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What is Kanban: an overview of the methodology

24 November 2021, Wednesday By Priyanka Boruah
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We will talk about what kanban is and how to use this technique in your work.

Definition of Kanban

Kanban is a management technique that originated in the 1940s at the Toyota plant. Over the years, Kanban has evolved and evolved into a task distribution system used in IT companies (development, time management, market research, etc.) 

The changed approach to work made it possible to increase the efficiency of the team, concentrating it on working on tasks that are really important at the moment (critical for software or the most frequently requested by users of the product).

Kanban board

Kanban work is centered around specialized boards on which tasks are “located”. It can exist in both digital and analog form. 

The board is divided into a certain number of groups (groups are created by the author of a specific board, they can be different in each individual company/team). For example:

  • tasks to be completed
  • tasks that are already being worked on,
  • completed tasks. 

Kanban board

This is a basic model, but it can be supplemented by adding groups there that are relevant to your product/company (code in testing, ideas in development, plans, etc.). 

Kanban card

Each group of Kanban boards includes cards with descriptions of tasks. Thus, the groups turn into some kind of to-do-lists of general purpose. Cards increase the visibility of the displayed information and make it easier for the team to navigate through a large flow of tasks. 

In addition, the digital distribution by cards makes it possible to set additional attributes. For example, show who is responsible for completing a task, determine when it should be completed, or leave a note with additional information. 

Benefits of the Kanban Technique

Why do people use this system at all and why is it attracting more and more companies?

  • Kanban can be implemented in any legacy system. To start using the methodology, it is not necessary to rethink how the work is organized in the company. You do not need to make radical changes, you can gradually introduce it into various aspects of the activity. All roles and interaction strategies can be kept the same. Kanban will not hurt, but will only complement the workflow, while identifying the problems that need to be solved. 
  • Incremental changes instead of solving global problems. Kanban motivates you to set small tasks that are easier to complete and easier to assemble into a big picture as a clear plan. Transparency in work motivates and helps to make decisions about the further development of the product/service/site.
  • Everything is in one place. The board is available to all employees who see the complete list of tasks. It turns into a public information hub for the corporation. The cards are not tied to a specific person, i.e. it will not happen that the team lead/manager forgets something, and one of the developers "loses" the task. 

5 basic kanban practices

When starting to implement a new method of organizing work in your company, it is important to familiarize yourself with the basic practices. There is a plan to ensure that Kanban boards and cards are used successfully in almost any business. 

Visualize your workflow

The main advantage of kanban over other organizational techniques is visibility. Therefore, it is worth starting with the design of the board. That is, dividing it into groups (columns) and tasks (cards). 

The former represent the stage of work, and the latter represent the work item. It is important to think over your own structure or correctly implement the "standard" one. That is, divide the entire board into three columns: tasks to be done, those in progress, and completed.

workflow

Each card wanders from left to right. By transferring cards from one group to another, a manager or team lead can determine at which tasks/stages problems begin (deadlines, a drop in the quality of work performed, etc.).

Limit the number of WIP tasks

WIP stands for Work In Progress. These are the tasks that are currently being worked on. One of the main functions of kanban is to limit the number of simultaneous processes. This makes it easier to organize and set deadlines, and makes it more realistic to successfully complete a project based on the original plans.

The main principle is not to take into work more than you can do efficiently and on time. 

Control tasks prioritization

Kanban cannot be used as a way to microcontrol your employees. This system helps to control exactly the transition of tasks from one group to another. There is no need to try to force the employees of the company to work constantly with the help of boards. Bosses/team leaders can abuse the task delegation function, and this creates two problems:

  • excessive workload for each employee;
  • the emphasis is not on completing the task, but on permanent employment. 

The team gets busy but remains ineffective. But the transition of tasks from group to group speaks of real progress.

Clearly state the objectives and the purpose of their solution

The use of boards and cards forces management to set transparent goals that are understandable not only to managers, but also to those who are directly involved in achieving them. 

This is facilitated by the incremental system of setting goals. When each small step is listed as a separate card, it is more convenient for people to navigate, it is more convenient to do their work, and to track progress.

Organize an ongoing exchange of views 

Kanban can become a lot more useful once you have worked out your tasks carefully. It is best to regularly discuss the structure of the boards, the rules for creating cards, their content, and other aspects of the work. 

Synchronization between all team members will allow transforming the board, adapting it to the requirements of developers/managers. The end result is the perfect tool for solving problems and tracking progress.

Organize an ongoing exchange of views

Kanban in the modern world

Today, apps like Trello and Jira are used as kanban boards. These are digital analogs of boards, which are a kind of standard in the IT world. There are dozens of other utilities, and new ones continue to appear. Each instrument has its own characteristics and emphasis on different types of activities.

These services allow not only managing cards, but also collecting analytical indicators, monitoring feature/application releases, tracking specific problems during development, and so on. 

It also became possible to integrate services with other popular tools, business messengers and automation systems. But the meaning of the boards does not change: dividing the list of tasks into columns and their constant flow from one to another.

Conclusion

Kanban is a technique that allows you to make team work more efficiently. It does not require radical changes in the work of the organization, but it forces you to change priorities and focus on solving problems. Kanban visualizes work and helps work in collaboration.

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