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The Ultimate Guide to Kanban Project Management

When it comes to project management, everyone seeks the ideal approach for success.

Kanban project management, one of the newest and trendiest methods, focuses on visually organizing work. Using a board or tool, tasks progress through different stages, aiming to limit work in progress, prioritize effectively, and continuously improve the process.

This guide covers everything you need to know about Kanban project management and includes a wealth of resources to deepen your understanding.

The Origin of Kanban Project Management

kanban project management
Teamhood Kanban board

Translated from Japanese, the term Kanban means visual sign. It entered the project management world in the 1950s when popularized by the Toyota supply chain. After its initial success, Kanban has been taken on and adopted by various other companies and industries, proving it is a versatile and flexible tool.

The way Kanban worked back then and now is similar and rather easy to explain. Each piece of work (whether it is an actual part of a car or a task that has to be completed for the project) is visualized by a task card that is tracked through the project process steps.

These steps can be as simple as To Do, Doing, and Done, or as elaborate as your project requires.

Download our free Ultimate Kanban Guide. You’ll learn Kanban basics, principles, and tools like project visualization, WIP limits, and feedback loops.

On top of that, we’ve added essential tips, including avoiding habits, a comparison with Scrum and Scrumban, and a helpful cheat sheet!

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What is Kanban Project Management?

When it comes to talking about Kanban as a project management methodology, there are two camps. Some say it is a project management method as it provides principles and guidelines on how a project should be run.

Others argue that Kanban is only suitable for the execution and tracking of tasks and lacks tools to plan out the project and the ability to set necessary dependencies.

The fact is that there is some truth to both of these statements.

Kanban can be a sufficient project management methodology for projects that don’t require long-term planning and are executed in stages or iterations. However, it will not be sufficient as a sole project management approach in cases where multiple task dependencies need to be set and monitored on a strict timeline.

Thus, it is safe to say that Kanban is a project management approach that can be sufficiently used in specific projects and that may need additional tools in others.

Explore additional Kanban resources for deeper insights.

What is Kanban? Exploring Methodology and Benefits
Who Manages Portfolio in Kanban?
Kanban Pull System Guide: Definition & Examples
Kanban Boards vs Kanban Systems: 6 Key Differences
Kanban Flow: How to Structure Effectively

Kanban Project Management Benefits

Now that you know how Kanban project management works let’s see why you should implement it in your team.

1. Clear process and firm monitoring

One of the biggest benefits of Kanban project management is visualization.

By placing all of your processes on the Kanban board, it becomes very clear what the team is working on and what should be done next. You can classify tasks based on their status, priority, type, tags, or colors, thus creating your own custom workflow and board structure.

As such, there is less need to manage the team and fewer misunderstandings. It is easier to show your clients what you have achieved and what is coming next.

Learn more about Kanban Project Management in our following video.

2. Quicker delivery

Another benefit or outcome of Kanban project management is faster work delivery.

This is achieved through two factors: WIP limits and clear processes. By limiting WIP, Kanban ensures each team member is only working on one task at a time, which results in better concentration and a faster outcome.

By visualizing and setting a clear process, there is less time needed to decide what has to be done next. All of which accumulated to faster delivery.

businessmap alternative
Kanban WIP limits

3. Easy adaption to changes – more agility

Another benefit of Kanban project management is the ability to react and adapt to changes.

Kanban in itself asks the teams to constantly review and improve their process, which works perfectly for when there are third-party or market changes as well. The team knows how to reprioritize tasks and regroup within themselves.

Thus, they become more agile and better at handling anything new that is thrown at them.

4. Better breakdown of tasks

With an Advanced Kanban board and visualization of the subtask process, it becomes easier to monitor and execute even the smallest tasks. This way, you can expand the complicated process steps and be on top of the task status at all times without making any additional inquiries to the team.

advanced kanban board example
Advanced Kanban Board Example

5. Fewer meetings

Choosing Kanban project management can also mean there will be fewer meetings for your team to hold.

As the process is clearly visualized on the board, checking the project status becomes much easier and does not require preparing reports anymore.

