Struggling with too much complexity in even the most straightforward projects? The answer could be even easier than you realize.
Did you know that businesses that haven’t streamlined collaboration are at a much higher risk for scope creep, which can lead to project failure?
You need a simple way for your team to work together to get the best possible project outcomes. Enter Kanban.
Kanban is renowned for its visual way of improving service delivery. The 16th State of Agile Report found that over half of respondents used Kanban to improve their project agility.
In this article, we’ll show you how to use Kanban to get better project outcomes and make your business more Agile.
What is Kanban in Agile?
Kanban is a popular framework used by project managers to streamline workflows, improve cycle times, and make working together easier for everyone.
The Kanban method uses visual boards to track tasks, spot bottlenecks, and make steady progress easier.
Made of columns with tasks defined in "cards," a Kanban board can be as simple or as complex as needed. From a physical board with sticky notes to online Kanban board software, this methodology can be adapted to fit your needs. More on this later.
There’s some confusing terminology surrounding Kanban. Let’s break down some definitions before moving on to setting up your Kanban board.
Kanban vs. Agile
Kanban and Agile are words you'll often see discussed together, but they aren't quite the same.
Agile is a flexible approach to managing work, which is all about teamwork, adaptability, and delivering parts of your project most efficiently. To do this, you review progress regularly and adjust as needed. Because of its iterative approach, it is helping many businesses stay responsive in uncertain times, deliver better results, and keep customers happy.
The 2022 KPMG Project Management Survey reports that 71% of respondents who adopted agile methodologies in their business felt that it improved overall project delivery.
Simply put, Agile is a comprehensive project management methodology with multiple frameworks, including Kanban.
Scrum vs. Kanban
What sets Scrum and Kanban apart?
Scrum and Kanban are both Agile-style project frameworks (work management methods).
Scrum focuses on collaboration and flexibility in project planning, with fixed periods called "sprints." Kanban emphasizes visualizing the work and continuous flow. While Scrum has specific phases, Kanban is easier to pick up and more adaptable.
The key difference is in how these different Agile frameworks are used. Scrum is a push system, where tasks are "pushed" into the sprint. Kanban is a pull system, only "pulling" tasks into the workflow as capacity allows (known as work in progress, or WIP limits). This pull system forces project teams to prioritize customer demands.
What are the core principles of Kanban?
Before we show you how to create efficient workflows using Kanban, it's important to understand the principles that guide Kanban.
1. Visualize work
Instead of trying to do everything on your to-do list at once, you'll want to focus on a small number of tasks you can handle proficiently. Think of a conveyor belt in a factory — you only put a few items on it at a time so that you can give each one the right attention.
Kanban works this way so you can keep a steady workflow (and avoid getting overwhelmed).
The best part is, while the work is being completed, you can easily see what is being worked on and when. No confusion for you, your team, or your clients.
2. Limit work In progress
The second principle of Kanban is about restricting how many tasks can be worked on at once, called WIP limits.
This way, you can reduce multi-tasking and task-switching by your Agile teams, thus making them more efficient.
3. Manage flow
This principle ensures tasks move smoothly through the project lifecycle (and removes bottlenecks). You want to prevent work from piling up (or getting stuck because of bottlenecks).
In a marketing agency, this could mean setting realistic WIP limits. An example would be an optimized editing process (copywriting), so work doesn't move back and forth. Maintain a steady and balanced workflow to reduce overwhelm. Go slow to go fast!
4. Track progress
Keep a clear record of completed tasks — this could be managed in your task manager or kept in the "Completed" column at the end of your Kanban board for review. You'll also want to track the status of ongoing and recurring tasks to ensure these stay on track and foster a culture of accountability in your project team. Build a team of reliable individuals while also creating a visual workflow system with reporting you can trust.
5. Continuous improvement
Continuous improvement is at the core of Kanban. Regularly evaluate your project lifecycles for effectiveness.
For example, in an accounting firm, here are some ideas to improve workflows during your busiest period (tax time)?
- Encourage the entire team, including CPAs and admins, to work together.
- Be open to suggestions and feedback from your customers, the people doing the tax prep and key stakeholders, like partners of the firm.
- Build a culture of learning and growth: empowered employees bring the best solutions.
