The Kanban Board Explained in 5 Simple Steps

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?

A Kanban board is a tool for workflow visualization and one of the key components of the Kanban method. Originally built using a whiteboard, it is split into columns and swimlanes. Each column represents a stage of the workflow while swimlanes separate different types of activities. When a task enters your workflow, it is placed on a Kanban card that goes through each column of the board. This is why you can call it a Kanban task board.

simple Kanban board

In short, every Kanban task 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, a development team may have a Kanban task board that consists of multiple columns and swimlanes.

developemnt Kanban board

How to Use a Kanban Board

  1. Visualize Your Team’s Workflow on the Kanban Board & Spot Weaknesses

    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. For this reason, we advise you to map your workflow as precisely as possible so that you have an absolutely clear picture of where the problem lies.

    For example, if you’ve got a simple Kanban board with just one “In progress” section, and there are many cards awaiting activity, it will be very difficult to determine why work is getting stuck and what can be done to alleviate the situation.

    Conversely, if you’ve taken the time to map your workflow in great detail and your board is divided by numerous columns for all the working stages, you’ll understand at a glance where improvements can be made.

    process with a bottleneck
    An example of a process bottleneck

    Once you’ve noticed a problematic column/bottleneck, act swiftly 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 thus allowing them to alleviate the bottleneck. Another option could be re-distributing the team’s efforts to meet the new requirements. Kanban is designed to offer maximum flexibility, so you are kept in the driving seat for all important decisions.

  2. Use the Kanban Board to Limit Work in Progress and Focus

    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 will want 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.

  3. Use the Kanban Dashboard to Save Time Wasted on Unnecessary Meetings

    A significant benefit that comes with the implementation of Kanban boards is that they save you a lot of time spent on meetings, progress reports, and many other unnecessary interruptions.

    The board will serve as a dedicated information repository. It will spread knowledge about who is doing what at any time. The Kanban board will keep you and everyone in the team in the loop about how their colleagues assignments are progressing: this way you won’t need to schedule meetings so 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.

  4. Visualize Work Blockers on Your Kanban Board

    The Kanban board allows you to visualize problems that prevent 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).

    blocked card
    Blocked card on a Kanban board

    Digital Kanban software has more advanced ways 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.

  5. Collect Key Workflow Metrics and Improve

    Contemporary digital Kanban boards can automatically gather information about the cycle time of your tasks, lead time 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.

    Additionally, knowing how to use a Kanban board will help you prioritize tasks in a much better way. By visualizing everything in one place the whole team will be on the same track at any time.

    For an overview, the following video will show you how to use a basic Kanban board.

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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Step 1

What is Kanban?

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Step 3

What Is a Kanban Card? Details and Examples

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