Moreover, the team can communicate and share project information in the task details, thus promoting asynchronous communication and minimizing the need to discuss tasks live.

6. More accountability

Lastly, Kanban project management brings more accountability to the teams using it.

Kanban asks the team members to be active in taking on tasks and, as such, promotes ownership over the work that has to be done. Also, as all tasks are visible on the Kanban board, team members feel more inclined to move them through the process steps instead of having them sit in one place for weeks.

After mastering Kanban basics, explore these additional resources:

Advanced Visual Kanban Board in Teamhood
25 Kanban Board Examples for Your Team
The 4 Core Kanban Principles and 6 Practices
7 Kanban Templates for Your Team in 2024
Kanban Estimation – Tools & Best Practices

What Projects Benefit Most From Kanban?

Projects that get the most out of Kanban project management are those that require firm monitoring, breakdown, and classification of work. This is achieved by visualizing work on a Kanban board, iterative planning, and prioritization. Such projects are usually concentrated towards:

  • Introducing a new product or service. Kanban allows the team to focus on the goals, react to changes, and take the project on in certain phases, thus avoiding the feeling of being overwhelmed.
  • Supporting a current product or operations. The visualization and classification of tasks on the Kanban board really shine in this case. It becomes easy to see everything that has to be done and accommodate any urgent tasks without overloading the team.
  • Quality assurance. Using the priority columns and task classification with Kanban swimlanes, teams can create a smooth process that ensures continuity and efficiency.

Overall, Kanban can accommodate any team or industry.

While it is best suited for certain scenarios, this does not mean other teams or processes will not benefit from work visualization and tracking on a Kanban board.

These Kanban board examples show how to use this approach in engineering, accounting, marketing, and various other projects.

Kanban Board

Visual kanban board
Teamhood Kanban board

All of this is done using a Kanban board. The process steps are visualized using columns, and the tasks or products are visualized using Kanban cards that move through the process steps as the team continues to work on them.

This allows teams to visualize and understand their process from start to finish. In the following video, learn how to create a simple Teamhood Kanban board and develop it into an advanced project management solution.

Kanban vs Scrum

When comparing Scrum and Kanban, each methodology offers distinct approaches to project management.

Scrum Kanban Scrumban

Scrum resets boards after each iteration, typically lasting 1-4 weeks, with specific roles like Product Owner and Scrum Master.

Kanban, on the other hand, maintains continuous boards with no specific roles, focusing on flexibility and demand-based planning.

The Kanban board provides a comprehensive view of the team’s process. It features a Backlog for task prioritization and columns representing each step, such as Design, Manufacturing, Testing, Quality Assurance, and Done.

In contrast, the Scrum board typically consists of Sprint Backlog, Progress, and Completed sections, focusing on tasks committed to the current sprint.

Compare Scrum vs Kanban in our following in-depth guide.

Kanban Cards

A Kanban card is like a digital or physical sticky note used by teams to track tasks as they move through different workflow stages, much like sticky notes on a whiteboard.

rich kanban cards e1679059275276
Kanban Card

These cards contain essential details like task summary, responsible person, and deadline, providing a clear overview of each task’s status and history at any given time.

Check out Kanban Cards Uses, Benefits, and Examples in the following post.

Kanban Templates and Examples

Kanban’s adaptability allows for incremental change, making it applicable across industries. Teams start with a core framework and customize it as needed. You’ll find Kanban boards in various processes, from to-do lists to software development and manufacturing. Creating templates for repeatable processes is the next logical step.

Online tools like Teamhood offer pre-made templates or let you create your own easily.

Kanban Team Roles

Interestingly, formal roles in Kanban aren’t as emphasized as in other methodologies like Scrum. Even among the best Kanban software tools, you’ll rarely find discussions or articles highlighting Kanban roles.

However, there are two important roles in Kanban: the Service Delivery Manager and the Service Request Manager. Some consider them crucial for Kanban’s smooth operation, while others argue their necessity.

You’ll find a deep dive into the debate on Kanban roles in the following post.

Software for Kanban Project Management

Kanban board tools allow the team to implement the practice and track results live regardless of location. One of the biggest advantages digital Kanban boards offer is flexibility, which cannot be found in physical boards. Here is a short video of what the Kanban project management tools can do.

