The Kanban system is considered not only as a project management tool but as a mindset. The system is all about prioritizing work and aiming to perform at the right time rather than delaying deadlines. It views projects as a series of processes required for active workflow. The primary outcome of Kanban is to get the project done by deciding what should be done first and focusing on the workflow process.
Kanban is a relatively versatile system and can be employed on all types of process inputs whether they are linked to automobiles, documents, software, or widgets. The only requirement in this regard is that you should have all the ability to perform all the key processes of the system at the right place and right time. If these parameters are not adequately placed or in case of undue abundance or scarcity, loopholes, bottlenecks, delays and wastage may develop. Henceforth, Kanban works to ensure the smooth functioning of your processes.
In mid-2000s, the Kanban system was employed in Microsoft. David J. Anderson found the results to be exemplary and he further used them to develop his own method for ensuring continuous progress in companies. This concept was named by Toyota as Kaizen whereas, Anderson chose to name his methods on Kanban systems that motivated him to devise his own method.
Visualization of workflow is a legacy of Toyota where they used signboards to represent workflow for the day. It can be done on a whiteboard, chalkboard, an online tool or a bulletin board. The workflow will be denoted in the form of columns and specific details under each column. These columns represent the various steps involved in a certain process and relevant tasks are listed under individual columns. They are then displayed on their respective mediums. A basic board organization will be categorized into tasks that are to be done, under processing and lastly, those that have been already performed. This denotes a “three-bin system” usually found in manufacturing industries. It would thus include parts kept in inventory, parts that are currently in use and lastly, parts that are still with the supplier. This type of system guarantees that the workers’ stock is never depleted. A typical example of a workflow board is given below;
It should be noted that such Kanban boards can be used for more complex tasks consisting of multiple steps. Additionally, they can be color-coded depending upon the type of work required for a complex project. A typical example of such a board is given below;
Such boards make workflow clearer and more convenient and eliminate any discrepancy a worker might have regarding the work progress. Displaying workflow in this manner is a critical component of the Kanban system however, Kanban experts caution that it should not be believed that the Kanban system is limited to such simplistic measures.
Joseph Hurtado, a Kanban trainer and project manager at AgileLion Institute, cautions against an overly simple view of Kanban. He advises managers not to fall into this minimalistic trap and work towards the understanding of key phenomenon, values, tools and principles and then resort to experimentation. He expresses the view that just using a Kanban board does not guarantee that one is doing Kanban right. Such diminution may lead to failure in implementing Kanban.
Kanban believes that one can achieve more by resorting to do less. This principle can be challenging specifically for over-achievers. However, it is based upon the general observation that while doing less one can focus more on the outcomes and work towards achieving optimal results. Kanban experts believe that this principle can do wonders in terms of efficiency by handling only a specific number of tasks from the workflow to suitable workers. Henceforth, workers are not bombarded with work and flapping is ultimately avoided.
Joe Justice, the President of Scrum Incorporation, narrates that Kanban is an ideal tool to limit WIP and is known to accelerate the desired outcomes. Meanwhile, personal Kanban brings about such perks to your daily logs and may become the new secret for high achievers.
In terms of Kanban board, WIP can be enforced by listing only a specific number of tasks in the Kanban board under columns. This method is also termed lean Kanban. Daniel Doiron, a leading Lean Kanban trainer at CC Pace, rightly pointed out that this approach requires prioritization. In this regard, slacking can be employed to ensure the implementation of this step. Doiron further commented that Lean Kanban is the only approach that appropriates and manages to limit WIP.
The Kanban system can be started as part of your traditional working style and can be continued from where you left off. This is considered as a strength of the process as it can be adapted as per the specifications of any project. For instance, if you are working on a complex project, you will not be required to change your project specifications and workflow overnight to shift to Kanban system.
The goal of Kanban is to help you improve using the pre-existing resources and without imposing the burden of too many changes in the workflow. The process works by creating awareness regarding prioritization of work and encouraging incremental improvements after careful review of loopholes and deficiencies in the process. Kanban sparks thoughtful discussions on process evaluation and enables users to learn from their mistakes.
The CEO of Lean Kanban, David Anderson mentions in his Essential Kanban Condensed e-book that the Kanban system should be as predictable as possible. In this way bottlenecks in the process can be identified, addressed and prevented. Furthermore, workflow in Kanban should be such that lead times are minimized and delivery of value is maximized. The figure below clearly indicates the bottlenecks in the Kanban process using a Kanban board.
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