In Japanese, the term Kanban means “signboard” or “billboard.” It was originally a scheduling and inventory-control system used by Toyota to standardize the way parts in their JIT (just-in-time) production lines moved from one stage to another.
You know that “do, doing, done,” board with all the sticky notes? Believe it or not, your coworker didn’t make that up. It’s a kanban board; a visual way to plot out projects and workflows using columns and cards. Often used with scrum or agile management, it helps teams see progress and spot blockers.
Engineer Taiichi Ohno came up with the idea after seeing a similar system in a US supermarket, where store shelves were filled with products that meet customer demand, and they were refilled when there was a visual sign. Taiichi was smart enough to observe that this shelf-stocking technique could be applied to a manufacturing process.
Understanding the Basics: The most straightforward way to implement a Kanban system is with a board, markers, and sticky notes.
Toyota used six rules in their application of Kanban, and the initial process was fairly simple: add a card to an item at a specific point in production. When work is completed at that stage, you remove the card, move the item to the next logical stage, and add a different card to it. Most projects involve the creation and production of physical and digital goods, so adopting kanban and implement the system into various types of projects was a no-brainer.
Toyota has formulated six rules for the application of kanban:
Kanban board examples give you a good dose of inspiration for building or improving your own board. You’ll often find similarities in how other teams structure their board and track their work. Whether you’re building your first board or looking for ways to improve your process, keep these three tips in mind.
3 Tips for Using Kanban Board Examples
1. Copy wisely: This helps you figure out how to improve and meet your objectives more effectively.
2. Think outside team lines: These Kanban board examples are geared to specific teams and types of work, but they aren’t meant to be exclusive to those uses.
3. Start with (or get back to) the basics: Whether it’s your first board or your 100th, remember to map your process so it reflects your reality as closely as possible.
The Kanban system is so simple and efficient that it can be applied to many types of projects, regardless of industry or product:
Kanban focuses on status instead of due dates
Having a Kanban board the team can track what is in progress easily, they can also check the next backlog item or if they have any impediment/blocker — which is anything that is slowing down the team. The way the board is organized and the backlog prioritized helps the team make sure the increment is going to be finished exactly when it’s most needed. So, what comes first, it’s delivered first!
A better alternative might be dedicated Kanban software or project management software that includes a Kanban module. In the long run, the software will save you a lot of time (e.g. automatic notifications are sent when a task is assigned/completed, so you don’t have to inform the project manager or manually update each card). It’s also less error-prone, compared to the previous option. In a project management platform, cards don’t fall off the board, and there are fewer manual actions that could lead to human error. Still, it may initially take some time to test various systems and decide which is best for your team.