The ultimate Kanban project management quick-start guide

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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.

Wellingtone’s State of Project Management 2021 report shows that 58% of respondents mostly or always apply a defined 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 team collaboration, 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 using a board with multiple columns representing 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.

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

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The most basic workflows consist of three columns: To Do, In Progress, and Done. 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. 

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As progress is made on a card, it moves through the columns until it arrives in the last column, which typically represents “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.

Let’s put that into perspective by looking at an example of a board that could be used to write a book:

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 a task, they move it into the Waiting for Approval column for the editor to finish and send to Reviewed.

Kanban vs. Scrum

Scrum vs. Kanban is a hotly debated topic among project managers. While there are some similarities between these two project management methods — for example, they’re both good for collaboration — they also have integral differences in framework. 

Scrum is more fast-paced and rigid than Kanban. If you use Scrum, you’ll complete “sprints” that might last a few days or a few weeks. You’ll take action and work hard to maximize productivity during this time, accomplishing what you need to get done. 

On the other hand, Kanban is a more fluid, flexible method that is best for teams working on repetitive projects with ongoing delivery. There’s no wrong answer to Kanban vs. Scrum; it simply depends on your needs. But remember that Kanban makes it easy to visualize your workflow, manage project flow, and pivot where needed.

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 could 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.

Understanding the 4 Kanban principles 

Four core principles make up the Kanban methodology. If you’re planning to use a project management software tool with the Kanban method, it’s helpful to be familiar with these principles. 

Visualize the workflow

First up: You must be able to visualize the flow of work. By visually representing the work, it’s easier to analyze your work and introduce changes that can optimize the process.

Kanban users visualize their work by defining the steps that go into a process and putting those steps into a Kanban board. Illustrating your workflow like this allows you to glean helpful insights and information.

Limit work in progress

Kanban strives to limit the work that you currently have in progress as much as possible. At the end of the day, this makes you more efficient because it eliminates wasted time or resources. You’ll only start a new task when you can handle it.

Focus on flow

In the Kanban methodology, flow is all about how your work moves from column to column. Is this process smooth and uninterrupted, or are you running into unexpected obstacles or bottlenecks? Your goal is to keep things running as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

Incremental and continuous improvements

The final core Kanban principle is making small, continuous improvements. It can be hard to introduce big changes all at once to your team. So instead, the Kanban methodology focuses on collaborative evolution — more incremental tweaks where everyone is on board.

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 expansive 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?

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

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

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With detailed reports available to see the project’s health or how tasks are moving toward your original goals, has a way for you to keep a pulse on all your projects and the 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, grouping related tasks together is more efficient. 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. Planning three separate trips out of the house in one day wouldn't be practical.

In this case, the tasks should all go on the same card. Think of this card as more of your “Tuesday To-Do’s” than creating 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. 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 within them. Slimming down the number of columns is important to keep the workflow 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 in increasing this number to 1.5 or even two slots per assigned team member.

Ultimately, the WIP limit applied to each column should 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’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.

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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.

The benefits of Kanban project management

By using Kanban project management, you can enjoy benefits such as reduced bottlenecks, more agile teams, and knowing how to prioritize your tasks. Take a look at a few of the biggest benefits of Kanban. 

Workflow visualization

When using a Kanban board, you can see a visual, real-time representation of your projects and tasks. This workflow visualization holds many benefits in and of itself: You can make accurate decisions about what’s coming up, collaborate with your team with increased transparency, and prioritize each task.

Better task prioritization

“The question I ask myself almost every day is, ‘Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?’ Unless I feel like I’m working on the most important problem that I can help with, then I’m not going to feel good about how I’m spending my time.” 

~ Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Meta Platforms

Prioritizing your tasks and projects correctly helps your team not only get more work done, but get the right work done — making sure the most important items are moving forward. 

This is an area where a Kanban tool can help. The visual nature of Kanban cards and templates makes it easy to see projects at a glance and quickly rearrange as needed to formulate your task lineup correctly. 

Reduced bottlenecks

A bottleneck occurs when part of your project workflow clogs up. Your productivity will decrease as you try to fix the problem. Kanban helps prevent bottlenecks because the bird’s-eye view lets you predict obstacles in advance and work out a way to deal with them before dealing with the ramifications. 

Improved project adaptability

Kanban software easily lends itself to be flexible and agile. Unlike Scrum, which prescribes a more rigid approach with timed sprints and due dates, Kanban lets you change tack in the middle of a project and add or subtract work items from your task management dashboard if needed.

Start taking advantage of the Kanban framework with

Having the right Kanban project management tool 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 system 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 and functionality to manage your tasks across each vital stage. Try free for 30 days and see why 20,000 companies trust our software to run their business every day.

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