Gone are the days when project managers used sticky notes and whiteboards to track projects from inception to completion. These days, many Agile teams plan and measure project execution with online kanban tools anyone can access wherever they work.
Because it’s such a useful way to visualize work, many of the more intricate project management software tools employ kanban methodology within a larger, more complex system. If you’re shopping for a kanban tool, you can view our top project management software picks to get started and narrow your choices from there. But for now, let’s get into how kanban can benefit project management.
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What is a kanban system?
The kanban method is a popular lean workflow management strategy that originated in Agile and DevOps software development teams to support continuous delivery. However, the system is versatile, and the kanban approach can be used for day-to-day project management and process improvement on practically anything.
The name kanban comes from the Japanese word, which literally means “card” or “billboard.” The kanban board originally emerged from the movement of physical cards down the Toyota production line. As a car moved through production, its representative kanban card would move from worker to worker, signaling the beginning of each new task. This helped managers visualize production bottlenecks and optimize the workflow by re-assigning labor to keep the cars moving down the line smoothly.
This visual strategy evolved into today’s kanban principles, which use a board to track the status of each task and which team member it is assigned to. In the same way, kanban boards help teams fix their bottlenecks by allocating the right time, talent, and resources to move projects along. They also help individuals track tasks and steps to project completion.
Why use kanban for project management?
Kanban boards have taken off in popularity due to the many advantages it offers. If you’re wondering why so many teams use kanban for project management, here are nine reasons why companies across industries love kanban.
1. It helps visualize workflows
One of the main benefits of using the kanban board system over a list-based project management strategy is the way it lets project teams see what stage every task is in at a glance, so they can track its progress in real time. Based on a card’s color, location on a board, and other visual cues, team members and managers can tell the status of a piece of work.
Some cloud-based kanban systems even provide the ability to connect related card items, so project teams can see how a piece of work contributes to a higher-level initiative. This makes it easy to pinpoint bottlenecks and to confirm everything is progressing as it should be, so the kanban team doesn’t get behind.
2. It increases transparency
In many teams and departments, one worker may have no idea what the person in the cubicle next to them is doing. Not so with the kanban framework: The visual workflow improves transparency into the entire project team’s workload, so both the team leader and fellow colleagues can see who is assigned what task at any given time.
This encourages individual accountability and ensures nothing falls through the cracks because everyone thinks someone else is doing them. Instead, team members know exactly what task everyone is working on at any given time.
3. It reduces employee overworking
Without transparency, it’s all too easy to accidentally over-assign way too many projects to a single employee. On the flipside, it’s easy to underutilize other employees, giving them less work than they can handle and resulting in uneven workload distribution across the team.
Due to the visual nature of the kanban system, the board makes each individual’s workload immediately apparent, so team leaders can distribute tasks evenly to make sure no one gets overworked.
4. It improves collaboration
Project managers looking to improve team collaboration and break down silos should try the kanban method for sure. Because team members using a kanban board can easily see what other people are working on, this encourages them to give feedback, offer up ideas, and otherwise work together with their colleagues.
This is why many companies choose to go over the kanban board during a daily scrum or weekly check-in—to promote collaboration at the moment.
5. It improves concentration and reduces distractions
Multitasking may be popular, but it’s actually been shown to be less effective and productive than working on a single task at a time. With the kanban system, employees can’t progress onto another work item until they complete their current project.
This single tasking approach encourages employees to concentrate on the work at hand instead of bouncing between multiple projects, which splits their attention and shatters their focus.
6. It can be combined with other methodologies
Unlike some other task management strategies, kanban boards are versatile and can be combined with many other methodologies. Two of the most popular ones are the Agile methodology and Extreme Programming (XP), but there are plenty of others out there.
Combining the kanban method with another management strategy will supercharge project management and ensure project leaders can tailor things exactly to their team’s processes.
7. It offers lots of flexibility and versatility
While kanban boards really took off in the software development community, they are versatile enough to be used beyond just software teams. Other teams like marketing, human resources (HR), and even finance can benefit from using kanban boards to manage their projects. Kanban also focuses on the process rather than adhering to rigid deadlines, so teams don’t need to stick to a specific calendar.
8. It reduces wasted time and work
Kanban boards come from the lean management methodology, which is all about eliminating needless work, and who doesn’t want to do less of that? As a result, kanban helps to eliminate wasted time because tasks move smoothly from one stage or person to another without delay.
This sets it apart from other project management strategies, where tasks often sit in a queue while other work gets completed, resulting in an unnecessary backlog of work.
9. It promotes productivity and efficiency
As a result of all of its other benefits, kanban boards help to increase a team’s productivity and efficiency, helping them to get more work done with less time and effort. Project managers looking to get more done without overworking should definitely consider trying out the kanban method.
Choosing kanban software tools
While kanban can be done on a whiteboard with some sticky notes, it’s much easier to rely on a software tool that will update automatically (and that won’t be smudged by a stray coffee spill). Fortunately, there are lots of project management tools available that use kanban boards already, making it simple to get started. To discover what your options are, check out our kanban software guide for our recommendations.
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