the far left of the board is the shared task pool
- Work in Progress: The work steps are arranged in columns to the right of the backlog. It is worthwhile to also set up a sub-column to each work step for the completed subtasks to signal that the next work step can begin.
- Done: All completed work is collected on the far-right end of the board. These completed tasks could, for example, represent a new release.
This method makes the work that is done visible to everyone. Even in times of home office you do not need to miss the Kanban Board. Kanban Boards do not have to hang on the wall but can also be digital. Tools like Trello or the Microsoft Planner are good alternatives and can be integrated to programs like Microsoft Teams.
Our clear favourite is Miro, which encourages collaborative work on the Kanban Board. Miro allows you to set up the Kanban, link cards and discuss them together during a meeting, all in one board. Through the collaborative software several people can access and change the board simultaneously, as if they were standing in front of the board together.
How to use Kanban:
Once the board is set up, it is filled with tasks. To do this, individual tasks are written on cards or sticky notes. According to their processing status, these signal cards pass through the process and may only move from left to right. How many cards can be in one work step is regulated by the WIP limit mentioned above. Short throughput times do not mean compromising on quality, but rather that tasks need to be well split and consideration is given to what is necessary.
Structure of the classic Kanban card:
- Title of the card with a few explanatory keywords
- Entry date of the card in the backlog, bottom left on the card
- Delivery date or fixed end, top right on the card
Depending on your needs, you can also add other remarks to the card.
A digital Kanban also allows you to integrate links, documents, and even reminders.
Once multiple task are finished, it is useful to organize a meeting to plan a release. If there are many tasks in the WIP release, a release meeting should take place soon. The same applies to the backlog. If the tasks become fewer, a planning meeting should be called.
Ideally, all cards should be treated equally and processed based on the "first-in-first-out" method. The prioritization is established based on the order of the backlog. However, the dependencies between tasks must also be taken into account. If desired, inserting a"Fastlane" with a WIP limit of 1, would process tasks as quickly as possible.
Another prioritization method is the use of "service classes". Here cards can be ordered in the categories vague, standard, and accelerated. Thus, tasks are processed depending on urgency, a fixed date, or importance.
We hope you too can make use of the Kanban methodology and thus accelerate your projects.
Our project managers are available to assist you should you need our help in integrating these or other agile methods.