Introducing the Kanban Board: A Unique Approach to Organization and Planning

What Is a Kanban Board?

Think of a Kanban board as a creative project management tool that can establish order for agile and DevOps teams. They use cards, columns, and continuous improvement to help technology or service teams commit to the right amount of work they need to complete in their day.

Specifically, it’s designed to help visualize work, limit work-in-progress, and maximize efficiency.

Kanban, the idea of visualizing work to make it more efficient and understandable, has come a long way from its origins in lean manufacturing thanks to an unlikely group of kanban enthusiasts.

David Anderson’s work defining how this method is used helped bring Kanban into software development and services, while Personal Kanban by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria expanded on these applications later with ideas for using what they call “Personal Kanbans” at home or at your place of employment.

At Chisel, we use Kanban boards everyday to manage not only the development of Chisel (we like to say we use Chisel to build Chisel), but also for managing the necessary tasks for sales and marketing.

The beauty in Kanban is its fluidity and structureless structure, allowing the user to manage and edit their boards as they see fit.

The Elements of a Kanban Board

According to David Anderson, there should be five main components in any Kanban board- Visual Signals, Columns, Work-in-progress (WIP) limits, Commitment Point, and a Delivery point.

Visual Signals:

A visual signal can be understood as the card of the Kanban.

The cards contain all necessary information, including what you’re working on now, what’s a candidate to be worked on, and when all these tasks are expected to be completed among other specifics.

Essentially, each card contains the requisite information necessary to get a snapshot on a particular task whilst putting the onus on the team as a whole to keep on top of their tasks.

A good kanban board will have descriptive cards (user stories in agile) that are constantly in motion and being updated without needing many meetings to hash specifics out.

Columns:

Each of these visual signals, or cards, are kept within individualized columns.

These columns are marked with a specific activity within the overall workflow.

At Chisel, we use “Candidate,” “In Progress,” “Complete,” and “Future Discussion.”

Work in Progress (WIP) Limits:

Work in Progress (WIP) limits are vital in maximizing the efficiency of the Kanban.

You have your visual signals located within the columns and now the job of WIP is to set a limit for how many visual signals are in each column.

For instance, a column with a WIP limit of 4 cannot have more than three cards in it. If there are more than three cards, the team needs to focus all energy on completing those cards and move them forward through the workflow before starting on new cards.

The WIP prevents bottlenecks, maximizes workflow, and gives you an early warning sign if there is too much work committed within the Kanban.

Commitment point:

Every product management team has a backlog for their board.

This is where stakeholders put ideas for projects/features for the team to consider.

The moment where an idea is picked up by the team and starts working on it is the commitment point.

At Chisel, we’ve made the commitment point a collaborative process where a product manager can call a vote from the necessary stakeholders to prioritize a set of features within the tool.

Delivery Point:

The delivery point is the end of a Kanban team’s workflow.

Usually, the delivery point is when the product or service is in the hands of the customer.

The goal of any team is to take the cards from the commitment point to the delivery point as fast as possible, which is called the lead time. The less lead time they have, the better the team is operating.

How Do You Make a Kanban Board?

The initial beginnings of a kanban board was just sticky notes on a board, so literally all you need is some paper and tape (also a whiteboard/blackboard preferably).

This is the simplest board to make.

You divide the board up into vertical columns and place sticky notes on the board. These sticky notes move through the workflow to demonstrate progress.

Before Covid-19, physical boards were a functional way to keep your team on task and keep everyone on the ball.

Now, shifting into a more remote work environment, the physical board is being replaced by a digital version that’s similarly mobile to the workforce.

Here is how you can set your team up with a digital Kanban board:

Choose your tool

Chisel is our go to recommendation for creating Kanban boards. It is optimized for product managers and product development

In addition to allowing you to manage your roadmap on a kanban board, you’re able to integrate it with team prioritization to make your kanban boards reflect feedback and prioritization from your team. 

Define your columns

The fluidity of a good Kanban board is what makes them wonderful.

