Kanban in project management

Aiming to optimize and improve efficiency, work should be based on an agreed plan and a clear schedule. However, in practice, it looks less optimistic. Very often there are errors that need to be fixed first or urgent tasks to be done "now". This disturbs previously agreed team workflow and causes a multitude of started and unfinished tasks. It also affects deadlines that were previously set and at this point become unrealistic. In order to avoid such situations, as well as to organize workflow in a more efficient way, it is helpful to manage projects and tasks using Kanban.

Kanban is a workflow management method for defining, managing, and improving workflow. It is based on transparency, work visualization, and evolutionary changes in order to maximize productivity.

The main idea of Kanban is to visualize each work item on a board. In this way, the Kanban board becomes a central point of information about the project. All tasks are visible, which brings transparency to the entire work process. Every team member has quick access to the current status of a particular task. This allows identifying bottlenecks and other issues that need to be fixed in the workflow.

Kanban is originated in the manufacturing industry. Arose as a scheduling system for lean manufacturing - derived from the Toyota Production System. It represents a "pull" system, which means production is based on customer demand, without storage or surplus ("just in time production"), rather than producing goods and pushing them to the market ("push" system).

After Kanban proved itself in manufacturing, it became popular in other industries, including Software Development.

According to David Anderson, a leader in managing effective technology development, there are several basic practices that must be followed to implement Kanban effectively:

1. Workflow visualization - Visualization is based on a board with cards and columns. A column on the board represents a step in the workflow. Each Kanban card represents a work item. The board can be physical (hung on the wall in the office), or digital (when the team is spread across different locations).

2. Work in progress limit. - setting the maximum amount of work in progress. This means that at any time and at any stage of the workflow, it cannot be too many tasks started, following the "Stop starting, start finishing" principle. A card with a task is "pulled" to the next stage only when capacity is available.

3. Flow management - creating a smooth, healthy workflow. Kanban is based on a proper layout of work so that tasks move smoothly and efficiently through all stages - Kanban creates value faster.

4. Clear Process Policies - a process should be clearly defined, published, and disseminated among the team. It is important that everyone is aware of the prevailing rules and regulations for working on the project. If something is not obvious and clear, the team will not follow it.

5. Feedback - provides an opportunity to respond to potential changes and allows to spread the knowledge among team members. An example would be daily stand-up meetings. They take place in front of the Kanban board and each team member tells what did they do the previous day and what they are going to do the current day.

6. Collaborative improvement - A shared vision of the future and a common understanding of problems is the key to achieve continuous improvement. Teams that have a shared understanding of their goals, workflows, processes, and risks, work more effectively.

By implementing Kanban, you can define Definition of Done criteria - rules that must be met in order to move a task from one to the next point in the process. This ensures high quality, as tasks will have to be done according to clearly defined rules before they can be moved to the next work step.

You can also specify what should happen in case of urgent tasks. Is it necessary to cross out one of the standard tasks, or maybe define a special urgent path for this type of cases, with a limit of how many tasks per month can have the status of 'urgent'? It all depends on the preferences of the team, but it is important that these rules must be clearly defined so that everyone knows how to act when they find themselves in this situation.

Kanban is very versatile because it involves incremental, evolutionary changes starting from where the team is at the moment. Nowadays, many organizations use the Kanban method to reduce chaos in work processes. Visualizing the workflow, setting clear WIP rules and limits, and managing the flow, significantly improve the efficiency and quality of work.

Author: Monika Kochanowska