Ultimate Guide to Kanban Project Management (2022)

The Kanban method is one of the fastest-growing project management methods. Companies like the BBC, Pixar, and Spotify have used this project management methodology!

The Kanban methodology is easy to learn! 

What is the Kanban method, and how can you implement it?

In this article, we’ll take a look at this project management methodology, its key principles, core processes, and pros and cons. We’ll also feature several expert contributors with their thoughts on how they implement Kanban boards for their projects.

As a bonus, we’ll also highlight the best Kanban project management software to implement this methodology!

What is Kanban Project Management?

Kanban is a visual-first project management method that’s based on the Agile methodology.

What’s the Agile method?

Agile project management is a project management method where you break your project down into smaller development cycles that last anywhere from 1-4 weeks.

Once every cycle is completed, you present versions of your product to your customers and get their feedback on it, incorporating that feedback into the next cycle.

How is Agile different from regular project management?

The traditional software development process involves:

  • Creating a project plan
  • Delivering the final product

The Agile methodology breaks a project down into smaller cycles, so you can:

  • Make changes quickly and improve deliverables section by section vs. waiting until the end of the project
  • Incorporate customers throughout the development process

What is the Kanban method?

In the Kanban method, your project tasks are visualized as sticky notes (known as Kanban cards) on a board (known as a Kanban board). 

Kanban board visual representation
(image source: easyprojects.net)

Because everything is visualized on cards, you can see what work your team has in real-time. You can also get a glimpse of potential bottlenecks – helping you deal with them before they cause any disruptions.

Where did Kanban come from?

In the 1940s, a Toyota engineer, Taiichi Ohno, developed a ‘just-in-time’ production system, based on visual communication, kind of how Kanban is today.

How the Kanban methodology transformed Toyota:

  • It eliminated all wasteful work and focused on what was needed
  • Made the production process more efficient
  • Made teams more productive

Because of these benefits, Kanban is used by thousands of project managers today! 

The Four Key Components of Kanban Project Management Methodology

1. Kanban board

Kanban teams are highly dependent on a Kanban board.

A Kanban board is a physical or digital board used to:

  • Visualize all the work in the project
  • Optimize workflow of the team

A basic Kanban board is divided into three columns:

  1. To Do: Tasks that need to be picked up
  2. Work In Progress: Tasks currently being worked on
  3. Done: Completed tasks
ClickUp's kanban board

Based on your workflow, you can have as many columns to accommodate your team’s unique processes with an online Kanban board.

We’ve compiled a list of 20 Kanban board examples for more ideas.

2. Kanban cards

According to Kanban methodology, every work item or task must be represented as a separate card on the board.

A Kanban card can be visualized as a physical or virtual sticky note that can move to another column as your work progresses.

Specific cards in the Kanban board

A Kanban card contains information about a particular work item, such as:

  • Brief description of the task
  • Who’s responsible for the task
  • Estimated duration of the task

If you’re using Kanban software, these cards can include other valuable task information like subtasks, comments, and technical information.

3. Commitment point

The ‘To Do’ column contains tasks or customer suggestions that need to be worked on.

A commitment point is the moment when a work item or task is picked up from the ‘To Do’ column and is worked upon by the team.

Why do you need commitment points?

Commitment points give your team and customers an idea about:

  • When work began on the task
  • The estimated time of delivery

They’re essentially milestones that help your team recognize when things got started.

4. Delivery point

The delivery point is the moment when the product is delivered to the customer.

The goal of every Kanban team is to transition cards from the commitment point to the delivery as fast as possible.

The Core Principles of Kanban Project Management

There are five principles that define the Kanban Project Management methodology. Let’s take a look at all of them:

1. Visualize the workflow

In Kanban, seeing is everything. 👀 

In fact, ‘Kanban’ in Japanese literally means ‘visual signal’!

Here’s what the Kanban method visualizes:

  • All tasks present in the project
  • Work flow from one stage to another

By visualizing your workflow, you can view the steps it takes to transform your project from just an idea to a finished product!

This visual-first approach helps a Kanban project manager see what every team member is working on.

2. Limit the workload

Kanban team members are expected to work at a quick pace, but that doesn’t mean they have to work on a million tasks at once!

The best way to stop this?

Limit the amount of work your team can take up at a time.

That’s why most Kanban teams have a specific limit on the number of things they’re allowed to work on at once.

3. Prioritize project flows

Unlike any other project management methodology, Kanban is all about managing projects – not people.

The Kanban method relies on creating and maintaining a smooth workflow

If the work flows smoothly from one stage of production to the next, the team can finish the project faster. This way, there’s less emphasis on individual team members and more focus on overall project workflow.

