People working in manufacturing or software development are mostly familiar with the Kanban methodology. Developed by Toyota as a way to maintain Just-in-Time (JIT) production workflow, the Kanban method is now used as the approach of choice in various development projects and business processes. However, Kanban is so much more than a way to manage projects. It is a method and a mindset that even you – yes, individuals like me and you – can benefit from.
In this article, however, we are going to focus more on Kanban in a business or startup environment. Kanban is built on top of six main principles. To help you understand more about how Kanban can improve your life and help you deal with a wide range of tasks in an efficient way, we are going to take a closer look at those six principles of Kanban.
Whether you are starting a new startup or a business, or working as an employee – a part of a team – in a company, you can view the tasks you have in hand as units. Kanban’s main purpose is visualizing the process of getting each unit from its earliest stage to completion. When you are given an assignment or a task, that’s when the process begins.
To do this, Kanban uses a Kanban board and cards. Each card represents a task and the board represents the process you have to go through to complete the task. That is why the traditional Kanban board has three parts: To-Do, Doing, Done. As you work on the task you are given, you move the unit from To-Do to Doing, and later from Doing to Done when you are finished.
The visual nature of Kanban means it is always easy to keep track of tasks in a process, including how many are assigned to you and how far along each task is in the process. For managers and business owners, this level of visualization allows for better task management and more efficient processes in general. For employees or team members, Kanban helps them focus on the work that needs to be done.
2. Limit Work-in-Progress
Another thing Kanban tries to do is load balancing; the methodology is designed to maintain the effectiveness of each team member while improving operational efficiency at the same time. Limiting tasks assigned to individual team members is a part of that process.
Rather than trying to assign as many tasks as possible, Kanban puts more emphasis on work quality and balance. It is always better to allow team members to function at their best capacity rather than overburdening them with more tasks and burning them out.
When Kanban is implemented using cloud-based solutions or other tools, there are even ways to get to know team members and their actual capacity over time. Kanbanize, a leading Kanban software used by the best companies, has a feature that lets you track the workload of team members.
The monitoring works the other way around too. Employees or team members also have the same visual view of their workload. This is an advantage that not many other approaches can offer. When you think you have a lot to do, you can review the Kanban board and work your way towards prioritizing and getting the tasks completed one at a time.
3. Manage Flow
Another thing that Kanban is good at is managing flow. A smooth flow sits at the heart of every Kanban implementation. One of the main goals of using Kanban is minimizing backlogs and maintaining smooth operations at every turn. This is done by careful resource allocation and advanced task management.
Managing flow is also something that benefits both the company and employees at the same time. Companies can identify the best team members for the tasks at hand, which means they can push their efficiency level even further by assigning the right people for those tasks. Employees, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about blockers and unrealistic deadlines hampering their progress.
Kanban is flexible in another respect. The Kanban board doesn’t need to be divided into three parts. It can be customized to suit different working environments. In a software development project, for instance, the Kanban board can have phases like To-Do, Plan, Develop, Test, Deploy, Done. It can be more complex with task dependencies and assignments. The possibilities are endless.
4. Streamline Processes
A badly-designed process is never easy to visualize. You cannot track the progress of tasks in a process that’s convoluted and inefficient. Once again, Kanban aims to improve the processes and help businesses and teams perform better as a whole.
The streamlining begins from the moment the Kanban methodology is implemented. In many cases, businesses are forced to take a hard look at their existing processes and find ways to streamline them before they can use Kanban. It may seem like a big challenge to overcome, but it is a challenge that bears many fruitful rewards.
Instead of maintaining an inefficient process and forcing employees to go through it, it is much better for the business to review that process and make the necessary adjustment. Kanban is even flexible enough to allow constant learning and continuous improvements.
5. Implement Feedback Loops
That last bit was actually the next principle of Kanban: continuous learning. Kanban is growing with the business and not just forcing the business to grow. When Kanban is implemented properly, there is a process of gaining insights and learning from different parts of the processes along the way. Even small details such as the time needed by a team member to complete a task from start to finish can tell a lot of stories.
To garner the best insights, it is necessary to set up a feedback look (or several of them). The best way to establish a good feedback loop is by choosing the Kanban software you use carefully. With Kanbanize, for example, you can use @mentions and card comments to communicate with each other. There are email integration features that make the whole process of communicating easier too. On dependent tasks, all parties involved can keep track of the progress and help each other better.
The combination doesn’t just allow for continuous learning over a short period of time. Modern Kanban implementations allow businesses to grow and improve its processes in a more sustainable, long-term way. Insights gathered from various sources can be processed further and analyzed to the last detail.
6. Improve Collaboration
That brings us to the last principle of Kanban, which is improving collaboration. Gone are the top-down task assignments and communication approaches. With Kanban, every member of the team is an essential part of the organization, contributing their best and working together to achieve mutual objectives.
The visual nature of Kanban helps with this principle too. Everyone has a clear view of the process – and how tasks are moving along – at any one time. The visual approach of Kanban is a great way to help employees find new ways to contribute to the team. As a team member, you can always offer help when you see blockages on the Kanban board, especially when you have no more tasks to do.
From these principles, it is not hard to see how Kanban can be truly beneficial for business as well as team members. It is an approach that more companies now use, and one that you can implement in other parts of your life too.