What is a Kanban Board? Definition and History

You want to be able to keep track of everything that is happening in your business and one of the best ways to do exactly that is to have a board or chart of some type to help. While Gantt charts are one of the popular choices, another great way to go is the Kanban Board. But what exactly is Kanban and how can you use it to improve your project tracking? Well, we’re going to take a closer look at exactly that.

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What is Kanban?

Let’s back up a little bit to look at Kanban on its own. It’s actually a type of workflow management where you can keep track of everything that’s happening within a project, business, team, or anything else that you want. It’s intended to make sure that you’re more efficient and that you’re able to see the work that needs to be done. Rather than a traditional to-do list, this type of workflow system came from manufacturing and has started to grow into a more advanced method of organization and tracking to keep yourself and the rest of your team on task.

Using Kanban For Yourself

Now, if you’re going to use Kanban you need a way to track all of those projects and to look at them. That’s where the Kanban board comes in. This type of board allows you to draw up each of the different tasks that you need to accomplish or each of the different projects that you’re working on. But of course, you’ll need to know how to create a Kanban system, or specifically a Kanban board that will help you to do exactly that. Having your board properly designed is going to improve your chances of success, so let’s take a closer look.

What is a Kanban Board?

A Kanban board is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a board or single location where you can write out all of your different tasks or everything that you want to keep track of and get it organized the way you want. In the simplest of terms, this is a place where you can store your ideas like sticking Post-It notes on your wall. But it’s all going to be done on your computer rather than you having to write out everything.

The History of Kanban

So, just where did Kanban actually come from? Originally the idea started with Toyota. Yes, the car company. They created it as part of their ‘just in time’ strategy for production in the manufacturing world. It was the late 1940’s and they used it as a pull system where production is completed only when customer demand calls for it. In effect, they would build the vehicles only when there was a demand for them, rather than having a lot of them available and oversupplying the market. It created a sort of lean manufacturing process and helped to minimize waste and maximize productivity.

As time went on, those in other markets started to look for better ways to improve their distribution processes. They started looking for ways to improve their efficiency models and they started looking at Kanban for themselves. It started to be applied to IT, software development, R&D, and other areas of the commercial world. It was a success and it continued to evolve and grow throughout the last 80 years to become the type of system and board process that we often use to this day. But it started a lot more basic than that.
In fact, when it was first started there were really only three columns for the boards. These were ‘requested,’ ‘in progress,’ and ‘done.’ While these columns can be expanded and changed with the way Kanban boards are designed now, they absolutely can improve productivity and create a uniquely simple system for just about any industry, showcasing where the problems occur and providing real-time updates for everyone involved. It was David J. Anderson, in 2007, who turned it into the type of system that you’ve likely considered using and started implementing the principles that make it work and the practices that are most important to its success.

Those principles include:

-       Start with what you do now
-       Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change
-       Respect the current process, roles & responsibilities
-       Encourage acts of leadership at all levels

The practices include:

-       Visualize the workflow
-       Limit work in progress
-       Manage flow
-       Make process policies explicit
-       Feedback loops
-       Improve collaboratively

Creating a Kanban Board

When it comes to actually create a Kanban board there are a total of four important components. These include cards, columns, work-in-progress limits, and swimlanes. By working with each of these four components you can get the most out of a Kanban board.
Cards – This is where you’re going to write out each of your tasks. Each task gets its own card so that you can easily move it around and easily manage what needs to be done. You can put anything you want onto a card and you can make them as simple or as complex as you want. The most important thing is that you put only a single task onto each of your cards.
Columns – Traditionally these would be ‘requested, in progress and done’ but they can actually be anything you want. You can even create additional columns or have fewer columns. The most important thing is that each column will generally represent a stage that your task has to go through until it is complete. You get to decide the stages of the workflow.
Work-in-Progress Limits – This is the maximum number of tasks that can be present in any one category at any given time. You may want only a set number of ‘requested’ tasks at any given time. You would then set a work-in-progress limit and restrict the number of tasks in that column. If there are additional tasks that need to be added something would need to be moved to another stage.
Swimlanes – These are the horizontal lines that go through your chart. You can put in additional categories within each of your columns for tasks that need to be done more quickly or ones that can be slowed down. You get to choose the different ‘lanes’ and then you put your cards into one of the lanes within the column that they belong to.

How Kanban Boards Can Help You

There are a number of different ways that these types of boards can improve the way that your business functions and the way that your team works together. That’s why you want to check them out for yourself after all, right? So, just why should you be using these boards? Just what are they actually going to do for you? And will they be worth the effort you’re going to put into actually putting them together? Well, let’s take a look at just what you’re going to accomplish by putting these into effect the right way.

1. Visualize the Work

With a Kanban board, you’re going to have a much easier time visualizing all of the different tasks that need to be done. You can see each of them as separate cards, which means you’re going to know the number of tasks. You’re also going to know what category each of those tasks is based on the columns that they’re organized into. All of this is going to make it easier for you to understand what your team is working on.

2. Spot Weaknesses in Your Process

By using the Kanban board for a period of time you’re going to have a better understanding of how your process currently works and where you might be falling behind. You’ll be able to take a closer look at each step of the current process and if you commonly see the same problem you can immediately take action. This could open your eyes to things that you weren’t able to see before or didn’t recognize as problems before.

3. Limit Work-in-Progress and Increase Focus

Putting a limit on your work-in-progress makes it easier for you to keep track of. Even though you may think you have a limit now, installing a limit onto your Kanban board means that it will reject anything over that task limit. This allows your team to focus more clearly on the tasks they do have without getting weighed down by extra tasks or getting overloaded with too many things to do.

4. Reduce the Need for Meetings

Having meetings just to talk about the things that need to be done or get caught up on the tasks everyone is working on isn’t going to be needed. If everyone has access to the Kanban board they can easily look at what tasks need to be done, who is working on them, and more. They can also check out what their tasks are and what they should be doing at any given time. All of this means you can have fewer meetings which means you’re going to have more efficient use of your time. You’ll be able to focus on the work instead of the meetings.

5. Recognize Blocks on Your Progress

When something gets in the way of your being able to complete a task you can actually put a block on it instead of letting it clog up your process. So, if you are waiting on a client to approve one piece of a project and it’s sitting in your work-in-progress you can put a block on that task so it doesn’t take up one of your available slots for work-in-progress. You’ll be able to add another task and continue working your way through everything that you need for the full project (or even other projects that are tracked on your board).

6. Evaluate Metrics and Reports to Continue Improving

Finally, a Kanban board will allow you to evaluate and track your metrics and reports on different tasks. You’ll be able to see how well your team performs at different tasks and you’ll also be able to make sure that each of your projects is being completed in a timely fashion. You can set up several different metrics to track and you can keep an eye on all of your reports to see where you still need work or what things could be done differently.

Do You Need a Kanban Board?

If you’re working in any type of business you can do a whole lot of good things with a Kanban board. No matter how well you’re already doing or you think you’re already doing there are ways to continue making changes and improvements if you’re able to track everything more accurately. With a Kanban board, you can layout each of your tasks in an organized fashion and you’ll always know where each of your tasks and projects stands overall on their way to completion.
Your goal is to be as successful and as efficient as possible in your business. With a Kanban board, you absolutely can. And as they continue to evolve you’ll find even more ways that you can use them. Not only that but you can continue to customize them for yourself as you go along. With Instagantt and your business and team, you can create a perfect synthesis of tracking software that will make sure you’re on your way to an improved business, even if you’re already performing at a high level. It just takes a little bit of practice to get the hang of things.

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