4. Make processes transparent

To adopt Kanban, your team needs to clearly define all the processes involved in the project.

If you define all the processes, your team will never get stuck as they’ll know what to do.

Only when all of those conditions are met, can your team say that you’ve completed the task

5. Maintain feedback loops

The Kanban methodology encourages team members to speak up. 

Alexis Nicole White, certified senior project manager (PMP) and scrum master (SMC) and a project delivery consultant at ANW Media & Consulting uses Kanban boards for the same purpose.

“We have used Kanban boards to monitor progress in our agile environments. During our daily stand-up meetings, we leverage the board as a visual workflow of the status of our task. We are able to review the work in progress, discuss any impediments and identify action items to occur upon the next steps,” she said.

Like Scrum teams, Kanban teams hold short 15 minute meetings to discuss:

  • What each team member had done the previous day
  • What they will be working on today
  • The problems they have faced

By being open and transparent, the Kanban team can ensure everyone knows what’s going on in a project. And when the entire team learns more about the project, they can strive towards continuous improvement.

Note: The Kanban project manager organizes this meeting – much like the Scrum master role in organizing daily scrums.

The Three Kanban Project Management Processes

Unlike other Agile project management methodologies, Kanban is incredibly simple to use. 

Here’s how:

1. Start with three columns

The first step of any Kanban process is setting up columns.

If you’re using an online Kanban tool, you can use the default columns (To do, In Progress, Done) to organize your workflow or create custom ones.

2. Add Kanban cards to the board

Now, create a task list for the project. Once you’ve figured what tasks your team will be working on, it’s time to write them onto sticky notes or Kanban cards.

You can then pin down these cards to the relevant columns.

3. Set WIP limit

Unfortunately, your team can’t just stuff too many cards in the ‘Work In Progress’ column. 

If you do, you’re going to bite off more than you can chew!

The Kanban project manager should now add a limit to the number of tasks that can be in the same column. 

This also allows your team members to focus on one task, rather than shuffling back and forth between tasks.

4. Work, move, repeat

In Kanban, the main goal is to move the tasks from the ‘To Do’ column to the final ‘Done’ column. As soon as a team member picks up a task from the ‘To Do’ column, the task card is shifted to the next column. 

And after it’s completed, it’s moved to the last “Done” column. 

The Five Benefits of Kanban Project Management

1. Increased focus

Many teams believe that multitasking = increased productivity

I mean, if you’re doing more tasks at the same time, you must be productive, right?

But that’s not always the case!

Multitasking can damage your performance and your brain!

The Kanban process eliminates multitasking and allows you to focus one task at a time. As a result, you can complete the task more efficiently.

Concentrating on one task stops your brain from going into overdrive – so when you complete one task, you’ll have the energy you need to take on the next one too!

2. Increased flexibility

A Kanban project plan is probably more flexible and agile than any other method!

The Kanban team only focuses on the work that’s currently in progress. 

Once team members complete a card, they take up the next card that’s waiting for them.

This way, the Kanban project manager can shuffle the priorities around without disrupting the team

The team members are only focused on what the next card is. They’re not concerned about the changes to the project timeline. Now you can change things around seamlessly!

3. Increased transparency

The core principle of the Kanban framework is to visualize all the tasks on a board. 

Each team member can see what’s going on with the project and see who’s working on what – ensuring that there are no secrets within the team members.

Alan Zucker, Founding Principal at Project Management Essentials reports how enhanced transparency helps his projects.

“By creating transparency into work items, limiting the work-in-process, and creating a pull system, we can more effectively manage all forms of work. The Kanban boards work very well to track the flow of work through complex, multi-step processes,” he says.

Zucker further adds: “Because Kanban’s are so visual, it is easy to quickly see what work is in progress, its status, and what is upcoming. Program managers can add horizontal swim lanes, to easily track the status of all of the projects they are managing. Project manager and project teams can use the Kanban to track deliverables and tasks.”

4. Reduced cycle time

Cycle time is the amount of time a task takes in your project workflow. It’s essentially the time between the moment work begins to the moment it’s finished.

The shorter the cycle time, the quicker your team can deliver value to your customers.

As Kanban is an Agile based methodology, it’s built to handle customer feedback easily and quickly deliver results that satisfy your customers! 

5. Fewer bottlenecks

Another way to reduce cycle time is by eliminating project bottlenecks.

And setting WIP limits helps with that.

As there’s a limit on the number of tasks multiple team members can work on at a time, they’re not going to be overloaded with work.

