Want to learn how Kanban project management works?
The Kanban method is one of the fastest-growing project management methods in 2021. In fact, huge companies like the BBC, Pixar, and Spotify have used this project management methodology!
But why is it so popular?
Because the Kanban methodology is ridiculously easy to learn!
It’s so simple that even the not-so-smart Bluth family from ‘Arrested Development’ could figure it out!
But what exactly 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.
As a bonus, we’ll even highlight the best Kanban project management board to implement this methodology in 2021!
This article contains:
(Use the links below to jump to a specific section)
- What is Kanban Project Management?
- The Four Key Components of Kanban
- The Core Principles of Kanban Project Management
- The Three Kanban Management Processes
- The Five Benefits of Kanban
- The Two Limitations of Kanban
- The Best Kanban Board for 2021
Let’s get started…
What is Kanban Project Management?
Kanban is a visual-first project management method that’s based on the Agile methodology.
But wait…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. You then take their feedback and incorporate it into the next cycle.
How is Agile different from regular project management?
While the regular software development process involves:
- Creating a project plan
- Following the plan to a T
- Delivering the final product
An Agile team does things differently.
As the Agile methodology breaks a project down into smaller cycles, you can:
- Make changes quickly as they’re only redoing sections of the project instead of the whole thing
- Incorporate customers throughout the development process to give them a product that leaves them looking like Lucile here:
Ok, back to Kanban!
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).
You move these cards around as your project advances to keep up with their progress.
Because everything is visualized on cards, you can see what work your team has in real-time. Additionally, you can 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 named Taiichi Ohno developed a ‘just-in-time’ production system. The system was based on visual communication, kind of how Kanban is today.
Here’s 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
Components are a lot like the members of the Bluth family.
They’re valuable pieces that contribute to their overall development of the show.
Similarly, the Kanban project management system has a few key components that make it what it is:
1. Kanban board
Everyone looks to Micheal for help, right?
Similarly, Kanban teams are highly dependent on a Kanban board.
But what is it?
A Kanban board is a physical or digital board that is used to:
- Visualize all the work in the project
- Optimize workflow of the team
A basic Kanban board is divided into three columns:
- To Do: Tasks that need to be picked up
- Work In Progress: Tasks that are currently being worked on
- Done: Where you place every completed task
However, you don’t have to stick to the same three columns.
Based on your workflow, you can have as many columns to accommodate your team’s unique processes with an online Kanban board.
2. Kanban cards
According to the Kanban project management 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.
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
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 take the cards from the commitment point to the delivery as fast as possible.
So you can delight your clients and customers by sending them their product quickly to leave them looking like Buster here:
The Core Principles of Kanban Project Management
Principles are simple, right?
They’re the rules that have to be followed within a system.
The Bluth family principle is to ‘Always leave a note’.
This means all the family members have to leave a sticky note to communicate with each other when no one is present.
If they don’t, there will be consequences like this:
Similarly, 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 the tasks present in the project
- How work flows 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 fully finished product!
Additionally, this visual-first approach helps a Kanban project manager see what every team member is working on at a given time.
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 all at the same time!
If they did that, they would end up being as crazy as the Bluths!
So what’s the best way to stop this from happening?
Limiting 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
If you want 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 exactly what to do.
Let’s simplify this with an example:
For a task to be marked ‘Done’, the Bluth’s can establish a process where certain conditions need to be met.
The conditions could be:
- Let Gob quality check what’s been done (great idea btw)
- Have Lucille sign off on it
Only when all of those conditions are met, can your team say that you’ve completed the task.
Nobody’s going to be running around wondering what to do next as it’s already spelled out for them!
5. Maintain feedback loops
As a child, Buster went to Milford Academy, a prestigious school where ‘children should not be seen nor heard’:
Luckily for Buster, working in a Kanban team is quite the opposite!
The Kanban methodology encourages team members to speak up.
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 Kanban project management works:
1. Start with three columns
The first step of any Kanban process is setting up your 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 as per your preferences.
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 ‘In Progress column’.
If you do, you’re going to bite off more than you can chew!
As Micheal would say:
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.
This process loops until there are no more tasks remaining on the board.
The Five Benefits of Kanban Project Management
So why is Kanban as popular as Arrested Development?
Here’s a deep dive into how Kanban project management can boost your team’s productivity:
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 the case!
Don’t believe us?
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 Tobias Fünke himself!
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. You’re now free to quickly 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.
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 (Work in Progress) 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.
The Two Limitations of Kanban Project Management
Everyone has a few limitations or flaws…even a project management system like Kanban!
And unlike Lucile, Kanban accepts those flaws!
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 Kanban project management software like ClickUp!
It’s used by teams in startups and large businesses and has tons of features to manage your Kanban team and workflow.
Let’s take a look at the limitations of a Kanban board and how ClickUp can solve them:
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.
Here’s the problem with this:
Not all tasks were created equal!
Certain tasks are more important than others, and when you’re using Kanban, that can get overlooked.
After all, a card is a card, right?
As a result of this, your team could delay working on your priorities, leading to outbursts like this:
ClickUp Solution: Priorities
Don’t worry Lucile; you won’t have to set yourself on fire!
Use ClickUp’s Priorities to easily prioritize your project tasks.
ClickUp lets you choose different Priority Levels to add your tasks:
This way, your team knows how important each task is and which ones need to be attempted first.
2. Potential team communication issues
Remember, 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.
Gob is a junior developer and expects Micheal to assign tasks to him.
Meanwhile, Micheal expects Gob to be more proactive and pick up tasks from the Kanban board himself.
When Michael learns that Gob didn’t work on a task because he was waiting on him, Gob’s going to pull out this excuse:
ClickUp Solution: Comments
To prevent conflicts like these, both Gob and Micheal should have communicated their expectations.
That’s where ClickUp Comments come in.
Each task has in ClickUp has a comment section, which you can use for:
- Sharing your expectations with the team
- Asking questions to your project manager
- Sending important documents
And that’s not all!
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!
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!
Here are five reasons why the Board View is perfect for Kanban project management:
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!
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 you’re working on.
To make Statuses more visible, you can color-code each status.
We bet Tobias would want all the Statuses to be blue as an homage to the Blue Man Group!
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.
By tagging a task, you can instantly categorize it to make it more recognizable.
Now you won’t have to scramble to find a project task.
Just filter by tags to make them magically appear – like these pennies!
5. Multiple views for everyone
It’s quite rare to find a Kanban software that can cater to your entire team.
Like the Bluths, we’re sure your team is filled with colorful personalities who have different preferences!
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
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.
However, 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.
So why not sign up today for free and ensure that your project management process is never as dysfunctional as the Bluths!
Erica is ClickUp’s Senior Content Manager and professional beach bum. She spends her days creating emails, blogs, landing pages, and more to help people increase their productivity so they can save one day every week to do more of what they love.
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