Are you struggling to select a project management framework to best fit your team?

Are you considering Kanban project management, but need to know more before committing?

Hey, you’re not alone.

A 2020 Wellington survey showed 61% of respondents usually or always define their project methodology. And even though Kanban project management is considered one of the staple project management methodologies, not everyone knows exactly how it works or its benefits.

The Kanban framework is popular for a reason – it's a proven process that can be implemented without major modifications or disruptions to your existing workflow.

If you're doing your homework on the best methodology for your team, you've come to the right place. We've put together a quick start guide to help you make a more confident decision on your process.

Let's get started.

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What is Kanban project management?

Kanban project management is a visual project management system centered on the use of a board with multiple columns that represent the stages of a high-level workflow.

These workflow columns are placed in chronological order from left to right across the board where cards can be added or moved from column to column. Each card represents individual tasks, a group of tasks, or an entire project that will move through the workflow.

Kanban Content Example of a Column

The cards are then placed within the appropriate column on the board, and a clear overview of the project becomes available for both project managers and team members to view.

Content Kanban Example of Cards

As progress is made on a card, it moves through the columns until it arrives in the last column, which typically represents some form of Done. The most basic of workflows consist of the three columns To Do, In Progress, and Done.

After moving to the final column, typically finished cards are archived or deleted. But many workflows will require additional columns and workflow-specific column titles.

Here's an example of a board that could be used for the process of writing a book. The entire team can see what’s in the To-Do column, as well as what’s in the column they’re primarily responsible for.

Image of Kanban board view project collaboration

The writer’s tasks are located in the To be written column and the editor’s tasks are in Waiting for approval. Once the writer completes their tasks, they move it into the Waiting for approval column for the editor to finish and send to Reviewed.

As logical and straightforward as this system may seem, it's taken decades to refine and perfect.

Where did Kanban project management come from?

Kanban translates to "visual card" in Japanese. The process originated in Japan during the 1940s when an industrial engineer, Taiichi Ohno, realized the need to remove the inefficiencies in Toyota’s production process.

He observed that supermarkets were able to guarantee the stock of their products by ordering new stock at the same rate as customers were buying. This strategic approach to purchasing prevented the supermarkets from becoming overburdened with a backlog of unsold stock in their stores and warehouses.

While Ohno initially applied the concept to Toyota’s inventory levels on their factory floors, Kanban can and has since been used to manage a wide range of projects across several different industries.

How to set up your Kanban project management board

If you're considering using the Kanban project management methodology, it helps to know how to set it up. Follow these basic rules to get your Kanban board up and running:

Step 1: Choose your project management software

We've come a long way from Ohno's first Kanban process. Gone are the needs for sticky notes and bulletin boards. Teams need a project management solution that is as fast and as expanse as their projects.

Make sure you choose a software option that fits your most essential needs. There are a ton of Kanban board options out there, but why not choose one that fully integrates into the rest of your organization's or agency's workflow?

boards

Teamwork is the ultimate choice for kanban board management for client services companies. We foster collaboration by allowing companies to invite their clients into Teamwork without any additional costs.

Not only do we have a Kanban board view, but Teamwork works with a variety of methodologies so you don't have to stick to one specific process.

Project management software gantt-header

With detailed reports available to see the project's health or how tasks are moving toward your original goals, Teamwork has a way for you to keep a pulse on all your projects and team's workloads.

Step 2: Add your cards and determine what each will represent

While each card could represent a single task or entire project, it’s more efficient to group related tasks together. To break this down, think about how you would create cards for running errands.

Say your daily errands involve mailing a package, getting a car wash, and picking up groceries. It's more efficient to do all three in one trip. It wouldn't be practical to plan three separate trips out of the house in one day.

In this case, the tasks should all go on the same card. Think of this card as more of your "Tuesday To-Dos" than having to create a separate card for each task to complete throughout the week.

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It's important to know that tasks don't always fit together. If you're having difficulty grouping tasks onto cards, don’t worry. There are no set rules.

Simply do what makes the most sense to make you and your team more efficient when moving tasks through each phase.

Step 3: Choose your columns based on the most essential stages

Let's be real, Kanban boards work best when they break down processes to be more efficient. If your board has dozens of columns, you're overdoing it.

Kanban board columns should represent the various stages of your unique workflow that can't be missed. Even within the same industry, boards can look different at each company or across your own internal teams.

Make sure your columns are clearly titled and accurately represent the current status of the cards that sit within them. Slimming down the number of columns is important to keep the workflow, well, flowing.

Step 4: Understand your work-in-progress limits

One of the governing rules of Kanban says you get more done when you focus on one thing at a time. For this reason, columns should be outfitted with work-in-progress (WIP) limits.

Allocating a set number of card slots to each column allows you to visually see WIP limits and understand where in your workflow might benefit from additional resources.

Traditionally speaking, you should have one card slot per team member working on a column. However, some organizations have found success increasing this number to 1.5 or even 2 slots per assigned team member.

Ultimately, the WIP limit applied to each column should serve to support a good workflow. At the same time, it should prevent team members from being overwhelmed by taking on more than they can handle.

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That's why resource planning is essential to all project management methodologies. Ensure your software solution can provide a detailed view of your team's workloads.

With Teamwork's resource management features, you appropriately allocate resources between team members, prevent burnout, or spot bottlenecks before they happen.

Step 5: Respect current roles and responsibilities

Kanban is very flexible when it comes to your organizational structure. There’s no need for major organizational shifts that some other systems demand. You simply need to apply the Kanban principles to your existing roles and responsibilities. 

Only the approach will change, but it's up to leadership to make responsibilities clear.

By setting up roles and responsibilities, teams can look forward to the transition with anticipation and excitement rather than hesitation and fear.

Ensure your process has detailed user permission settings across every project. This helps organize your team and inform them of who is responsible for what.

Step 6: Only start with what you're doing now

Kanban is not a rigid system. There isn't just one Kanban process to follow for success. Instead, your Kanban framework should fit flawlessly within a wide variety of processes.

Typically, if a process works well off a Kanban board, it can be shifted to Kanban with little to no change. Simply begin applying Kanban to your existing processes. You don't need everything fully optimized upfront.

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In fact, it's best to start where you are and gradually optimize your Kanban board over time so it can look like the example above. If you attempt to shift to Kanban too quickly, it can cause the whole implementation to fail.

No matter how unrefined or unoptimized it may be, create your first Kanban board with your current workflow. Pursue continuous, small improvements as you see the need for them.

Start taking advantage of the Kanban framework

Having the right Kanban project management solution means you can focus more on increasing efficiency and responsiveness while using its visual workflow to get tasks in the Done column.

Adopting the Kanban methodology shouldn't overly burden your team. Instead, the new processes should streamline assignments so you're hitting all the deadlines.

Just make sure you have the right solution to manage your tasks across each vital stage. Try Teamwork free for 30 days and see why 20,000 companies trust our software to run their business every day.