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What are the Principles of Kanban?

Kanban is one of the most versatile, effective methods of work management used today. Developed by Toyota in Japan in the late 1940’s, the Kanban method is rooted in improving efficiency. 

An Intro to Kanban

The word ‘Kanban’ roughly translates from Japanese into ‘visual signal’ or ‘visual card’. The method involves displaying cards on a board in order to visualise your workflow. This allows everyone to keep better track of individual tasks and identify any disruptions or backlogs. 

Principles of the Kanban Methodology

The Kanban method has evolved since its inception in the 40’s. Originally solely used for managing manufacturing workflows, Kanban is now widely used across multiple sectors to improve efficiency. Today, Kanban is built on four basic principles. These are:

1) Visualise your workflows

A Kanban board consists of a series of cards, each one representing a task. Typically, the cards are arranged into columns named ‘TO DO’, ‘IN PROGRESS’ and ‘DONE’, or any variation of that. 

Cards are then moved from column to column when their status in the workflow changes. This allows everyone to see the status of every individual task as they progress. Cards can then be assigned a tag or a colour, depending on however you choose to group them. Cards could be grouped by theme, department or task owner. 

2) Limit your ‘works in progress’ (WIP)

Kanban is – by design – a ‘pull’ system, rather than a ‘push’ system. This means that the capacity of team members is a deciding factor in where work is allocated. Individuals can only take on additional work when they have the capacity. This avoids a backlog of work, and ensures every team member remains productive without being overwhelmed. 

This is taken a step further by limiting the number of tasks that can be in progress at once. If your ‘IN PROGRESS’ column looks to be filling up rather than emptying, no additional tasks should be started until the column starts to empty. By setting limits on your works in progress (WIPs), your workflow remains efficient. 

3) Focus on streamlining your flow

By following the above two principles, you can ensure that your work all flows through your Kanban system. Now you can dedicate your efforts into making your workflow as efficient as possible. Choose some productivity metrics to track and measure, and focus on improving.

These could include metrics such as the time a card spends in any given column. ‘Cycle time’ refers to the time it takes for a card to move from ‘IN PROGRESS’ to ‘DONE’. ‘Lead time’ is how long a card remains in ‘TO DO’ before being started. 

You can also measure how many items are stuck in ‘TO DO’, as this could indicate that your workload is overloaded. Alternatively, you can look at how many items are ‘IN PROGRESS’, to ensure you stick to your WIP limits.

4) Continuously improve the process

It’s important to consider that your workflows can always be streamlined further. Things can always be made more efficient, and there is always waste that can be cut down further. Simply put, less waste equals more value. 

If you can identify pain points in your Kanban system, you can implement phased improvements. Test new methods, and collaborate with your team to determine how they prefer to manage their own workloads. 

Tests can typically be done on smaller workflows, and if changes to the method are successful, scaled up to the wider department or business. 

Final Notes

By following these key principles of Kanban, you can ensure that you are delivering value, cutting down on waste, and improving productivity. Using the Kanban method in this way has many benefits, which we explore in our blog Benefits of Kanban Boards

Verto 365 offers a simple and effective Kanban system, available as a cloud tool or within Microsoft Teams. Utilise our Kanban boards for personal organisation, or for collaboration with your team. Learn more about our Kanban boards today!

About the author – Laura Watts

Laura is the Marketing Manager at TMI Systems Ltd., working predominantly on Verto 365 and closely on the Microsoft partnership enabling the platform to be used in its entirety from Microsoft Teams. Laura and her family moved from London in 2021 and now live and work in Gloucestershire.

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