From Complexity to Clarity: How Kanban Simplifies Roadmaps 

Nick Saraev ·

Nick Saraev is a writer and entrepreneur who pivoted from a path in medicine to forge a series of successful digital media businesses. He's been featured in Popular Mechanics, Apple News, & Bloomberg, and is an Amazon Kindle best-seller.

kanban roadmaps

Project roadmaps have always felt too rigid to me, and by their very nature, they tend to be inflexible. If you picture a literal roadmap, your options for deviating from the planned route from point A to point B are severely limited (unless you’re in a flying car). 

This sort of ‘planned immutability’ was precisely what my team and I encountered as we navigated the post-pandemic bounce-back. Our detailed and inflexible roadmap became obsolete overnight due to rapid (and frankly, unexpected) market shifts.

I’d heard about Kanban and its solid reputation for being able to roll with punches. I had never really thought of how the two (Kanban & Roadmaps) could ever be compatible, let alone combined.

It turns out they play well together, and long story short, once we embraced a Kanban approach, things started looking up.

Kanban: An old concept, but a fresh take on project planning

Kanban might ring a bell if you’ve been around project management. But don’t let its familiarity fool you. It brings a flexible twist to planning that’s anything but traditional. Instead of following a strict plan with unmovable milestones and deadlines, Kanban is all about staying nimble and keeping up with change as it happens.

Imagine having a big board in front of you, split into sections for each step in your project like “To Do,” “Doing,” “Review,” and “Done.” 

kanban board example
Kanban board example

Now, picture tasks or updates on cards moving across these areas, showing exactly where everything stands at any given moment. This simple setup makes tracking progress straightforward and keeps everyone on the team on the same page.

With Kanban, there’s no need to stubbornly adhere to an outdated game plan. The method invites teams to shift their focus based on what’s happening right now, keeping plans fresh so they can smoothly move forward without missing a beat.

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Fixing roadmaps with Kanban: Simple is better 

Traditional detailed road maps can quickly become outdated in the face of changing business environments, technology, priorities, and economic conditions. This is where Kanban shines as a simpler and more effective alternative.

Kanban roadmaps are incredibly useful for projects that need to stay nimble and quick on their feet. That’s why they’re a hit in tech startups, software development scenes, and anywhere innovation doesn’t take a breather. 

Kanban stands out because it slips right into what teams are already doing, nudging things along bit by bit to get better outcomes.

Here’s where Kanban really fits like a glove:

  • Agile Software Development: Frequent updates and cycling through versions.
  • Marketing Campaigns: Pivoting based on what customers are saying or market trends.
  • Event Planning: Making quick decisions when things change at the last minute.
  • Product Development: Quickly taking customer feedback onboard to make something even cooler.

As David J. Anderson (of the David J Anderson School of Management) rightly points out: 

Kanban is not a software development lifecycle methodology or an approach to project management. It requires that some process is already in place so that Kanban can be applied to incrementally change the underlying process.

David J. Anderson

This underscores Kanban’s role in enhancing existing systems rather than replacing them.

At its heart, there are four golden rules of Kanban: 

  1. Start with what is (or isn’t) working now.
  2. Aim for smooth changes rather than big leaps.
  3. Keep everyone’s job respected just as it is.
  4. Encourage every person on the team to step up as leaders in their own rights.

This way, Kanban lets ‘task keeping’ flourish organically while making sure everyone gets along during the ride.

Building your Kanban roadmap: A simple, clear process

Kanban Roadmap

Adopting a Kanban roadmap can make your project management smoother and more adaptable. Here’s how to seamlessly blend a Kanban system into your work or start from scratch with ease.

Merging Kanban into your current roadmaps

Introducing Kanban into an established project roadmap should enhance what you’re doing, not upset the entire table. Take a look at where things stand today, find spots that feel too fixed in place, and imagine adding some give there.

Here’s how:

  1. Lay Out the Work Visually: Sketch out ongoing tasks on a board showing stages like “To Do,” “Ongoing,” and “Done.”
  2. Find the Slow Spots: Look over this visual layout to pinpoint where things get stuck.
  3. Add Fluidity with Kanban Principles: Fold in Kanban concepts gently, focusing first on those sticky points. This way, it feels less like tossing everything up in the air at once.

This method is ideal when your existing roadmap has solid foundations but needs increased adaptability to respond to changes swiftly.

Starting from scratch with Kanban

If you find your current project management process overly complex or not delivering the outcomes you need, consider giving Kanban a try. It’s like hitting the reset button for managing projects.

Here’s how to set up a new Kanban system:

  1. Start by mapping out the steps of your project from start to finish. On a Kanban board, each of these steps becomes its own column.
  2. Then take every piece of work and put it on cards that go into these columns. Make sure each card has all the details anyone would need to understand what’s expected.
  3. To keep things manageable, figure out a maximum number of tasks that should be happening at once in any part of the process.

Choosing this method is ideal if you want to create an adaptable and reactive way to handle projects right from scratch.

