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What is the Kanban Methodology?

Kanban is a workload management method built around the idea of visualising your work and tracking its progress in an easy to understand way. It consists of a ‘Board’, where ‘Cards’ are created to personify individual tasks. These cards are then moved across the board as they progress.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Today we’re talking all things Kanban. Its origins, modern uses, and how it can benefit your work. Let’s get started.

Where did Kanban come from?

Created in Japan by an industrial engineer, Kanban roughly translates to:

Kan = Visual

Ban = Signal

It was originally created to increase manufacturing efficiency for Toyota. The core principle was to create a process that makes the completion of individual tasks more efficient.

How does the Kanban Method work?

Part 1 – Kanban Boards

A Kanban board is the base from which the Kanban method is managed. It usually consists of 3 or more columns, each one labelled something like: To Do, In Progress, Under Review, and Completed. 

For example, a task that is currently in the queue to be started will sit in the To Do Column. A task currently in progress will sit in the… you guessed it. As each task is worked on and progresses, it is moved across the Kanban board into its appropriate column. This gives everyone a visual view of the progress of your tasks.

Part 2 – Kanban Cards

With the Kanban board, each column will contain Kanban cards. These are essentially post-it note-style blank spaces for you to write the task’s title and an overview. Typically, each card will have one task that is then moved across the board.

Essentially, task = card.

In modern project management systems like Verto, individual users can be assigned to specific cards within the Kanban board. Those users will then know that the task in question requires their attention.

How Boards and Cards work together

Here’s a few examples of how the Kanban method works in practice. 

Example 1 – Student Workload

Take a student handling their workload in preparation for their final assignment. The student is aware of 5 individual pieces of research that need to be done in preparation for the assignment. Each one of these becomes a card on their Kanban board. 

This research then has to be compiled, so this is a task in itself. The structure of the final assignment needs to be mapped out, which is also a task. Each of these are placed as individual cards, and marked in order of priority. 

Once the 5 research tasks have been completed, they will sit in the final column of the board. Then the compilation and structure planning tasks can be started. 

Example 2 – Project Manager

A project manager has two other people in his team that he is responsible for overseeing. One is a visual designer, while the other is a developer. Here we find that the tasks assigned to the designer have to be completed before the developer begins their work. The PM will have to do a little dependency management here.

The project manager can assign the designer to the appropriate tasks in the first column of the Kanban board. Once these tasks have been completed, the corresponding cards are moved over to the final column. Then the project manager can notify the developer that their tasks are ready.

Example 3 – Freelancer

This freelance creative has several projects for multiple clients on the go at once. To organise their workload, they use a Kanban board. Each task is colour-coded according to the client it relates to. This helps the freelancer keep tabs on all their tasks, and ensure each client’s projects progress equally. 

The freelancer has nobody else working on their projects, so they are entirely responsible for their own workload. Their Kanban board allows them to visualise every task, and set a deadline for each task to be completed. If the task nears its deadline, the Kanban board will notify them. This helps the freelancer to keep on top of their demanding workload. 

So as you can see, a Kanban board can be an effective tool for anyone managing a workload.

Why do Kanban Boards work so well?

The Kanban methodology is very simple, and yet incredibly effective and versatile. One of the reasons for this is the use of visualisation that helps workers easily keep track of their work. Another reason is the use of minimal text. In a world of documented reports and long winded emails, the opportunity to shift your project into a single dashboard is nothing short of a godsend. 

It has been commonly said that the human brain can process visual information 60,000 times faster than text. If this is true, it’s easy to understand why the Kanban method is so popular among the modern world of work.

Benefits of Kanban Boards

So how can this method actively benefit you? What is the Kanban methodology going to bring to your proverbial table? Here’s a few of our favourite ways Kanban boards can make life easier for you:

1) Collaboration is easy

Simply through their nature of being visual and interactive, Kanban boards encourage collaboration. When the progress of tasks is visible to everyone, this makes it easy for everyone to collaborate on individual cards and lend a hand where it is needed. 

Often, you will find that Kanban cards require multiple team members to add information to. For instance, if a task is assigned to one team member for one stage of the process, they can leave a note for the next guy.

2) Keep track of work, both individually and in a team

With Kanban, you can physically see the progress of individual tasks as they move along the board. Whether you’re working individually or managing a team, tracking progress is easy. It makes keeping tabs on your team simple, so you can catch any stragglers before issues arise. 

Giving yourself a visual display of progress is also great for morale, as it shows everyone involved that things are moving in the right direction. If you grant your stakeholders view access to your boards, you can impress them with the speed of progress, if that’s your thing.

3) Productivity and momentum of work

When everyone involved in a project can see how things are progressing, overall productivity is bound to increase. Whether it’s the natural competition between teammates to complete their tasks, or a sense of comradery, Kanban boards will light that spark.

Plus, who doesn’t gain a small satisfaction from moving a card from column to column once they’ve completed a task? This kind of subconscious encouragement does wonders for productivity, provided everyone is aboard the Kanban train.

4) Efficiency

Going back to its original purpose, Kanban is ultimately a way to increase efficiency. All the information required for each task can be easily placed on each card, making your Kanban board a central hub for all ongoing tasks. 

With the combination of easy collaboration, task tracking and increases in productivity, Kanban boards can heavily increase how efficiently your workload is completed. 

Final Notes on the Kanban Methodology

So from all this, we can see the positives of using the Kanban method very clearly. With a rich history dating back to the early days of modern vehicle manufacturing, Kanban boards are utilised by businesses of all sizes, all over the world. This method of agile work management has stood the test of time, and is here to stay. 

If you are looking for a new way to enhance your own work management, you might consider using Kanban boards. Verto 365 offers an easy-to-use Kanban system that can be embedded into Microsoft Teams, seamlessly. Try Verto 365 for free today, or simply request a demo and we can arrange a time that suits you.

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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