kanban for project management

If we only ever had one single project or product to manage, we could easily get by without any management tools. If you could apply 100% of your energy, resources, and brainpower to one single task, you would likely find a way to keep it all in line and move in the right direction.

But that’s not the case for many, if any, of us. Add in a second, and third and a couple dozen, and we’re lost. There is simply no way to keep control of multiple projects and all of the primary, secondary and tertiary tasks related to their successful completion.

This is the exact place where you can turn for help to Kanban for project management.

But, what is Kanban project management?

What on earth is Kanban at all?

Let’s discover more.

Enter Kanban

proven kanban system

Kanban has proven to be one of the simplest, flexible and most efficient tools for project management. It allows you to manage your process by visualizing every step of the workflow on a Kanban board and limiting the amount of work in progress.

It grows with your business, and it’s designed to easily integrate new projects, products, departments, phases, and colleagues.

Let’s explore how you can use Kanban as a project management tool.

Realize That One Solution Fits All

You know your business, and you know how you want to run it. You have timelines, deadlines, goalposts, and indicators. You know what has worked in the past, and what hasn’t.

While some project management tools are designed for very specific types of projects, products or services, Kanban is one of the truly wide-open management software packages that can be applied to every situation.

kanban for all situations

And while one might assume that being a ‘jack of all trades’ means you’re a ‘master of none’, you’ll quickly see that this is not the case with Kanban.

  • Kanban is a Japanese word and represents a physical card you can see
  • A Kanban card is a trigger to work, modify, advance, order or restock
  • A Kanban board is where you visualize, track and navigate your workflow
  • Kanban was formalized in the auto industry, but it’s based on how supermarkets operate
  • Initially 100% physical, Kanban now exists in electronic format for greater reach

While the concept is unwavering, the structure is flexible, giving you the power of a simple visual project management system combined with the ability to create your own inputs, flags, rules, goals, and outputs to match your business, projects, and products.

Taking the basic concept of Kanban a step further and adding highly visual prioritization through the creation of ‘swimlanes,’ you can do more than managing your projects. You can also add dimensions of efficiency and collaboration that cover your entire group, team, unit or organization.

Before we continue let’s just consider this: You can name the top swimlane of your board “Projects” and put all big initiatives there. Then you can break down each initiative into small tasks (cards) and link them to the relevant initiative. Only when all smaller tasks are done, the project will be completed. Thanks to this you can manage your portfolio of projects with ease.

This way you can stay updated all the time without the need for status reporting because you can see everything on the Kanban board. Convenient, isn’t it? You can consider this a visual project tracking board, that helps you stay tuned.

Anyway, we will discuss the role of swimlanes further in this article.

Now, let’s continue with some helpful data.

Using Swimlanes on a Kanban Board

kanban swimlanes

Share the Wealth of Information

Nowadays we are flooded with information. It’s everywhere. We are just saturated with data. Take a look at some of the mind-boggling numbers attached to our never-ending creation of new data:

  • The independent research firm International Data Corp (IDC) estimates that, by 2020, transactions on the Internet will reach 450 billion per day and enterprise-generated content will exceed 240 exabytes daily (an exabyte is 1 billion gigabytes).
  • The amount of data created on digital information platforms every day is eight times greater than the information stored in all of the libraries in the U.S.

A decade ago there was a talk of the ‘paperless’ office, but it appears that despite all of the advances in electronic data creation, storage and exchange, we are having a hard time giving up our hardcopy documents.

We need a way to integrate all of our data and information across multiple platforms and make it usable and accessible for our customers, suppliers, and colleagues.

And here is the answer. Traditional physical Kanban is a huge help for organizing, understanding and putting to good use the data related to how you run your business at a local level.

When you take it to the electronic level with Kanban software, however, you add a whole other level of connectivity and collaboration and can instantaneously communicate with your coworkers and management no matter where they are. This is the real power of  Kanban project management software. When everyone is sharing the same information, goals, timelines and priorities, your business benefits.