The guiding principles for Kanban roadmaps

When crafting a Kanban roadmap, remember these straightforward yet effective strategies to ensure your approach is both productive and agile:

  • Start Simple: Begin with the essentials and add more elements only when necessary. Starting too complex can lead to confusion.
  • Keep It Up to Date: Be proactive in updating your board regularly. As priorities and project scopes evolve, so should your Kanban—it’s all about staying relevant.
  • Pick Appropriate Tools: If you’re juggling larger or more intricate projects, professional-grade Kanban software might be just what you need. These tools provide sophisticated features like task automation, detailed analytics, and compatibility with other management systems—factors that can greatly improve project control.

If you embrace these steps you’ll craft a personalized Kanban roadmap that not only integrates seamlessly into your current workflow but also enhances it by adding layers of flexibility critical for handling modern dynamic projects efficiently.

Building a Kanban roadmap that works for You (and your team)

Creating an effective Kanban roadmap is all about tailoring it to match the specific needs of your project and team. It’s crucial that the design of your board enhances both productivity and understanding for everyone involved. Let’s discuss crafting a Kanban roadmap that truly suits your work style:

Step-by-Step instructions:

1. Define your columns:

Now: Focus on tasks that are currently being worked on. This column represents the present commitments, providing a clear picture of what the team is actively engaged in.

Next: Identify the next set of tasks to be tackled once the current commitments are completed. This helps in understanding the immediate future and setting strong to medium-term expectations.

Future: Plan for tasks that will be addressed in the more distant future. This column is more abstract and flexible, allowing for adjustments as priorities evolve.

teamhood kanban

2. Organize your rows by category: 

Think of each row as a home for similar tasks in your project. You might, for instance, group tasks under labels like “Core Platform” or “Integration.” Doing this keeps everything neat and sorts activities according to where they fit within the project’s scope.

kanban board

3. Fill your board: 

Start by placing cards in the appropriate columns and rows. Be specific with what each task entails. For instance, under “Core Platform” and within the “Now” section, you could list a card titled “Templates for User Workflows.” 

templates for user workflow

Make certain that every card includes enough information so that anyone on your team can grasp the requirements of the task at hand, along with what success looks like.

4. Set priorities:

Use visual indicators or tags to highlight the priority of tasks. This helps in sorting tasks by urgency, ensuring that the most critical work gets addressed first.

visual kanban board

5. Keep the board up-to-date: 

Make sure to refresh the board consistently as tasks move forward. Shift cards from “Now” to “Next, and to “Future” and eventually to “Done” when projects are completed. Checking in on a regular basis keeps your board aligned with where things actually stand with the project.

advanced kanban board

Beyond the basics – advanced Kanban techniques

As you become more adept with Kanban’s core concepts, it’s time to level up and try some sophisticated techniques to further sharpen your project management skills. 

Here are some advanced tactics:

  • Portfolio Kanban Boards: These help manage multiple endeavors in one place while checking how they line up with overall company objectives.
  • Swimlanes: Imagine having clear lanes in a swimming pool. Here, we use them to sort different kinds of work or priorities within your workflow, helping everyone stay organized and focused.
  • Cumulative Flow Diagrams: Think of this as taking inventory—it tracks tasks across various stages over time so you can spot hold-ups or see if things are piling up where they shouldn’t be.

By integrating timelines into these practices, like task graduation deadlines, you add another layer by visually tracing each step along its journey. 

And it turns out this isn’t just busy work. Data shows companies using these advanced methods experience significant upticks in how quickly they get things done. 

Here’s a real-life case study where implementing a Kanban system for segmented tasks resulted in a 22% increase in productivity. This underscores not only their value in making project management smoother but also their role in boosting a team’s ability to adapt swiftly.

Visualizing the path: Kanban roadmap examples

physical kanban

Image: Unsplash

Let’s take a closer look at Kanban roadmaps with some real examples to get a sense of how they can transform project management. Seeing different types of Kanban boards in action helps teams figure out what might work best for them.

For instance, picture a software development team using their own Kanban board. It’s got sections like “Backlog,” “To Do,” “In Progress,” “Testing,” and “Done.” As tasks move along these columns, it’s easy for everyone to see the journey from idea to finished feature.

kanban development

Or think about a marketing group juggling various campaigns. Their board might have columns titled “Ideas,” “Planning,” “Execution,” Review,” and “Published.” This setup is powerful because it lets the team monitor many projects at once, staying flexible as market conditions change.

visual kanban tool

Interested in seeing these kinds of Kanban boards up close? We’ve written an insightful blog post filled with examples from numerous industries that really show off the adaptability of Kanban systems across different kinds of workloads and organizational needs.

Get to know Kanban better

Embracing Kanban roadmaps could change the game for how you handle projects. Instead of sticking to set-in-stone plans, this approach invites you into a more visual and flexible way of working that keeps pace with today’s fast-moving demands. 

When teams start using Kanban roadmaps, they’re able to adjust on the fly, making them quicker to respond and more efficient overall. 

This technique isn’t just about staying nimble, it also makes things clearer for everyone involved and helps your projects stay on track even when surprises come up.

If you’re looking to reshape your project management practices with Kanban roadmaps, there are plenty of insights out there waiting for you. Teamhood has Kanban resources ready at your fingertips, full of tips and guidance from those who know their stuff.

Why not kickstart a smoother journey in handling projects? Embrace simpler strategies with real-time flexibility by implementing Kanban roadmaps starting now.

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kanban rich cards
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