Kanban Project Management. Project Management Methodology

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yulya-vasilyeva ,
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Kanban Project Management is a project management methodology that originated from the manufacturing sector but has been widely adopted in various industries, including software development and project management.

The methodology is based on visualizing work, limiting work in progress, and maximizing flow to efficiently manage tasks and projects.

History of Kanban

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.” – Leon C. Megginson.

The name ‘Kanban’ originates from Japanese [看板] (pronounced as “kanban”; totally mispronounced by the Western world) and translates roughly as “signboard” or “billboard” (as I provide examples of Kanban boards, you’ll see why).

Kanban first appeared as a system of labeling parts used on assembly lines in production at a Toyota factory and goes side-by-side with such concepts as “just-in-time delivery” and “lean manufacturing” that all come from the Toyota Production System (TPS).

The Toyota Production System (TPS) goes like this:

4P-ToyotaWay

The Essence of Kanban

The Toyota Production System presupposes using the resources in the most efficient way, thus saving the resources that would otherwise become muda – “waste” or “uselessness” in Japanese. This idea is kinda close to the concept of 80/20 – not everything we do provides value, and we should focus exactly on those things that do.

Sounds awesome, but how can it be applied to, say, software development or marketing? That’s a reasonable question; it actually can, and it works quite successfully.

Let’s explore the fundamentals of Kanban Project Management:

Visualizing Workflow:

Kanban emphasizes the visualization of the entire workflow on a Kanban board. The board typically consists of columns representing different stages of the workflow, such as “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.”  

Continuous Flow:

The goal of Kanban is to establish a continuous flow of work through the system. Tasks move from one stage to the next as soon as capacity allows, minimizing bottlenecks and delays.  

Pull System in Kanban:

In the Pull System of Kanban, work is dynamically pulled into the workflow based on actual capacity and demand. Team members initiate the pull of new tasks into the ‘In Progress’ column only when they have the capacity to work on them. This approach prevents overloading, enhances flexibility, and ensures a smooth and efficient flow of work throughout the project.

Task Cards:

Each task or work item is represented by a card on the Kanban board. These cards contain essential information such as task details, priority, and status.  

Every task card on a Kanban board progresses through different stages of production represented by columns. Team members complete their work, move the task from their finished stage, and drop it into the next one. This action automatically notifies all participants of the updated task status

Adaptability and Flexibility:

Kanban is known for its adaptability. It allows teams to adjust priorities, workflows, and resources dynamically, responding to changes in project requirements or external factors.  

Satisfy every member of your team based on their preferred work style. Even if an entire team works with a waterfall project management methodology, one – or a few – members who prefer Lean or Agile methods can use Kanban without disrupting or affecting anyone else’s workflow.

Limiting Workload:

By placing limits on the number of tasks in progress, Kanban helps teams focus on completing work before taking on new tasks. This prevents multitasking and improves overall productivity.  

Metrics and Analytics:

Metrics and analytics play a crucial role in Kanban Project Management, providing insights into performance, identifying areas for improvement, and facilitating data-driven decision-making.

Customer Collaboration:

Kanban promotes collaboration with customers and stakeholders by providing transparency into project progress. Clients can easily see which tasks are in progress and which are completed.  

Scalability:

Kanban is scalable and can be applied to small, cross-functional teams as well as large, complex projects. It accommodates varying workloads and project sizes.  

Kanban Project Management provides a visual and flexible approach to managing projects, fostering collaboration, reducing lead times, and promoting a culture of continuous improvement within teams and organizations.

Kanban in Action

Kanban is a technique that stands above the processes in use within the team, and which improves these processes by setting some restrictions/making alterations (like limiting Work In Progress). What brings it closer to the essence of Agile is that it changes how the teams (and thus whole organizations) function.

If applied properly, it stimulates self-organization, mindfulness, and – which is particularly awesome – “effective use of resources”, meaning that people actually start working exactly on what they should be working on.

For example, when talking about Kanban in development, we also speak of “eliminating waste”, but in this case, “waste” is ineffectiveness caused by multitasking, unclear priorities, and stress.

The main idea is to:

A) minimize the work in progress at any given moment, because if many activities are performed at once, it inevitably influences the quality of each of them.

B) visualize the work so each employee knows exactly what is needed from him/her without unnecessary overwork, and there is a possibility to foresee the issues before they start scaling.

To achieve this, a board is used to visualize the tasks. It’s usually just a whiteboard that has columns on it. Sticky notes (aka Kanban cards) of different colors are used for each work item (just different colors if you use project management software), i.e. task (based on their type), and they are moved from one column to the following one as the work goes on.

At Birdview PSA, we’ve taken the whiteboard to the computer screen and made our Activity Center behave the same way.  A basic Kanban board looks like this:

Project data - Kanban board view

You put the tasks on the to-do list, then you move them – a piece of cake.

In development, it sure is a bit more complicated, but the idea stays the same – there is a number of tasks to accomplish, placed in the matter of their priority.

IMPORTANT: There is always a finite number of tasks, usually calculated empirically, and this number cannot be exceeded because it will deny the whole idea of Kanban.

As mentioned previously, it’s important that Work In Progress doesn’t stretch itself to infinity and beyond, causing clutter and chaos, it should be limited to the absolute possible minimum (which is set by every team individually based on previous experience). If any changes appear, the system adjusts itself to those: the team can see where a bottleneck appears (before it’s critical) and finds ways to keep the whole thing going.

simple-physical-board-w-card-types-e87dbe30

Ultimately, the main ideas Kanban suggests are as follows:

  • Visualize work
  • Limit Work In Progress, focusing on finishing the top-priority tasks first
  • Measure & manage the flow
  • Strive for continuous improvement

Why use Kanban?

Because it improves the quality of the end product AND helps the team stay motivated, by:

  1. Knowing exactly what to do
  2. They don’t get overwhelmed by a huge flow of tasks coming at them
  3. They can see the pain points at a glance

Kanban is often mixed with other project management methodologies (see Scrumban, Pomodoroban). Our team uses the Scrumban approach, and they say the key is to find a methodology or several ones, that work best for your team and the kinds of projects they have because there is no cure-all solution.

Any comments on how you and your team use Kanban? We would love to hear your story in the section below!

Related topics: Project Management

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