Kanban for Project Management – Recognize the Benefits of Simplicity

We like simple concepts. The most popular and long-lasting management concepts and principles are those that are simple, clear and easy to follow. Kanban, for example, quickly became the reference for manufacturing in the automotive factor in the 1990s, and it’s now used across a broad range of industry sectors.

simple action generation

  • As shelves are emptied at a grocery store — where the concept of Kanban was first observed — the physical lack of product is visually detected during regular checks by employees. The shelves are restocked from the inventory in the storeroom. Removal of inventory sends a signal to reorder. Initially 100% physical, this concept has been vastly improved with the addition of automated electronic information transfer.
  • In an automotive assembly plant, the concept of a ‘pull’ system is respected. The smallest inventories possible are maintained, and the replacement — through ordering, assembling or fabricating — of these parts is only triggered when they are consumed. Counteract that with a ‘push’ system, where, for example, a scheduled order of 1000 brake pads may be delivered even if the assembly line has stopped for maintenance. In the Kanban system, since the inventory of brake pads wasn’t consumed, there was no signal to reorder the parts since they aren’t yet needed.
  • In a project management context, the steps, actions, and milestones are all defined and visually displayed in their logical order. The completion of one step in your work process drives the following steps, and a modification at one level is dispatched across all dependent actions. Thanks to the visual nature of the Kanban, nothing gets forgotten or ignored, and you can simultaneously have your eye on the entire project and focus on minute details.

simple project managemetn with kanban

It doesn’t matter if you’re offering a service to the public, shipping goods around the world, or manufacturing widgets. The Kanban board is a simple, visual tool that can provide you with the clarity and structure you need. Staying disciplined is not easy when you are pulled in many directions by conflicting deadlines and multiple collaborators who aren’t aware of your other resource constraints. When you follow the workflow you’ve set out in your Kanban at the outset of your project, you can quickly gauge your performance and advancement.

Kanban is equally suitable for projects like software development, human resources and time tracking, and continuous improvement and quality initiatives. There is no limit to how you deploy your Kanban management system. Once you have run a successful implementation — perhaps a pilot project under your control — it is even easier to deploy your Kanban solution to other areas of your business.

See Kanban project management in action with Kanbanize

Some management systems require a certain size or ‘critical mass’ before they are applicable or efficient, but not Kanban. You could very well start a project in one office, and later expand it to cover all of your projects at your offices and facilities around the world.

Using Kanban for Project Management – Build, Manage and Complete

Kanban isn’t the only project management system. Even with no official system in place, many companies manage to wade their way through to accomplish the job. But at a certain point, growth is slowed or stopped if you don’t employ a sound and comprehensive strategy to build, manage and complete your projects.

implement a kanban project management system

Actually, the principles of Kanban are probably the most effective and efficient way to reach these three goals while dealing with project management:

  • I. Build

This first step is crucial but can scare many people off. Many take ‘build’ to mean you have to toss everything and start from scratch. This isn’t always the case. Before building your Kanban management system, do a full analysis of how you conduct business today. If something works, great! You don’t have to systematically replace your current procedures and workflow if they are giving you satisfactory results. Build according to your best practices. If you find something that doesn’t work, or can be improved, don’t hesitate to redo it. The start of a Kanban implementation is the perfect time to lay out the ideal roadmap, workflow, and goals for all of your projects.

  • II. Manage

Once you’ve built your Kanban system, it’s time to make it work for you. Thanks to the visual nature of our Kanban software and the simple logic of swimlanes, training your employees and team members is generally easy. Starting fresh or going from a different project management system or software to a digital Kanban board can seem like a big change. Emphasize the visual aspect of Kanbanize boards. Let your team spend time becoming familiar with the software and interfaces, and help them customize their views with the pertinent information. The best way to teach Kanban is to create a concrete example using your regular products, services, deadlines, and collaborators.

  • III. Complete

A management system should do more than simply track a project for the duration of its lifecycle. It should also help you work toward the successful completion or implementation of your projects. Build and manage your Kanban so that it drives your projects to completion. Trust your planning and prioritization to aid you in meeting your deadlines and reaching your project goals. Make changes where necessary. The first time you use your Kanban management software to finish a project, you will find ways to improve and streamline your workflow. Maintain focus and check in frequently with your employees. Despite the simplicity of Kanban, many people will naturally resist changes, and will initially try to work ‘offline’ and continue as they have always done, not according to what Kanban requests.

process with a bottleneck
Break down your work and Track it. Stay tuned with everything that is happening.

