Optimise your workflow with Kanban: “stop starting, start finishing!”

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Kanban… You’ve probably heard of it. But what exactly is Kanban?

It all started in 1947 with the smart idea of a Japanese car manufacturer:

To achieve shorter lead times and avoid bottlenecks, a Toyota engineer developed the Kanban system. He was inspired by the stock plan in the supermarket: reorders are only placed when a product stock is running low.

The same principle can also be applied to work on projects: a new task is only started when the previous one has been completed. This prevents too many tasks being started in parallel and not being completed reliably.

The word Kanban is Japanese and means card, so this method consists of a card system. The principle was applied to software development by David Anderson in 2007, which is where the current Kanban method we know, came from.

How does Kanban work?

Kanban is an agile methodof work organisation. It is flexible and adaptable, creates clarity and helps you improve your workflow.

The Kanban board is the central component of this method. You can display a board classically as a pinboard or you can display it in a suitable project management software tool like awork. The latter offers the great advantage that your mobile board is available to everyone at any time and from anywhere.

Each Kanban board contains coloured task cards for different subject areas, as well as three process columns that show the completion status of the respective task.

On the far left you will find the backlog, i.e. the place where all pending to-do’s are collected. In the middle are the tasks that are currently being processed, a.k.a. WIP (“Work in Progress”). On the far right are all completed tasks.

Depending on the project, any number of further intermediate steps can be scheduled, for example a review column to check your tasks or discuss them with your team. Tasks in the individual columns can also be optionally prioritised in order to gain an exact understanding of the current tasks thanks to the rankings.

With a Kanban Board, you are spared confusing lists of jumbled tasks; instead, you can keep a clear overview of all tasks. This is because all to-do’s are processed in small steps and moved successively in the columns of the Kanban Board as the task status changes.

In awork you can freely define the process columns of the board.
This is how your Kanban board in awork could look like.

How does one start using the Kanban method? These four change-management principles can help you with that.

Start with what you were already doing.

Start exactly where you are standing right now. When using a Kanban board it is important to start with current processes and to map them realistically in the system. Little by little this process can be changed.

Accept that evolutionary change will be pursued.

The goal is to develop continuously and to achieve improvements in small steps with the Kanban method.

Respect existing processes.

The Kanban concept can be implemented in a very uncomplicated way. This means that all existing roles, processes and responsibilities remain unchanged.

Be encouraged to show leadership at every level of the organisation.

To achieve long-term improvement, every member of your team should participate. Encourage all levels of the organisation to develop concrete proposals and actively communicate them so that your team can work out common plans.

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Core practices of the Kanban Method

Now that you have learned the basics, we will introduce you to the six core practices. This way you can work even more efficiently with your team!

  1. Design: The Kanban board is used to visualise your tasks. It is important that the columns for the processing status are clearly defined. Otherwise, you can design your board freely, for example, by adding suitable photos and graphics to your tasks in awork.
  2. Limitation: In order for your team to establish a perfect workflow, you should limit the tasks in the individual columns. This means that each column may contain a maximum number of cards.
  3. Control: To improve the workflow, you and your team should keep an eye on important variables such as lead times and queues. This way, you can quickly see where there is still potential for improvement and, based on this, optimise individual variables in a targeted manner.
  4. Regulation:The limited tasks and defined columns are part of the regulation and help you and your team to make all work processes more efficient thanks to clear structures. These rules should be visible to all members on the Kanban board at all times.
  5. Cadences:These are meetings where you can give each other individual feedback as a team. Cadences should take place regularly so that each individual can work on and improve their skills.
  6. Kaizen: This word comes from Japanese and is formed from the syllables Kai(change) and Zen (for the better). The Kaizen theory has the background that one lives through a continuous process of improvement and constantly works on optimising a company step by step.

Kanban vs. Scrum

Some similarities can be found between Kanban and the agile development method Scrum. Both are used in self-organised teams and they each rely on transparency as well as a constant change of the original setting through the evaluation of relevant variables. A division of individual tasks into smaller units can also be found in both methods to facilitate the workflow.

But what exactly distinguishes Kanban from Scrum?

  • Kanban gives you more freedom: Iterations, prioritizations, cross-functional teams and other techniques are optional. These applications are mandatory in Scrum.
  • As an indicator for planning and process improvement, Kanban boards use lead times, while Scrum uses team velocities.
  • When required capacities are free, you can work on new requirements with your team and the Kanban method – in Scrum this is not possible when a running Sprint.
  • In Kanban, no roles are predefined, whereas in Scrum there are three predefined roles at the beginning of a project.
  • Several teams or even individuals can share Kanban boards and continuously develop them, whereas the sprint backlogs in Scrum only belong to one team and are deleted after each sprint.

Using Kanban in awork

If you really want to get started with the Kanban method, then awork is the perfect companion for you and your team. The Kanban board in awork contains a single column for each task status, and with the plus button, you can quickly add additional columns. In other words, you can customise all columns and add more if you like. You can optimally adapt the board to your team’s process, for example, if you are part of a marketing team, you could create an additional process column for your research work.

When adding a new column with the plus button, you can determine the details, such as the type of task and its icon.
When you add a new column with the plus button, a pop-up window will appear. Here you can determine the details, such as the type of task and its icon.

All tasks can be moved easily in awork; you can simply drag and drop them into the next process column. You can also rearrange columns this way. With a click on the icons, you can adjust agents or deadlines of tasks and view further details by clicking on the task name.

In addition, you can group tasks by lists and users and switch to the presentation mode of the agile Kanban board.

You can group tasks by lists and users.
In this image, you see that the tasks within the Marketing team’s Kanban board have been grouped by various digital media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.).

In this way, aworkhelps you keep an overview, manage your projects, and even increase your team’s productivity in the long term!

Conclusion

Kanban software makes it easy to organise workflows by arranging tasks in the Kanban board according to their task status.

This approach is not only helpful to finally put an end to your constant task confusion, it also improves the workflow in your team!

Want to learn more?

Try awork for free!

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