The Kanban board is a tool used to track progress in projects. In a Kanban board, the tasks needed to complete the project move along a progression of states. Project managers can use it assign work to teams and team members, who will use it to track the progress of development, letting everyone do things like addressing bottlenecks or predicting delays.
What are the basic lanes in a Kanban?
The basic Kanban board has three vertical swim lanes with names that are quite informative about the kind of tasks they contain.
- To Do
Creating and Arranging Cards
The user stories that need to be worked on are written in cards and arranged from high to low priority. If what I just said makes no sense to you, stop this right now and check my post about the Product Backlog. If you understood this, let’s continue talking about the cards in your Kanban. Other information can be added to the cards depending on the team internal organization: the person in charge of doing the task, the deadline, the estimated effort required to complete the work, a finer definition of the task, references to other cards, labels for systems affected or project epics or milestones…
Other versions of the board use more vertical swim lanes for different stages (such as waiting for approval, testing…), or horizontal swim lanes for the different teams and for blockers and critical issues. Some have brief names and some include definitions of states that can help teams decide the right move to make.
Kanban can be extended as much as you want. You can complement your user stories cards with color stickers to indicate their priority or assignee, or use different card colors to differentiate stories that belong to different components of the project.
Depending on your team size, the complexity of your project and other variables like the amount of supervision needed or the experience of the team you may want to use a simpler or more complex board. Remember that tools are at your service and not the other way around, and feel free to add your own personal flavor to your Kanban board.
Digital or paper based kanbans?
Speaking about tools, you may have noticed I haven’t mentioned a big topic when it comes to Kanban boards: What’s a good tool? Shall you go for a digital or a paper Kanban board? The answer is, as you may already anticipate, that it depends. A paper Kanban can make wonders in very small teams that work together, or for individuals who like to stay organized, and is also the best way to introduce the tool to teams that are not very digital yet.
A software kanban has other advantages: it makes it available to everyone, anytime and anywhere, which makes remote work possible. Besides, software kanbans can be integrated with other tools to automate status changes or reporting. Tell me about your team, I will tell you about your Kanban!
Make an introduction of the kanban
The Kanban board is not a tool for project managers, it is a tool for team communication. When bringing the Kanban board to an organisation it is necessary that you communicate the purpose and functioning of the board to all the team members that will actively use it (project managers, developers, designers, testers, copywriters…) or benefit from it (executives, product owners…). You may be used to Kanban boards and think that everybody knows how to use them, but you’d be surprised.
Collaborate to define your kanban conventions
As a team, you need to reach agreements and define conventions about how tasks move through the kanban board, make sure to involve the team in this process and to have a written documentation of the conventions you define. This not only gives the team a single point of reference, it also makes the onboarding of new team members much easier.
Use the Kanban in the daily standup
A good idea is to use your Kanban board in your daily Standup. This will help you collect your team’s feedback; move tasks forward, mark them as blocks or put it in another team’s row. If you don’t do daily stand ups or don’t have a scrum master, you can ask team members to move cards across the board themselves as they progress through the day.
Keep the Kanban current
If Kanban is new to your organisation, as a project manager you will usually find that is is not natural for team members to update their progress in the board.
Sometimes this will mean that Kanban is not the right tool for them, but if you really believe that a Kanban board can improve your performance and communication openness, don’t hesitate to follow up directly with each team member and move tasks across the board yourself. Evil PM tip: Let them know every time you do it. This will probably push them to start doing it themselves just to avoid hearing from you.
If you like this post I suggest you continue reading to a post I wrote with arguments to use project management tools like this.