Here is an interactive example to help you get a feel of Teamhood! Open the item details and get a feel of what running a project with Kanban feels like.

Kanban Project Management Terms

TermDefinition
Agile KanbanAn approach combining Agile principles with Kanban techniques to enable iterative, flexible, and customer-centric delivery of products and services.
CadenceA regular pattern or rhythm of activities, such as meetings or workflow stages, in Kanban, facilitates coordination, communication, and predictability.
Flow EfficiencyThe ratio of value-added time to total lead time in Kanban indicates how efficiently work moves through the system without delays or bottlenecks.
Kanban BoardA visual representation of workflows and systems from start to finish in Kanban, aiding in visualizing progress, communicating effectively, and improving efficiency.
Kanban EvolutionThe ongoing adaptation and refinement of Kanban practices, systems, and processes over time to address changing needs, challenges, and opportunities in project management.
Kanban GovernanceEstablishing policies, rules, and decision-making structures to govern the use of Kanban methodologies and practices within an organization or team.
Kanban ImplementationThe process of introducing and integrating Kanban principles, systems, and practices into an organization or team to improve workflow, productivity, and service delivery.
Kanban MetricsQuantifiable measures, such as cycle time, lead time, throughput, and WIP, are used to track and evaluate the performance of a Kanban system.
Kanban Portfolio ManagementThe strategic management of multiple projects or initiatives within an organization using Kanban principles and practices to prioritize, allocate resources, and optimize outcomes.
Kanban System Design (KSD)The intentional design and setup of a Kanban system to fit the unique needs and workflow of a team or organization, aiming to optimize flow, minimize waste, and improve efficiency.
Kanban ToolSoftware applications or platforms specifically designed to support and facilitate the implementation of Kanban project management methodologies and practices.
Kanban TrainingEducational programs and workshops aimed at teaching individuals and teams the principles, practices, and techniques of Kanban project management for improved productivity.
Kanban VisualizationKanban boards, charts, and diagrams are used to graphically represent workflow stages, tasks, and progress and to enhance understanding, transparency, and decision-making in Kanban.
KaizenA Japanese term meaning continuous improvement, often applied in Kanban to encourage small, incremental changes to processes and workflows to achieve greater efficiency.
Lead TimeThe total time taken for a work item to progress from request to delivery, including both active and inactive periods, in Kanban project management.
Pull SystemA method in Kanban where work is pulled into the next stage only when there is capacity, ensuring a continuous flow of work and preventing overburdening of team members.
Service Delivery Manager (SDM)This is a Kanban role responsible for ensuring efficient service delivery, managing flow, and optimizing processes to meet customer needs and expectations.
Service Request Manager (SRM)A role in Kanban responsible for managing and prioritizing incoming service requests, ensuring alignment with organizational goals and resource availability.
Visual ManagementThe use of visual cues, such as Kanban boards, cards, and charts, to convey information, track progress, and facilitate communication in Kanban project management.
Work In Progress (WIP) LimitA constraint is applied to work stages on a Kanban board to manage team capacity and prevent blockers, allowing new tasks to be pulled only when the total items in a stage are below the limit.

The Core Principles for Kanban Project Management

The idea behind Kanban project management is rather simple – visualize your process and continuously improve. To help teams implement this in practice, Kanban defines certain principles you should follow.

1. Start with what you have

Once you decide to start using Kanban, the first thing to do is understand and visualize your current situation. Use the Kanban board to replicate your processes and add your current and planned tasks to see what you have going on.

multiselect-kanban
Kanban Board for Project Management

2. Evaluate the situation and improve

After you’ve set up the initial board, you should start or continue working.

As you do, observe how tasks move through the process steps and where they get stuck. Find ways to improve your initial process.

Maybe you need to define additional process steps, or is something excessive?

Consider your process and find ways to improve it. However, remember that this has to be done continuously and is not a finite effort.

3. Classify tasks

kanban swimlanes
Teamhood Kanban board

As your project progresses, you will see an accumulation of tasks on your Kanban board. To ensure this board stays clear and easy to use, introduce Kanban swimlanes (rows).