If you work with an enthusiastic team that is open to a new way of doing business, implementing our Kanban project management software across a large project and multiple areas or locations is possible. If you typically experience resistance to any changes and have encountered some difficulties changing mindsets in the past, start with a small, localized Kanban project to experience its ease and efficiency.


Once it’s clear that Kanban isn’t simply an additional layer of management, and instead replaces one or more outdated, ineffective project management systems and makes workflow easier and more visual, your employees will embrace it. Further deployment will be a cinch when everyone sees the advantages:

time tracking
  • Analytics. All the data in the world won’t serve you well if you don’t know how to analyze and interpret it. This is why, most of the contemporary Kanban software solutions offer powerful analytics panels, so you can track useful metrics, customize the data you display and present it with ease.
time tracking
  • An organized workflow. A systematic workflow approach through Kanban allows you to fine-tune your approach and share your best practices.
  • Task visualization. The crux of Kanban. Humans are visual beings. Using simple, codified visual markers included in our digital Kanban software allows you to give clear signals for each step in your workflow. If a picture is worth a thousand words, trust your Kanban to do the talking in all your work projects. You may also consider this as Kanban task management.

client feedback

It is simple. Kanban is a tool that incorporates some of the best lean practices available, and it will quickly prove itself an efficient and effective way to manage your projects, products, and services.

And before we finish this article, let’s just explore shortly the significance of swimlanes.

Understand the Significance of Swimlanes

There is one aspect of project and product management that Kanban doesn’t always capture adequately: prioritization.‎ While it is possible — and inherent — to classify steps in the order you want them to occur within a ‘standard’ Kanban, detailed time scheduling and time prioritization can become complex.

To combat this, in recent years the concept of ‘swimlanes’ has been grafted onto the Kanban model to allow more advanced prioritization and time management.

Once again we see that the simplest ideas are the best ones. You don’t need to be an expert in project management tools to grasp the structure and use of swimlanes in a Kanban system. Picture your local pool:

kanban swim lanes

Most projects will include a similar mix of priorities. Some actions are extremely critical and can mean success or failure of your project. Other actions need to be respected and warrant close attention, but can ‎be carried out at a lower degree of urgency than the fast lane items. A third group of activities aren’t project critical or can be handled adjacent to the main actions. These you place in the slower lanes.

In designing your Kanban with prioritization according to swimlanes, you incorporate this important concept of hierarchy. And it isn’t only with respect to time. You can also create swimlanes for:

  • Different leaders or groups
  • Varying products or services
  • Your different sites or locations
  • Multiple developments or phases

identify segments

In general practice, Kanban swimlanes are represented with the most critical, urgent or important on the top, and they decrease in order toward the bottom. You are free to organize your Kanban board as you see fit, but remember that first and foremost, Kanban needs to be a visual representation of your workflow. Using a logical and standardized format is the best way to guarantee success.

Learn Through Trying

Well, what is project management with Kanban about? Certainly, it is not about observing. It’s about doing. To make it easy for you to see how Kanban can work seamlessly with your business and types of projects, we offer a free trial that includes 1,000 events. This is more than enough to cover a trial project, and it will allow you and your team to experience Kanban firsthand.

The visual workflow indicators are clear, obvious and unambiguous, so with minimal training, your entire workforce will not only grasp the concept — it will embrace it. Once you have a feel for Kanbanize, you’ll have no trouble integrating all of the aspects of your business:

  • HR functions, for tracking your staffing and time tracking
  • Supplier functions, for all of your orders and subcontracting
  • Customer functions, for a full view of your sales and delivery metrics
  • Quality functions, to push quality improvements and continuous improvement
  • Lean functions, to keep your business running efficiently and effectively

There is no end to the amount of integration and workflow management Kanban can allow. It can work for a small, single-location business, and it can be applied to a global multi-national with sites on every continent. The common thread is our powerful digital project management software. You’re only a few clicks away from your free trial, so consider trying it today. Give your business that boost and edge it needs to stay one step ahead of the competition.

If you’re not properly managing your projects, they’re managing you. Get back in the driver’s seat with Kanbanize. Find out why more and more businesses are trusting their project management to digital Kanban software solutions.

Try out our predefined board for Lean project management

Editor’s note: The post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and better understanding of the topic. 

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