Kanban is a Japanese word that roughly translates to “signal card” or "signboard". It's also the name of a method for managing knowledge work that was inspired by Kanban Systems originating in the manufacturing industry. It has since been adapted for use in many different fields, including software development, healthcare, and even personal productivity.
The basic concept behind Kanban is simple: visualise work. By breaking down your work into manageable chunks and making them and the workflow visible, you can easily see what needs to be done, who's working on what, and when it's due. This can help you identify bottlenecks in your workflow and make adjustments to improve.
However, there is more to the Kanban Method than just that basic tenet. There are actually six general practices, those being:
Visualise your workflow
The first principle in using Kanban is to create a visual representation of your workflow. This might be a physical board or an electronic one. The board should be divided into columns, with each column representing a different stage of your workflow. For example, if you're working on a software development project, you might have columns for "To Do," "In Progress," "Code Review," and "Done."
Limit work in progress
One of the key principles of Kanban is to limit the amount of work in progress at any given time. This can help to prevent multitasking and focus on completing one task before moving on to the next. By limiting the number of items in each column, you can ensure that your team is working on the most important items first and not getting bogged down by too many competing priorities.
Managing flow is all about making sure that your tasks are moving through your workflow smoothly. This means identifying bottlenecks and making adjustments to improve. For example, if you notice that your code review column is consistently backed up, you might need to understand why work is piling up and take action to alleviate the bottleneck.
Make policies explicit
Kanban is all about transparency and communication, so it's important to make your policies explicit. This means clearly defining how work is prioritised, who's working on what, and how issues will be resolved. By doing this, everyone on your team will be on the same page, and there will be fewer misunderstandings.
Implement feedback loops
Feedback loops are an essential part of Kanban. They allow you to monitor progress, identify problems, and make adjustments as needed. For example, you might conduct daily stand-up meetings to discuss what's been accomplished, what's still in progress, and any issues that need to be addressed.
Improve collaboratively and evolve experimentally
Finally, Kanban is all about continuous improvement. This means that you should always be looking for ways to make your workflow more effective and should be willing to experiment with new approaches. For example, you might try using different tools or processes to see what works best for your team. By working collaboratively and experimenting, you can continuously improve your workflow and achieve better results.
In conclusion, Kanban is a powerful system of work management that can help you visualise your workflow, limit work in progress, manage flow, make policies explicit, implement feedback loops, improve collaboratively and evolve experimentally. By following these practices, you can improve efficiency, increase productivity, and achieve better results. It's a simple yet effective way to manage your work, and it's well worth considering for any team or individual looking to streamline their work process.
If you want to know more, take a look at our Kanban training classes, which are run by an Accredited Kanban Trainer from Kanban University.