This will reduce the chances of a bottleneck clogging up your progress as everyone’s focused on specific tasks instead of trying to multitask

Heather Welch, resource manager at Ukelele Tabs advises that because Kanban boards are “easy and intuitive to use thanks to its drag-and-drop feature, use the visual factor of Kanban boards to your full advantage. Spot any bottlenecks within the board and ask your team how you can do better and what they need to accomplish the said task much faster.”

The Two Limitations of Kanban Project Management

While the Kanban system is super effective compared to other project management methods, it admittedly has a few tradeoffs.

Fortunately, these issues can be resolved with the help of a specialized project management software like ClickUp!

1. Risk of Poor Prioritization

When your team gets used to the Kanban framework, they might become obsessed with trying to push as many tasks as they can into the ‘Completed’ column.

But…Not all tasks were created equal!

Certain tasks are more important than others, and when you’re using Kanban, that can get overlooked. 

ClickUp Solution: Priorities

Use ClickUp’s Priorities to easily prioritize your project tasks.

ClickUp priorities

This way, your team knows how important each task is and which ones need to be attempted first.

2. Potential team communication issues

Kanban focuses on the workflow instead of the team.

Kanban teams don’t have the time to carefully monitor everyone’s work to keep things flowing.

That’s why your Kanban team needs to communicate effectively to ensure that everything’s going off as planned. Without communication, you’re going to face tons of issues.

ClickUp Solution: Comments

That’s where ClickUp Comments come in.

Each task has in ClickUp has a comment section for:

  • Sharing your expectations with the team
  • Asking questions to your project manager
  • Sending important documents

You can even assign tasks to your team members with the Assigned Comments feature.

With an Assigned comment, you can instantly convert a comment into a task, and then assign it to your team members so that they won’t forget to take action on it!

assigning a comment in ClickUp

 

The Best Kanban Board For 2021

ClickUp doesn’t just help you with your Kanban workflow

With ClickUp’s Board View, you can use it as an online Kanban board too!

What’s ClickUp’s Board View?

This view visualizes your project tasks as an interactive Kanban or Scrum board. It’s super convenient to view all your tasks in one place!

ClickUp board view

Five reasons why the Board View is perfect for the Kanban-style approach:

1. Drag and Drop for when you’re in a hurry

Just like a physical board, you can drag and drop your ClickUp tasks to the correct columns. With ClickUp, you can move a Kanban card around in the blink of an eye!

Gif of moving cards around in ClickUp's kanban board

2. Custom Project Statuses that suit every workflow

In the Board View, the ‘status’ is the name of the Kanban column. 

ClickUp allows you to create as many Custom Statuses as you need. 

You can customize your Kanban board based on the kind of project.

custom status by ClickUp

To make Statuses more visible, you can color-code each status.

Once you’ve crafted your Custom Statuses for a particular project, you can save them as a template for your multiple projects. Now you won’t have to waste them setting these up for every new project!

3. Sort and filter to organize your tasks

The Kanban View columns aren’t just organized from left to right like an ordinary Kanban board. 

You can sort columns individually to highlight important tasks at the top of the column so that your team knows what to complete first.

You can also up your task management game by organizing your tasks based on their status, task name, start date, and more!

Here are some of the filters ClickUp provides:

  • Due date: Identify tasks that need to be completed in the near future
  • Assignee: View tasks assigned to a particular Scrum team member
  • Time tracked: Arrange tasks based on how much time was spent on them

4. Never lose track of a task with Tags

Need even more features to help you with task management?

Tags can make your life so much easier. 

You can instantly categorize it to make it more recognizable.

Tagging a task in ClickUp

Now you won’t have to scramble to find a project task

5. Multiple views for everyone

It’s quite rare to find a Kanban software that can cater to your entire team.

Luckily, ClickUp’s Multiple Views allow your team members to organize their tasks however they want. They can even switch between Views on the same task!

Let’s take a look at the views that ClickUp offers:

  • List View: Arranges all your work in a neat little task list. Great for those who just want to get stuff done!
  • Box View: Lets you view all your team members’ tasks in a report-card format
  • Calendar View: View and edit your daily/weekly/monthly schedule
  • Gantt View: View your project plan as a Gantt chart
  • Me Mode: View tasks only assigned to you

Conclusion

Kanban is not rocket science! 

It’s a super easy project management methodology.

Whether you’re using a personal Kanban board for task management or managing multiple projects simultaneously, it’s a methodology that can help you get your work done.

To effectively implement Kanban, you need Kanban management software.

ClickUp has all the features you need to manage your Kanban workflow and create a Kanban board. It’ll help keep your team in the loop, move tasks around with ease, and adapt to project changes quickly.

Sign up today for free and ensure that your project management process is never dysfunctional!

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