Following the wrong project management strategy can leave you feeling disorganized, frustrated, and wanting to toss your laptop out the window. Due dates slip, tasks go unnoticed for days, and schedules inevitably shift in the wrong direction. If you’ve tried other methods and nothing seems to work, Kanban is a great PM philosophy to consider. It’s a simple, visual-based workflow strategy that helps you track tasks through the pipeline and ensure everyone knows what to work on. Plus, it’s dead simple to set up as one of the easiest project management strategies to master.
Why Kanban Is So Important
Kanban is an excellent project management strategy 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 so popular for good reason—it’s effective.
It simplifies project management visualization with boards and works on the premise of only doing what is needed, 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, recognize what causes delays, and gain full visual transparency to your entire workflow.
When you utilize Kanban as a workflow management tool, you can break down projects into bite-sized tasks that you can track from start until 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 list of items to be completed. Developers had the freedom to pick something to work on then send it up the line to the next stage of development.
The fact that every member of the team could see what was needed, what was being worked on, and what still needed work, 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.
Quick Tips to Improve Kanban Project Management Today
It can be easy to get overwhelmed with how to use the Kanban PM method, especially if the whole thing is a new concept. That is why we have a very detailed section on best practices later on, to help you move forward with your usage of the Kanban methodology.
Here at Crazy Egg, we love software alternatives to doing things manually. If you want to easily begin using Kanban in your daily projects, Trello is our recommended platform for Kanban-style PM software.
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.
1. Use Kanban-Compatible PM Software
A great way to get the hang of Kanban boards is to use Kanban-focused software platforms. This is very important if you are to get the hang of and wrap your mind around this simple yet very powerful concept. For instance, several people use Trello for this very reason.
We use Trello boards and cards every day at Crazy Egg. Two popular alternatives to Trello are Monday.com and Wrike, which both support Kanban-style project management.
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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 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.
1. 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.
2. Keep Work in Progress Limited
The worst thing you can do as a project manager is have team members working on too many different tasks multiple things 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 in.
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.
3. 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.
4. 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 on what you want your team to do 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.
5. 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 which display continuous information to you about work in progress or work that is not being done.
6. 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 continued 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.