A guide to Kanban boards

Optimise and manage your workflow with Kanban boards. This tool allows you to visually depict your work at different stages and can be used by individuals, teams or entire organisations. You can use physical boards in the workplace or electronic boards for remote access.

What are Kanban boards?

Kanban boards enable you to optimise and manage your workflow. This tool allows you to create a clear visual representation of work in progress (WIP) and productivity levels. It is a depiction of your work at different stages. Cards are used to represent work items whilst columns represent the stages in your progress. For example, ‘To do,’ ‘Doing’ and ‘Done.’

Physical Kanban boards in the workplace can be flip charts, white boards, cork boards, or just signage on a wall / window! Electronic boards are useful for remote access and can be created on software like Microsoft Planner, Kanbanize, Kanban Flow, Jira, Trello, etc. There are plenty of free online kanban boards that you can try. Let us know if you find a good one.

The purpose of Kanban boards

Bottlenecks and problems become easily identifiable, and the information contained on a Kanban board can then provide direction for continuous improvement activities, such as cycle time reduction and eliminating bottlenecks in future projects.

Who are Kanban boards useful for?

You can have personal Kanban boards which are used by individuals or set up this tool for teams or entire organisations at all levels of seniority.

How Managers use this tool: For Managers, tasks laid out on a Kanban board will visually show the areas where team resources are needed for maximum effectiveness and where to prioritise. If you / your team tend to start more tasks before completing existing ones, a Kanban board flags project stages and limits WIP as well as unfinished work.

How Teams use this tool: The whole team should have access to the Kanban board which provides a current dynamic view of all tasks underway. Therefore, you save a significant amount of meeting time that would have previously been taken up with progress updates.

Kanban terminology

Cards: This is the visual representation of tasks. Each card contains information about the task and its status such as deadline, person responsible, description of task, etc.

Columns: Each column on the board represents a different stage of your process. The cards move through the stages until they are completed.

Swimlanes: These are horizontal lanes you can use to separate different types of activities, teams, classes of service, and so on. Different colours for tasks could be used to draw instead of swimlanes if you prefer.

Work-in-Progress (WIP) Limits: They restrict the maximum number of tasks in the different stages of the workflow. For example, you might set a WIP limit of three items for your ‘doing’ column. This would stop you/your team/ organisation working on anything other than the three items currently in your ‘doing’ column. This would prevent them from starting new tasks until the current ones are finished, therefore ensuring that current tasks get completed faster.

How to use a Kanban board

The work cards are moved from left to right to show progress and to coordinate the teams or individuals performing the work. Ideally the boards are reviewed collectively on a regular basis (daily wherever possible) to provide updates, address problems and set priorities. Updates to the Kanban board should be continuous for an accurate picture of task stages.

Require something more advanced? A Kanban board may be divided into horizontal swimlanes representing different kinds of work or different teams performing the work. Colours can also be used to distinguish types of work or teams. Additional details can be added to make the cards more understandable. E.g. initials of the responsible individual, deadlines, or task details.

A Kanban board with swimlanes by Ad Esse Consulting

An example of a Kanban board with swimlanes

A Kanban board with colours by Ad Esse Consulting

An example of a Kanban board with colours

More uses for Kanban boards

You can use Kanban boards for Lean Coffee by managing topic ‘to be discussed’, ‘discussing’ and ‘discussed.’

Our Implementation Manager, Yeukai Chikowore explains how you can use this tool for Agile kanban boards for project management this blog post, How to deliver Agile projects effectively with Yeukai.

If you need any help setting up your Kanban board, get in touch. Use our contact page or email hello@ad-esse.com.

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