What is a Kanban Board?

We will explore the benefits of using Kanban Boards, the key elements, and what they look like in practice, to get you started with this useful Agile project management tool.

A Kanban Board is a visual tool used in Agile project management which gives an overview of the work. It’s a key element to the Kanban method (which you can read more about here), as it’s useful for managing workflow and maximising efficiency. Kanban Boards use cards and columns to visually represent the tasks and processes, in addition to continuous improvement to help teams commit to the right amount of work. 

The Key Elements of Kanban Boards

Firstly, let’s take a look at exactly how a Kanban Board works in order to understand it better. 

The vertical columns on the board represent the steps in the process including “To Do”, “Doing” and “Done”. Each task should move sequentially through the board from the left (“To Do”) to the right (“Done”). This is, of course, a simplified example and in practice, there are likely to be several subcategories to divide the work. For example “Develop”, “Test” and “Launch” might all be subcategories of “Doing”. Teams can adapt the columns depending on the project requirements.

Kanban cards are used to represent each item of work. As mentioned, cards move through the columns as they follow the process and flow of work. The front of each card includes brief details about the item, so the team knows exactly what it is at a glance. Within the card is more in-depth detail about the specific item of work and its requirements. What this looks like will vary slightly depending on whether a physical or online board is being used, which we will cover in more detail later.

Physical vs. Online Boards

There are two options when it comes to Kanban Boards, either physical or online boards. The type of board used can depend on how the team works and their individual requirements. Here’s a simple breakdown of physical vs. online boards:

Physical Boards

As the name suggests, these are physical boards usually created on a whiteboard or blackboard. Teams place sticky notes onto the board which are then manually moved through the columns to visually represent progress. 

With the increasing prevalence of remote working, this board might be less popular as it can only be used effectively if the team can be physically present. However, if the team are all in one place physical boards can be a fantastic way of communicating in an engaging way.

Digital Boards

Digital boards are the online alternative and usually the more popular choice of the two. There are a variety of different software and platforms to create a digital board from simple and easy-to-use Trello, all the way to more powerful tools like Jira Software. Again, selecting the right software depends on the complexities of the project and the team’s needs. 

Using a digital board means the team can still work collaboratively without being physically in the same place.

Why use a Kanban Board?

There are several benefits to using Kanban Boards. A well implemented board will help the team to understand where their time is being spent and help to improve efficiency. Online tools in particular provide tracking data used to help easily identify any problem areas, which is important to help with developing solutions and remaining agile. 

Some of the key advantages of using the Kanban system include: 

  • Flexibility: There are no determined phase durations and the priorities can be constantly reassessed based on the most recent information.
  • Emphasis on continuous delivery: Delivering small units of work continuously throughout the project helps to ensure they are delivering exactly what the customer wants. 
  • Helps to increase efficiency: Through transparency and understanding of where time is being spent.
  • Helps to increase productivity: Similarly to efficiency, the Kanban Board helps to increase productivity in many ways including a better understanding of tasks and any problem areas.
  • Reduction of wasted time: Increase in efficiency and productivity also results in a reduction of wasted time or wasted work. 
  • Improved ability to focus: The team never needs to question where their focus needs to be as the Kanban Board makes this clear. It also helps to provide a shared understanding of the prioritisation of tasks. 

Summary

In summary, implementing a Kanban Board as a tool can help teams to define and map out existing processes. This can provide many benefits from helping teams to work efficiently to delivering a quality product to the customer. To get started with Kanban it is important to first: 

  1. Fully understand the current processes.
  2. Be committed to continuously improving. 
  3. Encourage acts of leadership at every level. 

If you would like to find out more about Kanban Boards and systems take a closer look at one of our upcoming courses here.

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