When running a business project, it’s not enough to have a clear mission and a solid strategy. You also have to have to efficiently manage your project. There are many options to choose from such as OKR and SCRUM but the most simple and fundamental principle at the heart of good management is Kanban.
Kanban is a very simple tool that is based upon a very simple mathematical principle that you simply cannot produce faster than your bottleneck in any organization and trying to do so actually reduces productivity in addition to creativity and efficiency and morale. It accomplishes this by simply limiting the amount of work that people can work on in parallel. It is easy to learn and allows the work to be in constant `flow` (a term used to describe the act of moving the cards/tasks/issues from one column to another to reach the maximum efficiency). The positive impact that this tiny simple innovation is huge and unexpected and has huge strategic benefits which are explained below.
So, to start learning about Kanban, we first have to understand the meaning of the word itself. In Japanese Kanban means `billboard` and this term has been used by Toyota workers way back in the 1940s in the manufacturing process. Quite similarly, for software development (or any other business development) usually an online board (it can also be a physical board) is used to very clearly showcase a strategy of development. Having tasks distinctly before you is of great importance because it allows the team members to maximize effectiveness by limiting work in progress.
A Kanban board typically has these common columns:
This is a list of tasks that the organization would like done. In a simple organization you may not need to prioritize the backlog and you can skip to Todo. But, in practice, it’s a good idea to prioritize. Prioritization should take place based upon the value to your customers and the value to your business and time it will take to do. Don’t over complicate this process, you can define each of these attributes with the numbers 1, 2, and 3. You should review and manage your backlog regularly.
This is where you put tasks that you have decided that your organization will perform.
Whoever puts a project into the todo should be the owner of that project.
It’s a good practice to put the items in the todo list sequentially with the newest on the bottom. These items have already been prioritized in the backlog and you know that they all need to be done.
The team should tend to take items towards the top of the list which are the oldest.
When someone decides to do a task they need to pull it from the Todo to the Work In Progress column and make themselves the owner. An important principle here is that the worker is pulling the task. No one is pushing the task to him. This reduced parallelism and interruptions.
The work in progress column is where many of the benefits of Kanban are achieved so it’s important to use it correctly and to understand it so I’ll explain:
When the worker is done with the Work In Progress, they put it in the “In Review” column. The reviewer or QA or product owner can start reviewing the work and put their name on it.
The projects in the done column can be reviewed by the product owner. The product owner should evaluate the correctness of the value to the customer, value to the business, time to implement, and the job description were adequate. If they were way off, it’s a good idea to evaluate why and make sure that you improve in the future.
The layout of Kanban boards might vary a little depending on the complexity of the project, but no matter which level of difficulty your project is, the same principles apply.
Kanban is an intuitive agile framework that allows members of a team to easily use boards (with its key elements being cards and columns), be it a physical or digital board. This method was further explained by the renown David Anderson, a project manager best known for establishing 5 key components of the Kanban board:
1. Visual signals – In each task in a column a teammate can choose to set the status of the task (a column where it belongs to in the specific moment), to see who reported the task and to whom it is assigned to, where on the list of prioritization it is, to estimate time and choose labels amongst many other options. Visual Signals are extremely important in Kanban boards because they make the card stand out in a pool of many different tasks.
2. Columns – Columns are usually named `to do`, `doing` (or work-in-progress) and `done`. Of course, that differs drastically from team to team and their development area. There are many ways to name columns. They can be named by the tasks each member has to fulfill, i.e `Review` or `Send to project manager` or `Alex work on this`. However, the main idea is to make it understandable for all. You shouldn't assign a complicated tag because misleading names can only lead to problems within the team.
3. Work-in-progress limits – Also known as `WIP` limits are there to help your team not take to much on their plate. Each of the columns is limited to a specific number of cards so that you don’t commit yourself to too many tasks you cannot do. To make space for the new cards in a column, you need to move the old ones forward. In some cases, the tasks would be moved backward so they can be revisited if there was a problem with it at any point in solving it.
4. A commitment point – Before entering any of the columns, the task or an issue must firstly be in ‘backlog’. This space is made for ideas to be stored until a member or the whole team is ready to start working on them. In `backlog` a number is assigned to a task so that it can easily be found and selected when the right time for it comes.
5. A delivery point – The card/task/an issue is moved through the columns until it reaches the customer, a delivery point. Teammates should strive to make the process from backlog to the delivery point as fast as possible.
- Don’t forget about the importance of the team – allow each other to comment and suggest areas for improvement to have the best possible result.
- This framework allows constant iteration to the workflow as it denotes productivity and effectiveness of the team.
- Kanban does not have fixed deadlines, but rather promotes the flow of the tasks with an estimated time. The goal is for a product to reach the customer as soon as possible. Focus is on flexible work mode unlike sprints and milestones in Scrum framework.
- Tasks can be prioritized in any phase of the work in Kanban.
- Kanban is a framework that encourages leadership, both on the team level and individual level, which is a common concept called "Kaisen".
- The tasks are structured very clearly to help hold members accountable and they can be monitored by the assigned person to help with the flow of the work.
- To make the tasks achievable, complexity estimate and a time estimate are added to each of the issues.
You are now ready to start your first Kanban board. Enjoy the new process.