The attributes that should stay consistent are the columns defining the different stages of the process.

The more clear the columns are, the more in sync everyone would be.

The starting points usually are “to-do,” “doing,” and “done,” but every leader and organization has a slightly different way to do things. It’s important to note, however, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Fill in your board

Once you’ve defined your skeleton framework of your workflow, now it’s time to fill in the meat.

The meat is Kanban cards.

The kanban cards can be understood as user stories (in agile), features, or just cards.

Each card should include a brief description of the item, when it’s expected to be complete, and who its owner is.

Prioritize your kanban cards and then organize them based on this priority, with high priority items being the highest on the board, and lowest priority being on the lowest.

Each card shouldn’t be a multi-step process, but rather a singular task or item that can be accomplished.

Set proper expectations

It’s important that once the Kanban board is set, the rules of engagement are laid out.

There is no faster way for a product manager to lose credibility than having a Kanban board being disorganized because everyone has the ability to be a maker.

Make sure the necessary cards are assigned to the correct parties and then turn off permission for messing with the rest of the Kanban.

Communicate and discuss the purpose and goals of the Kanban as well because if people don’t see the value, they are less likely to use it.

Nourish a feedback-friendly atmosphere

Kanban boards are as much a creative canvas of the organization’s success stories and challenges, as they are an instrument to navigate them.

Adjustments will have to be made for new requirements or unforeseen changes in products, processes, staff members – but this is no obstacle for Kanban Boards that can easily adapt with any number of tweaks: adding columns when needed as well as adjusting board size and layout.

Kanban vs. Scrum

The difference between kanban and scrum is relatively subtle, but vital. In fact, most scrum teams use Kanban boards just with scrum processes, artifacts, and specific roles with it.

The Specifics

One difference is that scrum processes place heavy emphasis on schedule, which is why a prioritized list of story points are provided for the team to complete. This gives them immediate feedback as well and helps with their estimations each sprint by increasing information about how quickly it takes certain tasks to be completed.

Scrum teams must decide how many of the points they feel can be completed within one sprint – anything outside that scope has to wait until next time around. The beauty in this process is learning what you’re capable of over time thanks to an optimized estimation after several scrum cycles!

Kanban, meanwhile, is a process that encourages continuous improvement and doesn’t require time boxing or iterations.

In order to get the most out of it, teams should set up parameters for themselves early on in Kanban’s usage since they will inevitably need to improve their system as work progresses.

The Roles

Another difference is that all scrum teams need to assign a Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Team Members. The tasks they are responsible for vary by role but the team must work together in order to achieve an orderly process that’s most efficient at meeting deadlines.

One of the key facets of cross-functionality is having all resources needed on one team so it can complete its sprint without any difficulty or delay.

Then you have kanban where there are no set roles prescribed, so this means anyone from your team could take on different responsibilities depending on what needs to get done for each Kanban board task.

The Board

While very similar, the scrum board and kanban board operate very differently.

A Scrum board is an interactive, visual representation of how the team sees its work. The columns are labeled to reflect periods in the workflow: starting with a sprint backlog and ending with whatever fulfills their definition of done.

All stories on this board should be found in one column at the end of each successful or unsuccessful sprint; after every retrospective meeting cycle has been completed, all items have been cleared from that row so it can be prepped for another Sprint.

Unlike sprints, Kanban boards are never reset. This is because the limitations of a column on any given board can be changed depending upon the team’s needs.

It also means that there will always be new stories being added as soon as they become necessary to add and old ones disappearing once they’re completed which gives it an infinitely evolving quality!

Clearly, Kanban boards are a powerful tool for project management. They can be used in any industry to help you organize your workflow and manage tasks more effectively.

In this blog post, we explored the elements of kanban boards, how they work, and their benefits compared to other popular methods like scrum.

If you want to try out one of these new tools, but don’t know where to start, Chisel is free forever. There’s no commitment so it won’t cost anything upfront and there’s nothing else required from you – just sign up with an email address and password. 

Give it a shot today if you’re interested in trying something different than what you’ve been doing!

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