Initially, Kanban teams used an expedite swimlane at the top of the Kanban board to highlight urgent tasks that should take priority over everything else.

However, today the usage of swimlanes is much broader.

Kanban teams use them to classify tasks based on various criteria such as classes of service, type, teams, projects, etc. To find the best way to classify your board, consider what task grouping would make the most sense for your project.

4. Encourage the team to be proactive

With the help of Kanban, all of your processes are clear and transparent. As such, it becomes a lot easier to see what has to be done next and where the team should focus their efforts.

Set up priority columns in your backlog (or To-do section), prioritize tasks, and then let your team members pick and choose what they will work on. This will encourage responsibility and motivation to perform.

Project and administration kanban board
Priority columns on the Kanban board

5. Introduce WIP limits

Kanban project management states that each team member should work on one task at a time, thus improving concentration and work speed. To control the number of in-progress tasks, Kanban teams use WIP limits, which define how many tasks can be added to each process step at any time.

kanban wip limits
Kanban WIP limits

If this limit is reached, the team members must move one task to the following process step before they can start working on a new task. The WIP limit is usually equal to the number of team members, thus allowing each of them to work on only one task at a time.

6. Track the Kanban metrics

Another important principle to follow for Kanban project management is measuring how your team is performing. For this, Kanban uses two metrics – lead and cycle time. These metrics measure how long it takes for the team to complete tasks on average and thus indicate issues in the process if this time suddenly extends.

lead and cycle time
Lead and Cycle time

Teams using more Advanced Kanban board tools can also take advantage of actionable Agile metrics. That uses the lead and cycle time information to identify troublesome tasks on the team’s Kanban board and to suggest where the team should place their focus next.

when will it be done

Learn more about how to track Kanban flow metrics in the following post.

With the ability to analyze your team’s data and past performance, you can make informed estimations about future timelines. There is no need to stress about data analysis—Teamhood does it for you.

Simply activate the ‘When will it be done‘ layer, choose your timeframe and desired accuracy, and receive instant forecasts. Keep your task board updated, and let Teamhood handle the rest.

7. Review regularly

Lastly, Kanban project management is all about constant improvement.

Thus, the process, the tasks, and the results have to be reviewed regularly. By doing so, the team can ensure they are always working on the most important part of the project and doing so effectively. To enforce this principle, teams hold regular planning, stand-up, and review meetings.

Learn more about Agile Retrospectives in the following post.

How to Choose the Kanban Board That Fits You?

sub statuses Kanban
Adding sub-statuses to Kanban board

When choosing a Kanban board tool, prioritize flexibility and customization. Keep it simple to meet organizational needs, and be cautious with popular tools. Focus on the process and look for features that support collaboration.

We suggest starting with a basic Kanban setup and expanding as needed within your chosen tool. Teamhood is an excellent choice, tailored for Kanban with ample customization options. Alongside ClickUp and Asana, Teamhood easily handles teams of 200 or more.

However, remember that success in Kanban relies on the process more than the tool itself.

Visual Kanban Board for High-performing Teams

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teamhood hero kanban

Other Kanban Sources to Explore

I understand. There’s a wealth of information on Kanban. But we’ve got even more to prepare you for success!

Check out more resources at Teamhood’s Kanban category and find the best online Kanban board software tools, Kanban classes of service, understanding Kanban metrics, and more in our extensive Kanban resources section. These extra sources will help you master Kanban and improve your project management skills.

Wrap Up

Regarding project management, there are various methods teams can use.

In this guide, we’ve shown how to visualize each development stage on a digital board, from design to deployment. Tasks are displayed as cards, making it easy to see what needs to be done and track progress in real time.

Kanban project management is a great option for those working in uncertain industries and with complicated processes. It helps visualize what has to be done and ensures the projects are delivered in a clear and timely fashion.

I trust you’ve gained valuable insights into Kanban and are feeling prepared to tackle your next project with confidence!

If you’re eager to see how Teamhood can take your Kanban project management to the next level, we invite you to explore the tool tailored for precision in managing your projects with Kanban.

ultimate kanban guide
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