Kanban is a great tool to visualize processes and gain a better understanding of the overall situation in your company. Once you get into the rhythm, certain habits develop and it becomes more and more natural to control your processes with the framework. However, as you get comfortable, certain bad Kanban habits tend to develop as well.
To make sure you don’t fall victim to such a case, here are 10 Kanban habits to watch for and avoid.
1 – Moving cards backward to the start of the board
Kanban is all about linear movement. A task is added to the board and from the moment a team member commits to it, it should only be going to the left of the board towards completion. However, some teams get into the habit of moving tasks back to the backlog if they run into a problem that cannot be immediately solved. It may seem like nothing, but in reality, this messes up the rhythm of Kanban, the metrics, and builds a mindset where it is okay not to finish an item if there is an issue. All of which will affect the success of your Kanban efforts.
Instead of moving tasks back to the beginning, ask your team members to seek help and try to find a solution for the issue. And if there is no way that task can be completed at the time and has to be delayed, move it to the finished section and create a new item that will be prioritized at a later stage of the process.
2 – Breaking WIP limits
WIP limits are one of the key elements of Kanban – they help make sure the team is moving forward and that no task is stalled in the process. However, teams with a lot of changing priorities and unforeseen urgent tasks often get into the undesirable Kanban habit of undermining the WIP limits.
While it may seem fine at first, eventually this habit breaks what we value most about Kanban – having a stable delivery pace. With everyone working on as many tasks as they please, it becomes incrementally difficult to calculate lead and cycle times and understand when a certain task is going to be finished. In other words, we are losing something that is one of the major benefits of using Kanban in the first place. So instead of breaking the WIP limit to accommodate urgent tasks, create an expedite swimlane on your Kanban board and prioritize the urgent tasks there.
3 – Having more than one Expedite swimlane
One of the methods to visualize urgent or top priority tasks is to create Expedite Kanban board swimlanes, in the top of a Kanban Board. However you should be cautious when practicing this habbit. The number of urgent tasks has a tendency to grow over time and become harder to control. Therefore we highly recommend to avoid having not one, but multiple expedite swimlanes. Sure, if you are dealing with a lot of unforeseen requests, it may seem tempting to start dividing them into several categories and create several expedite swimlanes for each of them. However, here you should stop and think – are all of those tasks really urgent and should be prioritized over the WIP limit? Or can some of them be prioritized in the backlog instead?
Having more than one expedite swimlane actually beats the purpose of having such a swimlane at all. As you are not prioritizing certain tasks, but moving prioritization out of the backlog and into rows on your board.
4 – Large work items, difficult to track short-term
Another common Kanban habit you should try and stay clear of is not regulating the size of tasks on your Kanban board. It may seem hard at first to try and evaluate each work item added to the backlog in terms of the effort required, but as you get into the process it becomes quite natural. And by knowing the average time it takes to complete tasks, you should try and make all of them of a similar size.
By doing that, you will get two things – no one team member will be stuck with a single task for weeks and you will be able to calculate lead and cycle time metrics more accurately. Thus, giving you a greater opportunity to understand how much work there is left in the project, how fast your team can do it, and identify any issues with the process.
5 – Lack of clear priorities
Kanban is based on a self-assign principle, where team members decide on their own which tasks they will be working on. This is great, as each team member feels more accountable for the work they are doing and can evaluate their capability before starting on a task. However, if you get into a Kanban habit of not setting clear priorities for your team, you may be in trouble.
The task board backlog should be a clear guide for the team on what is the most important and should be done first. To achieve this, most teams use priority columns of various levels to control the order in which tasks will be completed. Get inspiration for prioritizing with these Kanban board examples.
6 – Micromanaging
While the task board backlog should be taken care of and prioritized according to the company goals, the rest of the team’s operations should be done by themselves. However, when switching from other project management methods, some get into a faulty Kanban habit of micromanaging. Instead of trusting their team and letting them self-govern, managers lurk and keep on monitoring everything that is being done.
This is understandable when you first start using Kanban but should be faded out rather quickly. Otherwise, you run into the risk of coming back to the old ways instead of enhancing your process. At the same time you are showing your team you do not trust them and don’t think they are professionals capable of getting the job done.
7 – Using a poor project management tool
Just like with any other project management approach, finding the right tool for your process is great. It supports your efforts and allows your team to reach their full potential. Many teams however tend to stick with something that somewhat works or to choose tools based on recommendations instead of their actual needs, forming another bad Kanban habit.
Instead of making do, be truthful with yourself and come up with a list of features you and your team need and want to have. Only then go looking for a Kanban tool that fits. Moreover, think about the future and where you would like to go. Choosing an advanced Kanban board like Teamhood, can serve you for now and grow with your team as it expands.
8 – Not putting everything on the board
Kanban board allows your team to visualize the process and track everything that happens easily. This means, everything has to be visualized, and not putting certain things on the board is another bad Kanban habit.
While it may seem silly to put in every little thing that you do, by not visualizing certain tasks you are not respecting transparency Kanban teams should have. At the same time, you are affecting the Kanban metrics and extending the lead and cycle times of the tasks that are on the board. So make sure your process is visualized fully without leaving anything behind.
9 – Not creating cadences
Kanban is a flexible framework that does everything on demand, but this does not mean there should not be certain rhythms for the team to respect. Setting certain Kanban cadences helps create a rhythm and facilitate an information flow between the team, management, and the stakeholders.
In this sense, avoiding to respect cadences forms another toxic Kanban habit that eventually leads to inefficiencies. Make sure to adapt the rhythms to your process and you will be set for a successful project.
10 – Not reviewing the process
Lastly, you have certainly developed a bad Kanban habit if you are not reviewing and improving the process. Unfortunately, some teams become so good at rethinking the product and reacting to customer requests, they forget that practicing Kanban is also about always reviewing the process itself.
To ensure you are always working in the best manner, the team should take time and review how things are done as well as implement ways to improve them. Only by reviewing yourself regularly, you will be able to take the most benefit out of Kanban.
Form the right Kanban habits
After reading all of this it may seem like developing faulty Kanban habits is almost inevitable. And that is absolutely true. Most likely you will develop one or a couple out of this list. The good news is that by recognizing those mistakes and finding ways to fix them, you will create new better Kanban habits that can be upheld moving forward.
Kanban is all about change and continuous improvement and by recognizing what is not working anymore, we can focus on creating good practices and fitting Kanban habits to get the most out of our efforts.
Looking for a flexible Kanban tool? Check out Teamhood!
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.