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3 Ways to Use Kanban For Project Management

by: Shiv Sharma

Kaban is arguably the most popular way to manage projects. How did a concept that originated in the Japanese automobile industry in the 50s get adopted by industries worldwide?

This can largely be attributed to two reasons.

In 2004, Microsoft ran an experiment. It tried to use Kanban for software development. The results were quite promising and in 2010, David Anderson wrote a book on the experiment with a no-nonsense title – Kanban. The book was a success and inspired IT teams worldwide to adopt Kanban.

The explosive growth of cloud-based SaaS services in the 2010s made digital Kanban boards both affordable and scalable. Companies across all kinds of industries stated adopting Kanban for project management.

How is Kanban useful in project management?

Who do teams that adopt Kanban instantly fall in love with it? How is it useful in project management? The answer lies in the very nature of the Kanban methodology that offers the following four benefits:

  • Visibility – You can see who’s working on what and how the tasks are progressing. This ensures that there are no nasty surprises close to the project deadline.
  • Efficiency – Kanban is designed to reduce work in progress. When you focus on fewer things, you become more productive.
  • Flow – Teams regularly update the status of their work on Kanban. This prevents minor hiccups from developing into huge bottlenecks. 
  • Optimization – Kanban requires you to optimize the project management process continuously through incremental improvements. 

How do I use Kanban?

There are innumerable ways to use Kanban for project management. In this post, we’ll look at three popular ones. We’ll explain the workflows using Taskworld – a popular online Kanban tool used by 4000+ companies. 

1. Classic Kanban

If your team is trying out Kanban for the first time, start with the easiest and the most popular Kanban template – To Do, Doing, and Done.

Your Kanban board has three tasklists – To Do (Backlog), Doing and Done. Each of them denotes the status of the tasks it contains. Create tasks for all of your team’s to-dos under the Backlog.  

At the beginning of each week, have a kickoff with your team and assign tasks from the backlog. For example, Darius’s (designer) to-dos for the week are designing the company logo and t-shirt. Add due dates and relevant tags (for e.g. high priority) to the tasks to help your team prioritize. 

Everyone in the team has access to the board. They know what the week’s tasks are, who’s working on what, and when should they complete them. Now they can focus solely on execution. Each member drags a task from the backlog and moves it under Doing. You should encourage your team to only focus on one task at a time.

If more tasks pop up during the week, add them under the backlog. Use the project chat to inform the team if there is reprioritization. If you wish to communicate about a specific task, use task comments. This triggers notifications both on the app and the recipients’ email. 

Follow the process during the week and organize a retrospective meeting on Friday to evaluate how the week went. If some tasks are incomplete, dig deeper into the cause, and optimize your next week’s flow accordingly. If you feel that your process needs more stages, feel free to add more tasklists to your project. Learn more about the classic Kanban methodology

2. Team Oriented

The assignee focused Kanban workflow is a variation of the previous method for small teams. Here instead of using tasklists to denote task status, use it to represent your teammates. 

Let’s see how it will transform our previous project:

As you can see, all the tasks in the backlog have already been assigned to the team. For this workflow to work, ensure that each task has only one assignee. To involve more people in the task, add them as followers instead.

At one glance, you can now see which team member is working on what. So, what happens to task status? You can use tags in order to highlight which task you’re working on. For example, you can see that out of all the tasks assigned to Nathan, he’s working on creating a dashboard for KPIs. You can also use the Search Tasks field to filter tasks based on both assignees and tasks.

This workflow doesn’t have the Done tasklist. So how do you access completed tasks? Simply click See completed task at the bottom of each tasklist. This will show you all the tasks that the assignee has marked as complete. 

3. Personal Kanban

Some team members prefer to have their own Kanban boards. This helps them concentrate on their own to-dos and design a workflow that fits their needs. But then how can managers get a complete overview of their team’s to-dos in a Kanban? There is a solution – tasks in multiple projects. 

For example, if Nathan wants to add his tasks in the project to his own personal Kanban, he doesn’t need to copy them and then update both simultaneously. He can simply add a second location to his task. This makes the task appear both in his team and personal Kanban.

If he adds comments/files to the task, marks it as complete, etc.; the changes are reflected in both locations. Nathan can organize his personal project the way he wants and also make it private. He can have a separate tasklist to organize his personal errands. 

These are three simple Kanban templates that can be used for most small/medium-sized projects. Certain projects have very specific checkpoints and Kanban can be a great way to visualize their progress. For example, for a recruitment project, tasklists can represent different stages of the recruitment process (resume screening, first round, final round etc.). Similarly, Agile software development projects will use tasklists to organize their sprints. This incredible flexibility is what makes Kanban so popular. 

Check out more Kanban templates.

How do I introduce my team to Kanban?

One of the most common mistakes managers often make when they introduce Kanban is having a rigid workflow structure. Each team is unique. Start with a simple Kanban template that doesn’t have too many tasklists, and then gradually build it up with the help of your team’s feedback. It’s much better to start with a classic to, doing, done template than imposing a 10 step Kanban board on your team. 

You should also convey why you are adopting Kanban to your team. The underlying message is that Kanban will reduce their work and not make it more complicated. It will help them focus on fewer things and become aware of their team’s progress. 

If you would like a Kanban for your team, try out Taskworld for free. Over 4000 teams across 80 countries use it to manage projects successfully. 

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