Kanban Planning – Accurate and Flexible

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.

kanban planning

Planning is a term that follows us throughout the project lifecycle. It kicks off with the idea implementation and then guides the team until the target is reached. Traditionally, project planning is viewed as something very linear and thus most go for the Gantt chart as the tool of choice. However, for those working in faster-moving environments, Kanban planning on a visual task board may prove to be the better way to go.

Let’s explore what entails Kanban planning and why you may want to try it out too.

What is Kanban planning?

To better understand how Kanban planning is done, let’s first define what is the traditional approach to project planning.

So, to plan a project in that way, you would need to do a few things:

  • Define the project schedule or the end date
  • Understand what tasks need to be done
  • Check the team capacity
  • Schedule project phases and tasks on a Gantt chart to plan out how the project is going to run
  • Start working

Most likely your project plan will look something similar to the image below. From here, you will start your progress and use the plan as a baseline to understand if the project is still on track.

teamhood project gantt

Such an approach is time-proven and does work well for a lot of projects. But not all.

If you are looking for more flexibility and adaptability in your project planning, if there are more uncertainties or changes coming, such an approach will not accommodate them. One of the ways to solve this dilemma is Kanban planning.

Kanban planning basics

Kanban planning on the other hand is much more flexible and less restrictive. While there are no specific rules on how and to what capacity it should be done, there are certain guidelines to follow.

At the core of the Kanban planning you will find 4 things to focus on:

  1. Delivery for the specified date
  2. Prioritization based on value
  3. Analyzing historical team data
  4. Working in iterations

So while there are still elements of working for a certain date and planning ahead, this approach is more focused on understanding how the team performs and adapting the planning to it. Instead of laying out the whole plan in advance, it is made and adjusted as the project goes on.

Kanban planning flow

As the project starts, instead of planning everything out, Kanban teams identify and prioritize the tasks that need to be completed first. Then, according to the data on the team’s previous performance, they estimate how much time they are going to take and start working.

Having such an estimate allows the team to then set the next planning session to replenish the backlog towards the end of the first iteration. In this way, they can then gather insights, priorities, and changes that happened in between and take them into account for the next prioritization and planning session.

All of this is usually done on 1 or 2 Kanban boards. Where you plan, prioritize, and complete work while moving them through the different statuses.

Backlog kanban board example

Kanban planning board

The Kanban board is the center of Kanban and thus there is little surprise that teams use it for their Kanban planning efforts as well. Depending on the way your team likes to work, you may use one or several Kanban boards to plan your project.

Planning and working on the same board

For smaller teams or those working with uncomplicated projects, the same Kanban board can be used for both – planning and completing the work.

In such cases, the planning is done on the left side of the Kanban board and then the work is moved towards the right side to be completed.

As you can see in the image below, the planning section on the left is divided into more statuses. One for holding all the ideas and unprioritized work and then others for different urgency of prioritized items.

planning priorities

During a planning session, the Kanban team would sit down and review the unprioritized items. They then identify which of them should be completed next and put them into priority columns according to urgency. Items in the 1st priority are completed first and then the team moves on to items in the second priority and so on.

The goal of the planning session is to fill the priority statuses with items to be completed during the next iteration.

Learn more about Kanban cadences and other meetings

Planning on a different board

For larger teams or larger projects, planning and working on the same board, may not be the most efficient way to go. In such cases, the Kanban teams set up a separate board to hold all of the planning and only move items to the working Kanban board when they are ready to be done.

Such a board is often referred to as the planning or prioritization board. In short, this board is just a larger version of the planning section we have discussed before.

In the example below, you can see how a separate prioritzation board may be set up. There are 2 bigger status groupd here. First for ideas and discussion, the second for planned items.

Backlog kanban board example

Such an approach is a lot more convenient to hold a larger number of items, as well as separate the planning and execution. Allowing the team to focus on the tasks at hand. Once the team has completed an iteration, they pull items from the ready section on this board.

See more Kanban board examples showcasing how to use multiple boards at once.

Bucket size planning

While not a specific Kanban approch, bucket size planning is another technique that can be used by teams.

This is a version of Kanban planning that merges the on-demand prioritization and long-term vision into one.

Bucket size planning is also usually done on a separate Kanban board dedicated to the planning efforts. The main accent here is that the statuses are used to represent different timeframes. Traditionally:

  • 1 year
  • 6 months
  • 3 months
  • The present
kanban planning buckets

During the planning sessions the team groups all of the new ideas into the 4 sections, depending on when they should be delivered. Then, they take the ‘present’ bucket and prioritize those items for the next iteration.

Such a Kanban planning approach allows you to see the long-term vision and still adapt to the current status of the market with iteration planning. In a way, this mixes the Gantt chart and the Kanban board approaches into one.

Learn more about the Mixing of Kanban and Gantt.

Kanban planning

Kanban planning accuracy

Now that we looked over the visuality of Kanban planning, lets talk a little more about the accuracy and the data behind it.

To create the estiamtions of when items will be completed, Kanban teams use various metrics based on their previous performance. They help to determine how successful the team was in the past and how likely they are to be succesful in the future.

The most important metrics used for estimations are:

Performance metrics teamhood

Depending on the tooling used, these metrics provide averages or percentiles the depict how fast the team will complete an item, how many of them they will complete during a certain time, and how likely they are to fisnish.

All of this combined aids the Kanban planning process and gives data-based information for estimations and schedule. Which makes such estimations much more accurate.

Kanban planning meeting

Contrary to somae other Agile approaches, Kanban does not specify how often a planning meeting should be held. Instead it is done on demand, as the team completes the items already prioritized for the iteration.

Most teams, use a Kanban planning trigger to signal when a new planning session needs to be held. And the size of this trigger is based on the teams throughput and the number of items left in the backlog. The team also takes into account how much time it usually takes them to plan the new iteration.

Thus, both the pririotization and the planning sessions may be held even before the current iteration ends. This way ensuring a constant flow of work.

You can learn more about the Kanban meetings here.

Kanban planning summary

Kanban offers a more flexible way to plan your projects for teams that need to take into account constatnt changes happening in their market. By scheduling work in iterations and taking in historical data, it gives you more clarity and focus in the short-term. However, it can be difficult to accept for those used to long-term planning approach.

Using Kanban tools can be a solution to such situations as they provide the option to mix both – Kanban and Gantt. Giving each team member a choice on they view their data.

kanban planning

Learn more about the various solutions in this side-by-side comparison.

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