Kanban has become a very popular work – or workflow – management tool, especially in the Lean, Agile, and DevOps worlds. It has also found its way into IT service management (ITSM) as a way of providing focus and insight into work jobs/tasks and flows. For example, in managing ticket queues, planned and unplanned tasks, or projects and improvement activities.
As well as offering a visual overview of all of the work to hand, it also provides insight into the status of work items and offers motivation to people who can hopefully see their work progressing from left to right – from “to do” (or “to-be-started”) to “complete.” Plus, it allows management to better understand the relative workload levels, blockages, and the performance of both individuals and teams.
How to Get Started with Kanban
The first thing to appreciate is that Kanban can be adopted at minimal cost – in that it doesn’t need fancy software to work. But while a Kanban board can be created and maintained using a whiteboard and post-it notes, there are benefits to using a Kanban software solution thanks to the collaborative and “aggregate” capabilities these bring. We’ll likely mention this in one of our 10 tips below.
1. Understand what Kanban is.
Especially that Kanban isn’t just about work visualization. If we look at a definition, that: “Kanban is a lean method to manage and improve work across human systems. This approach aims to manage work by balancing the demands with available capacity, and improving the handling of system level bottlenecks. Work items are visualized to give participants a view of progress and process, from start to finish usually via a Kanban board. Work is pulled as capacity permits, rather than work being pushed into the process when requested.” ~ Wikipedia. It’s hopefully apparent that the benefits of Kanban really come from the ability to better manage workflow and to identify issues and improvements.
2. Understand the basic principles of a Kanban board.
That there are columns representing work “states” and cards representing pieces of work, with the goal to move the cards across the states through to completion. Then that the Kanban board as a whole is an overview of the work going on – either for you individually or the wider team.
3. Don’t overcomplicate things.
Especially when you’re just starting out with Kanban – instead start simply and you’ll find that you can easily adapt your board on-the-fly (if needed). The important thing is to make it easy to use – thus increasing the probability that you’ll quickly adapt to this new way of working.
4. Ensure that the Kanban board truly reflects your way of working.
Or, to be more precise, the various states that exist in the usual workflow. For instance, this might be the addition of “waiting for review” or “waiting for approval” columns where work might be held up if not monitored. Importantly, take the time to map out the current workflow before creating your Kanban board.
5. Be careful when “chunking” your work.
Each card should represent an independent piece, or chunk, of work. And dependencies between cards will add, and potentially hide, complexity within your work and the Kanban board.
6. If sharing a Kanban board, set up use policies.
If you alone use a Kanban board, then the chances are that you’ll use it consistently. However, the same isn’t true if a single board is used by multiple people. These policies should state when cards can move between columns, in particular when work is considered complete. Importantly, it’s not enough to create the policies – they need to be communicated to, understood, and agreed to by everyone involved.
7. Don’t forget that a key benefit of Kanban is the ability to monitor, and limit, work in progress (WIP).
If there’s a disproportionate number of cards in the “in progress” or “doing” column, then it needs to be addressed (as does similar happening in other in-flight columns). And don’t forget the principle of “pull” over “push.”
8. Conduct regular reviews to identify blockages or other limitations.
This could also include the level of adoption, the timeliness of updates, or the identification of “hidden work.”
9. If you’re finding limitations with your manual Kanban board, consider a “digital” board.
There are many options here, ranging from Kanban capabilities that are built into existing business tools through to focused products/services such as Trello.
10. Don’t overlook (or forget to factor in) improvement and evolution.
There might be required changes to workflows – maybe even inspired by the Kanban board use – that will necessitate Kanban boards to change or evolve over time. So, take the time to regularly question the validity of the operational status quo.
There you have it, our 10 tips for starting with Kanban. What would you add? Please let us know in the comments.