Kanban is a set of project management philosophies and procedures that is centralized around software development but can be adapted to other industries as well. This streamlined approach to getting things done has become a buzzword in both the tech industry and elsewhere.
So what is the Kanban method and why is it gaining such fame and notoriety? Here’s a brief synopsis of what Kanban is and why you should know about it to be competitive.
Kanban isn’t just a project management method; it’s a way of thinking. There are many organizations that adopt bits and pieces of Kanban without ever tapping into its full potential. There’s even a kanban maturity model that identifies how well a team understands the process from a level of zero (oblivious) to five and six (market leader). The method is ultimately meant to streamline processes so more can be accomplished in an effective manner.
There are five components that drive the Kanban process: visualization, limiting WIP, managing the workflow, making policies explicit, and implementing improvements – in other words, visualizing, limiting, and enhancing the development process.
For Kanban to work, it’s important to look at the current process (visualization) and identify problem areas so that limitations can be put in place (limiting). Then, using strategic decision-making based on metrics and analytics provided by Kanban tools, adjusting the process to improve efficiency (enhancing).
Visualizing the Workflow
Visualizing the workflow is an important aspect of Kanban that sets it apart from other project management methods. Rather than having a simple list of things to-do, things that are in progress, and completed tasks, a Kanban board breaks the components down further so that everyone can see the work involved in each task.
The main benefit of having a visualized workflow is that it keeps the whole team abreast of what’s happening in a project and who is working on what. This not only creates the opportunity for optimization and streamlining, but it also helps create team bonds and understanding of everyone’s workload. It can also help identify bottlenecks that derail progress.
Limiting Work in Progress
The work in progress or work in process is how much a team is handling at a given time. With Kanban, limiting this amount of work is essential for improving efficiency. In essence, it promotes getting back to basics and building on a strong foundation. To do so, it means limiting how much work a team is allowed to handle, and more importantly, respecting those boundaries.
In the beginning, this might mean drastically decreasing output and starting from scratch. Once the team has a handle on the workflow, more work might be added. All the while, the progress is being monitored to assess when a team reaches its threshold, and the law of diminishing returns kicks in, reducing the work quality. By limiting WIP at various stages of the process, it also helps identify which areas need attention and which have the bandwidth.
Ambiguity kills a lot of projects before their time. By having explicit definitions and policies and ensuring everyone involved understands them, you reduce ambiguity and promote clarity. For example, a clearly defined definition of what it means for a certain component of a project to be completed before moving on can reduce the cases of things getting pushed through when they shouldn’t, causing issues down the road.
Analytics and Improvements
While the policies may be explicit, Kanban is fluid in its ability to be adapted to business. There’s always room for improvement, and an important component of Kanban is assessing the metrics and analytics to make strategic improvements to the processes. What works perfectly for a development team one year may be completely off base the next.
By interpreting the data about how effective a process is and making changes accordingly, a business can ensure that their adoption of Kanban is yielding great results. Remember, visualization, limitation, and enhancement are key.