Kanban Method 101: How to Improve Your Team’s Efficiency

The Kanban method helps manage the way your team delivers value to the customer. Learn how to it in this article.

team planning using kanban

Published 23 Sep 2022

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a popular project management technique that advocates using visual cues to help teams track the progress of their work, with the word "kanban" originating from the Japanese term for "sign" or "visual board." Toyota created and utilized it as a just-in-time manufacturing scheduling tool. Moreover, a capitalized term known as "Kanban" is associated with the 2007 introduction of the "Kanban Method." Other industries have also adapted the Kanban method to improve their efficiency.

The Kanban method was developed by David J. Anderson, a pioneer in the field of Lean, as a method for the incremental, evolutionary process and system change for knowledge work organizations.

Kanban gives team members a clear picture of what needs to be accomplished and when. Having everyone on the same page reduces the risk of errors and duplication of effort. In addition, Kanban can help teams to identify and analyze bottlenecks in their workflow and take steps to improve efficiency. As a process visualization tool, its popularity is not surprising. As a result, Kanban has become one of the most popular project management methods in recent years.

History of Kanban

It started as a scheduling tool for lean manufacturing, which originated with Toyota’s Production System (TPS). Toyota began applying “just in time” manufacturing to its production in the late 1940s. A pull mechanism characterizes the technique. Rather than push production, where products and services are produced and pushed to the market, consumer demand drives manufacturing.

Their distinctive production method laid the groundwork for lean manufacturing, also known as Lean. Its main goal is to minimize waste activities while maintaining efficiency. The primary aim is to create more value for the client without increasing expenses.

Scrum vs. Kanban: What’s the Difference

While both are frameworks, the most significant distinction between Scrum and Kanban is that the continuous delivery model created by Kanban teams releases value as soon as they are ready, whereas Scrum organizes tasks into Sprints. However, using one approach or the other depends on your process type. The Kanban approach is more personalized than Scrum, which relies on predetermined norms. A critical difference between the two is their fundamental beliefs and mentality.

Common Kanban Terms

At its most basic level, Kanban is a work method that aids in the optimization of the flow of value from idea to the customer through your value streams. Although it appears straightforward, Kanban is far more than simply a visual representation of your job. To get the most out of utilizing the approach, you must pay close attention to detail and become familiar with the basic Kanban terms and artifacts.

Here are the main Kanban terms you should know.

  • Kanban board – A Kanban board is one of the essential elements of the Kanban method and serves as a visual representation of all work items. There should be three columns: Requested, In Progress, and Done, representing process stages.
  • Kanban card – Kanban cards track individual work items as they progress through a Kanban board. They include essential information about the tasks, such as a description, due date, size, and assignees.
  • Columns – They divide the Kanban board vertically, with each one corresponding to a different step in the process. There are three default columns on each Kanban board: Requested, In Progress, and Done. The three stages, on the other hand, can be divided into smaller sub-columns depending on the intricacy of a work process.
  • Swimlanes – Horizontal lanes that divide Kanban boards. Using them, teams can visually separate work types on one board and group similar activities together.
  • Cycle Time – The cycle time starts when a new activity enters the “in process” phase of your workflow, and someone is working on it.
  • Lead Time – Measures the amount of time it takes an assignment to complete (whether or not someone is working on it) until the day it leaves the system.
  • Throughput – The number of accomplishments that go through (completed) a system or process in a set period. The throughput is an important metric that reveals your team’s productivity over a period of time.
  • Work in Progress (WIP) – The amount of work you have done up to now but haven’t finished.
  • WIP limits – Limiting work in progress prevents overburdening and context switching by limiting the number of concurrent tasks.
  • Classes of Service – Policies that help Agile teams prioritize work items and projects.
  • Kanban Cadences – These recurring meetings bring about evolutionary change and “fit for purpose” service delivery.
  • Kanban software – A digital system that allows the application of Kanban concepts and methods to various teams, organizations, and sizes.

The 6 Kanban Methods

The six methods are divided between two kanban principles:

Change Management Principles

It’s about continually improving current processes while pursuing evolutionary modifications. In this section, we’ll examine Kanban change management principles in more detail.

Method 1: Focus on What You Do Right Now

Kanban allows you to use the method alongside established workflows, systems, and processes without jeopardizing what exists. The approach recognizes that existing procedures, roles, obligations, and titles are worth and generally worth preserving. Naturally, it will point out problems that must be addressed and assist in assessing and planning modifications to ensure that they are as non-disruptive as possible.

Method 2: Agree to Work Toward Small, Gradual Changes

The goal of the Kanban approach is to minimize resistance. It uses collaboration and feedback mechanisms to encourage continuous, minor incremental, and evolutionary modifications to the existing production process. There is usually a reaction of fear or uncertainty when it comes to sweeping changes.

Method 3: Encourage Leadership Actions at All Levels

All levels of leadership are formed and enhanced through people’s everyday insights and actions. Every shared observation develops a continuous improvement mindset (Kaizen) that helps teams, departments, and enterprises reach their maximum potential.

