What is a Kanban Board? Kanban board components, features, usage, and FAQs.

kanban board

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What is a Kanban Board? 

A Kanban board is a visual, agile project management tool used to monitor and enhance the workflow. In a Kanban board, cards and columns are dragged and moved for the arrangement of workflow elements and are representations of different stages of the work process.

The term Kanban is a Japanese word, meaning visual signal. 

It has a streamlined layout. It helps in improving order and communication among teams by giving a better idea of the processes that are at work.

The aim is to make all the product processes hassle-free and ordered and monitored so to ensure proper coordination and collaboration in the workspace

The Kanban board was first devised by an engineer at Toyota Motors in the 1940s. The issue was to have a systematic and ordered way in which the workflow of the manufacturing process can be monitored or tracked. Taiichi Ohno (the engineer) was inspired by the supermarket model in which any item that is sold or expired is replaced by the new one on the shelf. This reflected the stages of a product life cycle. 

The method further developed and amplified over the years and is now a major Agile method. 

Major components of a Kanban Board 

Majorly a Kanban board is composed of cards, columns, swimlanes, and work in progress (WIP) limits that keep track of workflow and represent the progress visually.  

Kanban Card 

This card contains information regarding the task, its status, objective, estimated time for completion, and other task-related details. The Kanban Card can be dragged and dropped within the board to align with the work progress.

Kanban Columns 

The Kanban Columns are the visual representation of workflow stages. All the cards are placed and displaced from one column to another depending on the stage they have achieved in the workflow. 

Work in progress WIP limits 

These are to limit the maximum number of tasks in the workflow stages or the Kanban Columns. This is done to decrease the workload that helps in focusing on the current prioritized tasks. 

Kanban Swimlanes 

These lanes are for the separation of tasks, activities, teams, and other elements of the workflow. 

Key features of a Kanban Board

The following five are the vital points of the Kanban board that makes it so valuable to the product management field. 

Visual Communication 

Kanban board facilitates visual signaling through cards and columns. Every card contains relevant information and is not occupied by unnecessary details and avoids anything that may lead to confusion. The projects are labeled on the cards. 

Agile teams have one user story per card. They help the members to grasp what is being worked on and what is the progress status. 

Organised Columns 

Columns represent organized workflows. The cards move from one column to another depicting the stages of workflow they are in. 

If a task from a project is completed its card moves up on the workflow column. When the full project is finished then it is moved to the finished column. Similarly, there can be columns to place the review and testing phase projects as well. 

Tracking and workload management through WIP limit 

This feature of the Kanban board addresses a very practical concern that is workload mismanagement or management. To not let columns pile up excessively, the WIP puts a limit to the number of work or projects that will be worked on at a single time. These are the works that are in progress. To avoid confusion and mismanagement, work in progress limits are set up. 

From the visual perspective of the Kanban board, this means that a column cannot hold more than a limited number of cards at a time. This way, it helps in keeping track of the workflow as you can always see how the cards are moving up the columns, at what pace they are moving, and is there any column where saturation limit is reached because of unfinished tasks. 

Added clarity and enhanced collaboration

Specific tasks are assigned to specific teams and that is displayed on the Kanban board. This adds up clarity to the process. 

All teams can see what project is being worked on by which team and what is the progress or what stage has been achieved in the project cycle. This also eases up the collaborative processes.

Delivery point and Lead time 

Delivery point represents a task’s completion of a team. It is represented with a card. This card is at the end of any column or workflow. 

Very often it is the point of workflow when everything is completed and the product is delivered or has reached the consumer. 

The initial stage of the product cycle is the commitment point and the target of all the teams is to take up the commitment card to delivery point in the minimum time possible. 

The time-lapse between commitment point and delivery point is called the lead time. 

Lead time has to be made as less as possible, reflecting the rapidity and quickness in the product life cycle. 

Usage of the Kanban Board 

Let us now see how to make use of a Kanban Board and its various components. 

  1. Define the columns for workflow stages. 
  2. Set up the work in progress (WIP) limits for all the columns. 
  3. Use the card movement to schedule meetings and decide agenda. The cards in the columns will tell how much progress has been made and in what aspect. 
  4. When a WIP limit is reached for any column, check and examine what is the reason for slow workflow for any card (project). 
  5. Automate workflow on Agile Kanban board. 
  6. Fetch out critical workflow metrics for measurement of work progress and to focus on decreasing the lead time. 

FAQs

Q: What is the origin of the Kanban board? 

A: The Kanban board has its origin in the manufacturing department of Toyota Motor Company in the period of 1940s to 60s. The word Kanban is a Japanese word meaning visual sign. Engineer Taiichi Ohno devised a tool for visual representation of the manufacturing process. This was inspired by the supermarket way of organizing products in which new items replace the older ones or sold ones on the shelves. 

Q: What are the major benefits of using a Kanban board? 

A: (i) It enables proper monitoring of the workflow stages.
(ii) provides transparency to the work. 
(iii) continuous tracking of work progress and how much is left. 
(iv) helps in identifying hindrances and work blockers that slow down the progress. 
(v) facilitates team organization, management, and collaboration. 

Q: What are the comparison points between Kanban board and Scrum board? 

A: (i) Scrum has a better methodical approach than Kanban board. 
(ii) Kanban board is better in terms of preparation time and organization. 
(iii) WIP limit in scrum is based on Iterations whereas in Kanban board it is based on workflow stage. 
(iv) Authority over the scrum board mostly rests with a particular team. For the Kanban board, there is more independence given to the workflow itself. It’s not owned by any specific team, instead, it is a reference board for all the teams. 

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