Millions of people around the world use a kanban board to organize their work and personal lives. Why? Because it’s intuitive, fun, and very easy to use. This article will introduce you to the Kanban Method, so you can start using it with your tasks and projects.
Finding a way to do things more efficiently is important – no matter what business you are in or kind of projects you do.
The idea of the kanban board was originally used in Japan in production processes. Nowadays this method is popularized and utilized in many different areas. It is an approach to an incremental, evolutionary process and system change for organizations. We can describe it as:
a way to organize the chaos that surrounds us by applying prioritization and focus;
a way to uncover workflow and process problems so we may solve them in order to deliver satisfying results more quickly and smoothly.
Most projects can be viewed as a process – a series of steps or tasks that achieve a desired result. There are all kinds of processes – simple and complex, individual and team, quick and time-consuming. Sometimes large or overarching processes consist of a series of smaller processes.
Source: Jeff Lasovski
Kanban step by step…
Are you ready to learn how to successfully implement Kanban in your business process or life?
Let’s start from the basic kanban software principles defined by David Anderson, the inventor of the Kanban Method, and see how you can improve your productivity.
Step 1: Visualize your workflow
Start with a visual representation of the process. It lets you see exactly how tasks go from being “not done” to “done right”. The more complex the process is, the more useful and important creating a visual workflow becomes. Kanban software can be used successfully no matter if you have just few steps (do, doing, done) or a lot of steps (Backlog To do, Development, Testing, Deployment etc.). By using online task management tools you can track progress & communicate easily in your team from anywhere in real-time.
How to do it?
First, map your current workflow. Create a column for each step that you take, begining from the moment you start, and finish at the result you want to achieve. If you do not know how to write down steps – start with the simple process: To do, Doing, Done. And then observe if you need any other steps. If it’s not obvious where a step begins or ends, look for handoffs and signoffs. Handoffs are points at which someone else has to take over a task and signoffs are points at which the person doing the work asks for confirmation that they’re doing it right. An example of a hand off in software development is when a programmer lets the testers know that a feature is ready to be tested. An example of a sign off is when a client is asked to verify that a set of acceptance tests are complete.
Now, write each task on a separate card in your kanban board. Try to use different colors for different types of tasks (e.g. design, development, tests). While your work progresses, each task will move from left to right through the process steps until it’s done.
Step 2: Limit Work in a Process (WIP)
Yes, it is possible to get more done by doing less. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is a powerful idea that has been proven to be true. Don’t try to be a superhero and do everything. Remember that with two hands you can only juggle a few balls before you start dropping them. Kanban teaches us that there is a limit of things you can do efficiently at the same time. In many cases it is a lower number than you think. It is all about maintaining a good flow and eliminating waste. A major source of waste is context-switching. When you have too many tasks being worked on at the same time, that means more switching between tasks and less focus on finishing them. For each column on your board, set a limit of the number of tasks that can be in that column at one time. You’ll know if the limits are too high if work gets backed up and you find yourself working on more than one task at a time. The limit is too low if it’s slowing down the whole team and creating a bottleneck. Use WIP Limits to enforce a smooth flow of work and to minimize of waste caused by context-switching. Remember, the goal isn’t to get as much work started as possible, or even to keep everyone as busy as possible. The goal is to maximize the rate at which tasks get finished.
How to do it?
Limiting the amount of tasks that can be in progress at any time discourages team members from wasteful ‘multi-tasking’, reduces switching costs, and encourages collaboration and cross-training. You can implement it by adding a limited capacity buffer between steps. A kanban tool allows you to set up limits in order to
keep a steady rhythm without overloading the members. Limiting WIP helps you to complete tasks faster. It is known that by focusing on only one task you would achieve better completion time than by working on two tasks at the same time.
Step 3: Measure and improve value flow
In every life area – improvement should be based on objective measurements. Finding and applying good metrics is a difficult step. However by using some simple measures generated by a software kanban tool you can get the information you need to improve your current process. Your kanban board gives you a lot of helpful information, e.g. where do you have bottlenecks, which type of tasks you perform most often, what is blocking tasks from getting done, etc.
How to do it?
Each day, review the status of the tasks on the Kanban board working from right to left. Where are the bottlenecks? What tasks are blocked? Who is multi-tasking? Which tasks seem stuck? Periodic review of visual charts of the past performance can help to illustrate developing problems or show the impact of improvements you’ve made. Using kanban software you can monitor your progress on charts like a cumulative flow diagram (below).
Observe your Kanban board and read the signs which it gives you. Whenever the work is going to be delayed, look at the Kanban board – it will give you an answer where the issues have their source.
A cumulative flow diagram is created by counting how many tasks enter each state over day. This cumulative flow diagram gives us an insight into the process, and shows past performance and allows us to predict future results.
If you need any more tips check out my presentation – Get started with Kanban.