Service Delivery Principles

Kanban fosters a service-oriented mindset. It asks that you have a thorough knowledge of your customer’s demands and develop a network of services where individuals self-organize around their tasks.

Method 4: Focus on What the Customer Needs and Wants

Consumer value should be the focus of every business. Every firm’s top priority should be understanding its clients’ demands and expectations to provide quality services at a profit properly.

Method 5: Organize the Work

Manage the work in your network of services to allow people to self-organize around the job. You may focus on the intended outcomes without being distracted by micro-managing the service providers.

Method 6: Review the Network of Services Regularly

A service-oriented approach, once established, necessitates periodic reassessment to encourage a customer care mentality. Kanban encourages improved outcomes by monitoring the network and assessing existing work rules.

The 6 Kanban Rules

For Kanban to succeed, every organization must carefully follow the six practical rules. Here are the six core principles of Kanban.

Rule 1: Visualize the Workflow

Kanban boards help you visualize your company’s workflow. Your board should reflect your current work process and allow you to track your progress easily.

Rule 2: Limit Work in Progress (WIP)

Limiting WIP helps teams focus on the task at hand and avoid multitasking. By capping the number of tasks each team member can work on at any given time, your team will remain focused.

Rule 3: Optimize the Flow of Work

Kanban aims to optimize workflow by eliminating bottlenecks and waste. Identifying and addressing these issues can help keep your workflow running smoothly.

Rule 4: Make Process Policies Explicit

Kanban asks that you make all process policies explicit. Task assignment, work prioritization, and decision-making are all involved. Making these policies clear can help team members understand the expectations and avoid confusion.

Rule 5: Feedback Loop

Kanban includes a feedback loop to help teams identify and address problems quickly. It helps ensure that issues are handled promptly and avoid disruptions to the workflow.

Rule 6: Collaborate

Kanban is a collaborative approach, and successful implementations require buy-in from all team members. Working together can help ensure that Kanban is successful in your organization.

Benefits of Kanban

Continuous improvement and increased visibility of work are the main reasons for adopting Kanban. Some of the benefits that have been reported by those who have implemented Kanban include:

Increased Visibility of the Flow

The basic concept of Kanban is to visualize all of one’s tasks. As a result, the Kanban board becomes a central information center where everyone is on the same page. Every job has its own set of functions, which are always visible, so there is no secrecy about the entire process. All team members can view activity or venture in real-time.

Improved Delivery Speed

Kanban allows project managers to monitor and evaluate the distribution of work in various ways. Stages, where tasks have spent the most time, are easy to detect with a clear view of the work items completed for a specific duration. Bottlenecks are simple to identify because teams can address these problems to enhance their process and, as a result, their delivery rate.

Alignment between Business Goals and Execution

Implementing Kanban processes can improve teamwork across organizational levels, including promoting transparency, encouraging feedback, and regular review meetings. The alignment between a company’s strategic plan and its implementation allows it to be more agile. It enables employees in teams to adjust to evolving market or consumer demands.

Improved Predictability

Flow metrics will help you analyze your process in depth once you’ve created a Kanban board and started collecting work items on it. It can show how long tasks spend in your workflow (cycle time). Understanding your delivery rate consistency (throughput) will help you make more accurate predictions and decisions based on past data.

Improved Ability to Manage Scale and Dependencies

The underlying Kanban technique of visualizing is likewise applied to mapping and managing dependencies. Mapping the present relationships and controlling the flow between them is the first step you can do right now. Controlling dependencies allows you to see what’s happening inside a workflow and how to improve it. Conversely, it allows for complete transparency regarding strategic management and team connections.

Increased Customer Satisfaction

Based on the pull system, the Kanban method implies that work gets done when needed. To put it another way, Kanban directs you to reduce waste by working only on tasks that are currently required. Furthermore, by using visualization methods and establishing work-in-progress limits to the procedure, you can ensure that the conclusion meets your customers’ needs.

Tools Use for Project Management

Kanban Board and Kanban Card are two commonly used Kanban tools in project management. Below, we’ll explore each in more detail.

Kanban Board

Kanban boards visually show your tasks’ status as part of your workflow. This tool helps you stay on top of your tasks and keep track of their progress. Teams may use the following components to manage their workflows in the Kanban boards.

Kanban boards come in two types: physical boards and digital boards.

Kanban Card

A Kanban card is a physical or virtual card that contains information about a task, such as a title, description, due date, and responsible person. The term derives from the Japanese term, Kanban, a visual (kan) card (ban). It’s an essential element of the Kanban method for monitoring activity progress along with a Kanban board.

Kanban cards can also be physical cards or digital cards.

Robertson Paredes

SafetyCulture staff writer

Rob Paredes

Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He is a content writer who also does copy for websites, sales pages, and landing pages. Rob worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade before joining SafetyCulture. He got interested in writing because of the influence of his friends; aside from writing, he has an interest in personal finance, dogs, and collecting Allen Iverson cards.

Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He is a content writer who also does copy for websites, sales pages, and landing pages. Rob worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade before joining SafetyCulture. He got interested in writing because of the influence of his friends; aside from writing, he has an interest in personal finance, dogs, and collecting Allen Iverson cards.