how to make kanban board

I spent a lot of time talking to fellow productivity freaks on Twitter. Much to my surprise, the number one question asked on Twitter regarding productivity is, “What’s your day-to-day stack of tools to track and finish tasks.” Much to their surprise, my answer is always the same – “You don’t need a stack of tools to track your tasks; you just have to create one Kanban board and stick to it.“ After my answer, usually many questions follow, with the most common to ask – “What is a Kanban board?“, and “How do I make a Kanban board?“

Although I’ve attempted to explain both questions in a series of Tweets, there will always be another productivity freak seeking the magic stack of productivity tools to fill the gap of their procrastination.

And since I’ve become a hardcore Kanban practitioner, I’ve personally experienced the magic of using a single productivity tool called Kanban board. And this article will guide you through the simple process of how to make a Kanban board with any tool allowing the implementation of the Kanban method.

What Is a Kanban Board?

A Kanban board is a digital or physical project management tool used by teams and organizations to visualize work, limit the work in progress, and maximize flow and efficiency.

Why Should You Create a Kanban Board?

A Kanban board can help teams across the entire organization to establish order in their daily activities. Kanban boards use cards, swimlanes, and columns to help teams commit to the appropriate amount of work, so all the tasks will be completed on time.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Kanban Board?

The key benefits of using a Kanban board are listed below. 

  • Focus on continuous delivery.
  • Flexibility.
  • Increased productivity.
  • Reduction of wasted work.
  • Increased efficiency.
  • Reduction of wasted time.
  • The ability of team members to stay concentrated.

How to Create a Kanban Board in 6 Steps?

Now that we have explained the benefits of using a Kanban board, let me walk you through the exact process of creating a Kanban board in six simple steps.

Step 1: Pick a Tool

The first step is to decide what type of Kanban board you will use – a physical or a digital Kanban board. Physical Kanban boards are very easy to set and use; however, they will only work for teams who work at the same office. A digital Kanban board is as easy to set up and use as a physical one, with one distinctive benefit – your team can access and use it no matter where the team members are located. Living in the remote job era, picking up a digital Kanban board is the safest bet. 

These days, there are plenty of digital Kanban tools designed to create Kanban boards. It doesn’t matter which one you choose as long as it meets your team requirements. For example, an excellent digital Kanban board should allow you to create your own workflow, create multiple Kanban boards, set WIP limits, add multiple users, use tags, types, colors for the cards, etc.

Step 2: Create a Basic Kanban Board 

Don’t get too crazy with your first Kanban board. Start small, scale later. What you need to do is to create your first Kanban board and give it a name. Create the following four columns, which are the backbone of a Kanban board.

1. Backlog – for all wild ideas you have.

2. To-Do – this is the place for all approved tasks (cards).

3. In Progress – this is where the cards are moved once the team members commit to “doing” the tasks.

4. Done – this is the column for all completed cards (tasks).

Step 3: Define the Workflow 

Okay, now that you have set your basic Kanban board, you are allowed to go crazy, create additional columns that will further define your workflow. These columns should mirror the organization’s workflow. Choose columns where items are likely to move through and are meaningful to your teammates. For example, let’s take the In Progress column from the basic Kanban board. Within this column, you can create another column called Tracking Others. This is an additional step that shows that the task you are working on needs further action from someone else, which could be a colleague of yours or a partner you are working with. Moving a card in progress to Tracking Other indicates that you are available to start another task.

Another common column to add is Peer Review. Often when developers write code or marketers write articles, or a component is fabricated, their work has to be reviewed first by a peer, in other words, tested. Once you are ready with writing your code or article, move the card to the Peer Review column; this way, a peer will see the task in the column and proceed with the review. 

Keep in mind that any workflow will change and improve with time as you and your team work together on the flow of your Kanban board. It is also the time to consider if your Kanban board would benefit from a Kanban tool offering the option to add swimlanes. They will allow the board to be divided vertically based on priority, themes, areas of work, product components, etc.

Step 4: Visualize Your Existing Work on the Board 

You will now add all the known work to your board. Make a card for everything you know you need to do but have not yet started. The cards should be added to the Backlog, not in the To-Do column. This step is essential because the primary goal of Kanban is to visualize all the work.

