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Kanban Project Management – The Beginner’s Guide

The wrong project management strategy—or not having one at all—can cause due dates to slip, overdue tasks to go unnoticed for days, and schedules to inevitably shift in the wrong direction. If that sounds all too familiar, Kanban is a great project management philosophy to consider. It’s a simple and familiar visual-based system that helps you track tasks through the pipeline and ensure everyone knows what to work on. Plus, it’s one of the easiest project management strategies to master.

Why Kanban Is So Important

Kanban is excellent because it’s familiar, easy to set up, and dead simple to use as projects and tasks move forward. We use it every day, along with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of other teams around the world. It’s popular for good reason—it’s effective.

And it doesn’t complicate things. Its simplicity is what makes it so easy to use.

It simplifies project management visualization with boards and works on the premise of only doing what you need to, when you need to, and only in the amount needed. In fact, it’s based on Toyota’s just-in-time methodology

Kanban makes it easy to focus on the tasks that matter and identify bottlenecks so you can fix them.

When you utilize Kanban as a workflow management tool, you can break down projects into bite-sized tasks that you can track from start to completion.

Back in 2000, Bill Gates needed a way to improve fixing bugs at Microsoft. One that would streamline the process and allow his team to fix more bugs… in less time.  

The software development team’s management consultant adopted a simple Kanban method that put requests into a visual list. Developers had the freedom to pick something to work on and send up the line to the next stage.

Every member of the team could see what was needed, what was being worked on, and what still needed work. It created greater efficiency when fixing bugs. Leveraging Kanban project management also simultaneously increased productivity while giving the team the freedom, flexibility, and visibility they needed to get more done.

So, don’t let its simplicity fool you—it worked for a tech giant like Microsoft, and it can certainly work for you too.

Quick Tips to Improve Kanban Project Management Today

Despite Kanban’s simplicity, it can feel overwhelming when you’re just learning it and getting started.

If you want an easy way to learn and start using Kanban, Trello is a great place to start. You can sign up for free, play around with it, and set things up how you’d actually use them. Once you dive in, you’ll quickly realize it’s a lot easier than it seems.

It’s extremely user-friendly, letting your team get set up and working in minutes. Your team will enjoy improved productivity with clear steps on what needs to be done. Trello lets you leave notes for specific people (and the ability to tag them), assign or hand off cards to team members, attach documents for review, check tasks off as they are completed, and much more.

Plus, it’s easy to collaborate inside the office or coordinate a completely remote team using Trello. 

The visual nature of Trello boards allows the team to see work that’s backlogged, what’s on the agenda for today, and how work is moving forward. Think about how much more work will get done and how easy it will be to manage a project workload because of this simple-to-understand interface. 

Use Kanban-Compatible PM Software 

While it may seem obvious, using Kanban-compatible project management software is the best way to get started, organized, and comfortable with the project management style.

If you’re brand new to Kanban and project management, Trello is an excellent option. It’s simple, easy to learn, and there are dozens of tutorials plus training videos you can leverage to learn everything you want to know. From there, you can set up test projects, invite a few of your teammates, and play around with the tool to get a good feel for it.

When you’re ready, you can sign up for a free trial to one of Trello’s paid plans to try out advanced automations, checklists, and other project views.

Trello is what we use here at Crazy Egg, so we can personally vouch for its effectiveness and ease of use.

If it’s too simple for your needs or you’re not a fan of Trello’s interface, you can also try Wrike or Monday.com. Both tools come with more advanced features out of the gate so they’re not as easy to use, but they cover more ground and offer more opportunities to expand into other types of project management as well.

Many people rely on email and other types of organizers that are clunky and don’t offer effective visual aids. But the Kanban method is very simple, visually stimulating, and makes organizing your day a breeze.  

Brainstorm Project or Content Ideas on Kanban Boards

Kanban is more than just task tracking software. Future blog and content ideas can strike at any moment. That million-dollar idea can come shooting in like lighting in a bottle. Keeping ideas in your notepad on your iPhone can get messy and they can also get totally lost. 

Many content and digital marketing agencies set up Kanban boards to add any content ideas that come to mind. 

If you are creative and are constantly being inspired by things in passing, setting up Kanban columns like “Big Ideas”, “Blog Content Angles”, and “Potential Next Campaigns” will allow you to populate them with cards as inspiration strikes you.

Having brainstorming columns will help you keep making content that’s fresh and new while moving forward with ideas for months to come. 

Kanban Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Getting overwhelmed is very easy to do. But we’ve already talked about how Kanban PM helps with organization and planning.

But Kanban also fosters excellent collaboration with team members and stakeholders. 

More informed team members help things go smoothly throughout your project. Because of things like feedback loops (more on that later) you can set up alerts that make sure everyone is on the same page throughout the project. 

On Kanban boards, you can employ visual cues for productivity that communicate important feedback to team members without the use of words. Kanban offers very efficient ways to promote teamwork and communication between all parties, which is only helped by the ease of commenting, tagging users, and even integration with Slack.

Make Project Tasks Bite-Sized

Kanban can really shine for organizing and making larger tasks more manageable. Think about what goes into creating a car. Did you know every car has about 30,000 parts? Toyota knows this well, which is why the process of making a vehicle is broken down to its simplest elements, making it easier to build something complicated in a streamlined and organized fashion. 

And since Kanban originated with and is used by Toyota, you can follow the same philosophy to see the same benefits. 

For starters, list out your tasks and what they will do for your overall project. Then you can see if those first tasks can be broken down even further. If so, create Kanban cards for these more granular tasks to make things easier for your team to grasp and complete.

By chopping tasks up into smaller ones, you eliminate wasteful time spent going back over objectives while also empowering employees to become more efficient. 