How does Kanban improve customer satisfaction?
Kanban is about improving workflow and continuous improvement, but at the core of this is a focus on consistently delivering value to the customer. Here's how you do that with the three service delivery principles of Kanban:
The customer comes first
Focus on what matters to customers: In Kanban, the main goal is to give your customers what they want (or, in other words, put value first).
For example, you might want to set up a new software platform to make internal work easier, but your customers only want you to reply faster.
Match what you offer with what customers want: When was the last time you solicited feedback from customers? Can you explain in 30 seconds what your customers most want from your business? If not, it's time to ask them. After all, they're the ones buying your products and services..
You don't need to control every step: Kanban is all about process improvement over time. To achieve this, you need your workflow to work seamlessly (regardless of who is working in your business).
How can you improve your roles and how work is completed? Instead of micro-managing your entire team, focus on the roles. This will help you improve over time (in a sustainable way) because you're improving the functions, not the people.
In an accounting office, this could look like building a better internal training process to upskill new accountants quickly or creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for how work is done. When you improve how things are done, customers will notice the difference in your value delivery and your bottom line will thank you for it.
The benefits of Kanban
Here are just a few of the many reasons you should try Kanban in your business:
Kanban fine-tunes your workflow, smoothing out workflows. For example, imagine an accounting practice during tax season. Using accounting software and platforms, accountants can pre-emptively tackle manual tax work, making the process easier and faster.
Visual Kanban boards provide a real-time view of work in progress. For example, in a client-facing agency, the dreaded "status check" call can be easily resolved by sharing a snapshot from your Kanban board, offering a reliable progress report.
Kanban empowers you to adjust to changing demands quickly. For example, digitally savvy companies quickly transitioned to online work during the pandemic using digital whiteboards and online Kanban tools. Even once-reluctant businesses now thrive with global remote teams.
Reducing multitasking guarantees quicker and more reliable task completion, optimal resource use, and happier staff. How? Consider a marketing agency where a copywriter faces repeated typos due to multitasking pressure. By batching similar tasks and using tools like Writer.com or Grammarly, they can focus and improve their work.
Kanban is all about gradual, sustainable improvements over time. For an accounting firm, instead of revamping all workflows at once, start with one team member who champions changes with clients. Progress incrementally, deal with issues as they pop up, and align changes with long-term business goals.
How to use Kanban boards to improve your agility
Here's how to create a fit-for-purpose Kanban board for your business.
Your columns represent each stage of work. These stages could be tasks waiting to start, tasks in progress, or tasks that are finished.
Your cards should have the name of the task, what needs to be done, any notes or links, the task owner, and when it's due. These cards move across the board, like characters in a story progressing from one scene to the next.
Work In Progress (WIP) limits
WIP limits and progress limits set a maximum limit for work in each stage. This keeps the work moving evenly and steadily through the workflow rather than overloading your staff with too much work (and delaying project progress).
The commitment point is where tasks start their journey. They move from a waiting list to the board, showing they're ready to be worked on.
When a task is done, it reaches the delivery point. It's like reaching the finish line of a race.
Horizontal lines that can run across a board separate the workflows of multiple teams or departments. These lines are called swimlanes. They help organize tasks, especially when there are different teams or types of work. This might look like Design, Copy, UX, and Developers in a marketing agency.
Using Kanban boards is now easier than ever, with so many Kanban tools available online.
Reduce the manual load of Agile in your business with an online Kanban board
Traditional project management tools just don’t cut the mustard these days. You need AI-driven Kanban boards.
Here’s what to look for in a Kanban board:
- Automated setup of tasks based on their priority and team availability.
- Automated task distribution and prioritization for when things change.
- A centralized place to manage work, meetings, and notes.
- Alerts when your team is overloaded.
- Productivity focus which automatically blocks similar tasks together (and prioritizes them) for deep work.
- Both Kanban and task list view for task visualization in a layout that works best for you and your team.
Motion and Kanban: Your partner in Agile
Motion and Kanban work seamlessly to improve agility in your business.
No more overwhelm! Just reliable task visualization, easy task management, and improved productivity, all in one AI-driven platform.
See exactly what your team is working on, collaborate in one app, and track project success in multiple views. Forget traditional project management tools and try Motion today!