Guide to Actively Managing Items on Kanban Boards  

Dovile Miseviciute ·

Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space. 2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood. 2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.

Guide to Actively Managing Items on Kanban Boards

Using Kanban can be a great push to optimize your process and increase the pace of getting results. However, it takes more than just setting up a Kanban board to achieve success.

Another crucial part of this process is actively managing items on the Kanban board.

To help you in this endeavor, we have gathered the 5 best techniques for actively managing items on Kanban boards and put them in a handy one-pager that you will find below.

Continue reading this post if you want to learn more about each of the approaches.

Actively managing items on Kanban Board 2

1. Control the work in progress 

Once your Kanban board is set up and the team starts working, you may think controlling WIP is done. It is quite the opposite – to ensure continuous flow, you must actively monitor the board.

Look out for things like aging items, investigate the reasons, adjust the WIP limit, and instill a mindset of finishing work before taking on anything new. Too many times people rely on their task board to do the work. But just having the tool does not mean you know how to use it.

It will take some time for your team to learn how to work in Kanban, and it is necessary to actively guide the process for that to happen.

2. Avoid items piling up in the workflow 

Another common mistake is setting WIP limits and thinking these alone will prevent items from piling up in the workflow. Once again, you must actively monitor and enforce the team to stick to those limits or adjust them to better fit your processes. 

If you notice the WIP limit is always being exceeded, it may be a sign that the limit is too low or that your team members are starting to work on new items without having finished the previous ones. Depending on the situation, you may want to increase the limit or adjust the mindset within the team.

Don’t be discouraged if you do not get it right from the first few tries. Kanban is about evolving and adapting to the circumstances and the same will happen with your process.

3. Ensure work items do not age unnecessarily 

An excellent indication of the need for more attention to actively managing items is seeing them aging in progress on the Kanban board. If you are not familiar with the term, it means an item has been started but then gets stuck in the process and stops moving forward.

There may be a couple of reasons for such a thing, but either way, it requires your attention. The best path forward is to talk with your team to find out the reason and then work together to pull that item through before taking on new work. 

If needed, adjust the WIP limits to ensure no new work can enter the workflow for the time being. 

You will find that tools like Teamhood now offer specific layers for your Kanban board. With them, you can quickly check the item age or item age in status. Thus giving you valuable insight into the metric.

4. Unblock blocked work 

At some point in your process, items will become blocked. This may happen due to internal or external reasons, either way, it should be your priority to aim and unblock them as soon as possible. This way minimizing aging in progress.

The resolution may require something simple like additional resources or bigger initiatives like policy changes for the company. You should use such occasions as a precedent for future planning and policies. Thus avoiding identical issues in the upcoming projects.

5. Right-sizing items 

Lastly, a reason for buildup or aging in progress may be as simple as item size. While you do not have to make all of your items the same size, it is good to review larger ones and divide them into more manageable chunks.

One way of doing that is breaking down any items that will take more than 12 days to complete. Of course, every process is different, and the exact number will vary. But this is a good starting point for those who wish to improve.

Looking to learn more about Kanban? Visit our Kanban resources library to find insights and tips for improving your processes.

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