Plus, some Kanban software allows you to place pictures in cards, making it even easier to visualize what you were attempting to do at that time.  

6 Best Practices for Kanban Project Management

Kanban can be an amazingly effective PM methodology,  especially if you’re not enjoying your current process or don’t use anything but your mind to stay organized. 

It’s easy to get bogged down with thinking Kanban is only for offices and corporations. It’s not. Kanban is a philosophy first and a simple way to visualize your work. You can apply Kanban’s best practices to anything from throwing a birthday party to building a car. 

Even software isn’t needed—you could accomplish the same visualization through post-it notes or on a whiteboard—but it certainly helps with more complex projects and anything in the business world.

Let’s look at the core elements of the Kanban project management framework so you can begin setting up your projects using this powerful methodology. It’s time for you to reduce wasted time, increase productivity, and offer higher quality from your daily processes.  

Workflow Visualization

In order for you to run an effective project using Kanban principles, you must be able to visualize everything. A Kanban board is where that happens. 

Here, on the example Trello board below, you can see how the columns and task cards are set up for all members of the team to see: 

So, in this example, it’s a simple workflow from “To Do”, through “Doing”, and onto “Done”. You can see this project has finished opening a bank account and writing the business plan, is currently working on four different tasks, and is waiting to start work on hiring an accountant and applying for a loan.

Having a visible and up-to-date Kanban board helps every member of your team where the project work needs to be focused for the time being. Plus, by assigning team members to these cards, everyone can know who is responsible for what. 

This way, you can eliminate problems early by seeing the workflow clearly from the beginning of the project and swiftly identifying delays or problems by monitoring your Kanban boards daily. Trello makes this particularly easy to accomplish for teams of any size.

Keep Work in Progress Limited

The worst thing you can do as a project manager is to have team members working on too many different tasks at the same time. Kanban focuses on limiting how much work is in progress at one time.

It’s very common knowledge that multitasking is actually less efficient than focusing on one thing at a time. And that is the premise behind limiting work in progress—focus on quality

You want to prioritize tasks based on urgency and the order they need to be done.

Then, make sure you have a clear chain of actions. That means not having team members move onto the next aspect of the project before completing what they’re working on.

By only having a certain number of items in progress, you don’t have to worry about your team not giving their total best possible focus to the task at hand. Plus, this methodology allows you to quickly notice bottlenecks causing delays in the project workflow. 

The easiest way to apply this is to make it clear only one task per card is allowed and limit how many tasks can be worked on before moving to the next phase. 

Look at the example image from Kanbanize’s software below. This clearly shows you tasks requested by a team member, what is in progress, and which tasks have already been completed. 

When you optimize the work pace and don’t exceed work capacity, your team will stay fresh, avoid burnout, and have a much better experience working through the project. 

This is a core tenet of Kanban PM—as a project manager, you can allocate tasks in a way that keeps your team performing to the best of their abilities and keeps project progress humming along. 

Manage Workflows

This is a simple step but one you should always include. 

Managing workflows is all about the project itself and not the people working on the team. Kanban project management requires you to manage the movement of individual tasks and the working items throughout the progression of your project. 

This is done by observing the project workflow, moving cards to their appropriate columns if their status has changed, and identifying bottlenecks so you can take action to eliminate them. 

The main goal of Kanban is to create an effortless and polished workflow. PMs that remove the micromanaging of their team and instead focus on managing workflows will create enormous value early on. 

Plus, it all serves to get work through the pipeline more quickly and effectively. 

The best way to improve upon this would be to address these workflows in meetings and strategy sessions. Then, throughout your project, you can leave comments or have a quality control specialist reinforce the principles you set in your meetings to enforce your processes.

Make Processes Explicit 

Making real improvements starts with a clear understanding of what your prescribed actions are. A key element of the Kanban methodology is making sure each member of the team responsible for a job knows exactly what’s expected of them. 

In order to do that, your process needs to be explicitly defined and explained in clear, easy-to-understand documentation. 

In Kanban project management, processes must be socialized so team members understand why it’s useful to the project. People don’t work as hard or even participate effectively if they don’t understand why things are useful to the process. 

If you are, for example, creating a new software application and you need a developer to create a button that will move users from one screen to another, this step-by-step process needs to be clear to the developer. There needs to be clear direction on how it should work, what the user experience should be as a result, and why it’s useful. 

Incorporating this way of thinking and making the team familiar with the project’s common goals helps work get done., Why? Because each person is clear on the processes needed for the next phase of the project to start.  

Improving this can start with simply regularly reviewing steps in the process, then codifying that by going over exact roles and drafting steps from an SOP (standard operating procedure) document or template. 

That way, each member on the team knows what process they must follow to effectively deliver high-quality work.

Implement Feedback Loops 

Being able to incorporate feedback loops is very important to any kind of project management and part of any well-functioning system. It allows you to understand quickly what is going on within your process. 

Kanban project management methods promote and help PMs implement feedback loops of different types. 

An example of this could be reviewing steps in your Kanban project workflow, then setting up feedback for metrics as well as reporting. Feedback loops can even be just visual cues that display continuous information to you about work in progress or work that is not being done. 

Improved Collaboration Over Time  

Kanban project management also focuses on continual improvement and growth. It’s baked into the process but can be overlooked if you don’t keep this idea at the forefront of your workflow. 

Being able to achieve continuous improvement and comply with the ever-changing winds of business is made possible by having a shared vision with your team, making sure all team members understand the goals, process, and workflow. 

Once up to speed on the Kanban system, it will be easy for your team to see shared problems, identify any issues that come up, and provide high-quality feedback that maximizes on delivering the best possible result for the project. 

This is improved with clear goals that focus on discussing improvement and keeping everyone focused on the simple steps that encourage communication and collaboration.


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