What is a Kanban board - Fundamentals

Do you care about becoming more efficient and productive? Learn what is a Kanban board and why it is a great way to map your workflow and boost performance

Introduction

Lack of efficiency is a widespread problem across different project teams. Most of the time, the issue lies in having no clear insight into what the team is doing and what exactly is dragging the productivity down. Adopting a Kanban board can turn the tide around and help you become more efficient than you ever were by revealing where exactly the team needs to start improving.

What is a Kanban board?

The Kanban board is a tool for mapping and visualizing your workflow and one of the key components of the Kanban method. Originally, it was built using a whiteboard (or a cork board) that was split into columns and swimlanes. Each column represents a step of your process and swimlanes are dedicated to specific types of activities (design, bugs, technical debt, etc.).

Nowadays, there are more convenient and globally accessible digital Kanban board solutions that are perfect for both collocated and remote teams.

Simple Kanban Board

Every Kanban board is split into three basic sections that show the state of your tasks:

  • Requested
  • In progress
  • Done

For more detailed mapping of your process, you are at liberty to create as many subsections as you need in order to visualize your workflow with maximum precision. For example, the development team behind Kanbanize has a Kanban board that consists of 19 columns and 6 swimlanes.

Why Should I Use a Kanban Board?

  1. 1.Your Kanban board will show you any weakness in your team’s workflow.

The Kanban board is a perfect tool for visualizing potential problems in your process. The logic is simple. If you see a column, in which tasks arrive faster than they leave, work will start to pile up and the problem will become visible to the whole team. This may be caused by a temporary issue or a bottleneck in your process. This is why we advise you to map your workflow as precisely as possible in order to get an absolutely clear picture where the problem is located.

For example, if you’ve got a simple Kanban board with just one in progress section, and there are many cards that are just waiting, it will be very difficult to determine why work gets stuck. On the other hand, if you’ve taken the time to map your workflow with great precision and your board is divided by numerous columns for all the working stages, you’ll understand from a single glance where you need to improve.

Once you’ve noticed a problematic column/bottleneck, take action to resolve it and prevent it from occurring again. The simplest thing to do is to limit the work in progress earlier in the flow so that you can provide more time to the people that “own” this stage and allow them to alleviate the bottleneck. Another option could be re-distributing the team’s efforts to meet the new requirements.

  1. 2.Your Kanban board will help you focus on your work.

The Kanban board is a great way to discourage your team from multitasking by applying WIP limits in accordance to your capacity. You can either apply a limit on the total number of tasks that can be in progress simultaneously on your board or put individual limits on each stage of your workflow.

If you wish to increase the rate you deliver value to your customers, you just need to keep every person focused on as few tasks as possible. This way they will stop starting new work and concentrate on finishing assignments that are already in progress. Knowing that everyone can see what each person is doing is a great motivator to pursue better performance all the time as well.

  1. 3. Your Kanban board will save you time wasted on unnecessary meetings.

A significant benefit that comes with the introduction of your team to Kanban boards is that it will save you a lot of time from meetings, progress reports, and unnecessary interruptions.

The board will serve as an information radiator. It will spread knowledge about who is doing what at any time. The Kanban board will keep you and everyone on the team in the loop about how the assignments of their colleagues are progressing. This way you won’t need to schedule meetings too often to receive progress updates.

Following this line of thought, the Kanban board will allow you to forget about those long progress report books that take ages to be prepared and are already out of date by the time they are presented to the stakeholders.

  1. 4.Your Kanban board will visualize work blockers.

The Kanban board allows you to visualize problems that stop your team from completing any given task. On a typical physical board, blockers are usually indicated with red magnets (or pins if you are using a cork board). Digital Kanban solutions have more advanced way to visualize blockers (e.g. stop signs on blocked cards). This way when something is stopping your team from continuing work on a task, they can label it as blocked and start working on another assignment without breaking any WIP limits.

  1. 5.Your Kanban board will collect cycle time metrics.

Contemporary digital Kanban boards can automatically gather information about the cycle time of your tasks and other key performance indicators. This will help you make data-driven decisions about any changes to your process and save you plenty of time otherwise wasted on collecting metrics by hand.

Interested in learning more? Check out these 27 ways to use Kanban boards to improve efficiency.

In Summary

The Kanban board is a tool for mapping and visualizing your workflow and one of the key components of the Kanban method. Kanban Boards help you to:

  • Visualize bottlenecks and workflow weaknesses
  • Focus on the work currently at hand
  • Eliminate the need for basic status update meetings

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