A Kanban board is a project management tool designed to visualize work, limit work-in-progress, and maximize efficiency (or flow). It follows the principles of Kanban, a scheduling system for lean and just-in-time manufacturing, developed by Toyota.
A basic Kanban board is divided into different columns, each representing a stage in the work process. Here is a simple example:
- To Do: Tasks that have been defined, but work has not yet started.
- In Progress: Tasks that are currently being worked on.
- Done: Tasks that have been completed.
Work items or tasks are represented as cards that move from one column to another as they progress through the stages of the process. The idea is to pull work from left to right, with the goal of getting items to the “Done” column.
Advanced Kanban boards may include more detailed stages, like “Ready for Review” or “Awaiting Approval”, depending on the nature of the work process.
Kanban boards can be physical (like a whiteboard with sticky notes) or digital. Digital Kanban boards are offered by many project management tools, like Jira, Trello, and others.
Key principles of a Kanban system include:
- Visualize Work: By making the work visible, team members can see the status of every piece of work at any time.
- Limit Work in Progress (WIP): By limiting how many work items are in the various stages of the workflow, teams can focus on completing tasks before starting new ones, which helps to identify and alleviate bottlenecks.
- Manage Flow: The aim is to improve the flow of work items through the process, reducing the time it takes for an item to travel from “To Do” to “Done”.
- Make Process Policies Explicit: The rules of the workflow are clearly stated and displayed for all participants.
- Implement Feedback Loops: Regular retrospectives and refinement of processes and methods based on feedback are essential.
- Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally: The team should collectively work on and agree to any changes in the system.
Using a Kanban board can help improve efficiency, clarity, and visibility in project management, making it a popular tool in both software development environments and beyond.