Step 5: Add Work in Progress (WIP) Limits 

Kanban is focused on the continuous flow of work through a process. Work capacity needs to be managed to make sure that tasks flow smoothly. Finish what you start. You don’t want suddenly the In Progress column to become a bottleneck of started but unfinished tasks. WIP limits should be clearly defined and managed through the Kanban board settings. For example, if your team is of five people, the WIP limit for the In Progress column should be set to a maximum of 5 tasks allowed to be put in there. This means that each member is allowed to work on only one task.

Many people neglect the importance of this step, as they think that multitasking is possible. Multitasking isn’t a possible act by our brain; what we do is context-switching between multiple tasks. Context switching is considered a waste in Kanban; it has a cost and should be eliminated through the implementation of WIP limits.

Step 6: Establish a Feedback-Friendly Atmosphere 

This step is one of the most important for the proper development of your Kanban board and its workflow. As things change, the staff turns over, and products evolve, what originally fit well for the process may no longer meet those needs.

You should be open to teammates’ and stakeholders’ feedback and suggestions and adjust the board accordingly. It doesn’t matter if it is missing columns or they are too specific; these tweaks are simple and will eventually increase the use and benefits of any Kanban board.

What Are the Types of Kanban Boards?

There are two main types of Kanban boards – physical Kanban boards and digital Kanban boards.

1. Physical Kanban Board

The most basic Kanban boards are physical boards separated into vertical columns. Each team puts sticky notes on the whiteboard or blackboard. These sticky notes move from left to right through the workflow and indicate progress.

2. Digital Kanban Board

In response to Kanban’s popularity among engineering and software teams, Kanban boards faced a digital transformation. The digital Kanban boards can be used remotely and asynchronously by teams without a physical office space.

Where Did Kanban Boards Originally Come from?

The first Kanban system was developed by Taiichi Ohno for Toyota automotive in Japan. He worked on the basic principles of the Kanban method. This included Kanban cards as a visual signal helping to control the flow of parts through the supply chain.

As the Kanban method gained popularity around 2006, software developers applied it to the practice of visualizing and sharing project status. They posted cards on whiteboards. As Kanban principles were applied to the chaotic project boards, they developed the columns and structure that have become the foundation of modern Kanban boards. 

Should Your Team Use Multiple Kanban Boards?

Yes, your team can use multiple Kanban boards. They don’t have to limit themselves to one Kanban board. For example, they can use a personal Kanban board, a Kanban board with multiple workflows, a single product or project Kanban board, or a portfolio management Kanban board.

What Are the Potential Challenges When Creating a Kanban Board?

The two main potential challenges when creating a Kanban board are complexity and buy-in from the team. Often, teams create complex Kanban boards with many columns, swimlanes, and workflows where progress might get difficult to track. Simple is better. Evaluate the type of projects and products your team is working on and strategically plan your workflow to be simple and easy to follow by all team members. The second challenge is to win your team to use the Kanban board every day and for every task. It is important that every task goes through the Kanban board so the team knows exactly how much work they can take and finish.

How to Measure Progress Using Your Kanban Board?

In order to prove that the usage of a Kanban board in your organization is beneficial, you will have to measure the progress while using your Kanban board. For this purpose, you can collect and analyze a number of metrics. We won’t get into too many details with this article, but the most important Kanban metrics to track are lead time, cycle time, throughput, work in progress, and queues. You can read the complete guide on Kanban metrics and how to measure them.

How to Create a Simple Kanban Board in Kanbanize?

Let me show you how you can create a Kanban board in Kanbanize. The process is simple, and it will take less than 5 minutes before your board is ready to use.

First, you have to be either an Account Owner or a Workspace Manager to be able to create boards within a Workspace. You can create as many workspaces as you need, and each Workspace can contain multiple Kanban boards.

Step 1: For starters, you need to have a Workspace. Click the plus button to create your new Team or Management Workspace.

create workspace
Create a Workspace in Kanbanize

Step 2: Click the New Board button located on the right side of a selected Workspace. Enter the name of the Board in the dedicated text field and click Create.

Adding new board in a Workspace in Kanbanize

Voila! Your first Kanban board is set. Now you can create your own workflow that meets your team’s specific work and needs.

Happy Kanbanizing!

Try Kanbanize for Free

Subscribe to our blog. Get each new piece of content straight into your mailbox.

Read insightful articles from top Agile/Lean thought leaders and our experienced team.