Guide to understanding Kanban boards

What is a Kanban board?

A Kanban board is a project management tool used for workflow visualization. Many DevOps and Agile teams rely on Kanban boards to plan their daily workload and determine what order tasks should be completed.

A Kanban board features cards that are organized into columns. These columns, which typically have labels such as 'backlog,' 'in progress,' and 'complete,' are designed to optimize and manage workflows within an organization.

Kanban boards also typically feature other visual signals. Examples of those include:

  • Work-in-progress limits that restrict the maximum number of tasks in the different stages of the workflow
  • Commitment points which mark points in the work process where work items are ready to be pulled into the system
  • Delivery points which determine the point where items are considered to be finished

Ultimately, a Kanban board provides a new level of transparency to organizations and helps teams to identify problematic work stages and work more efficiently.

When to use a Kanban board

Kanban boards are instrumental in organizing and visualizing workflows. Here are some common use cases for Kanban boards:

IT operations teams

IT operations teams use Kanban boards to manage the constant flow of planned and unplanned requests they receive. This helps them to prioritize their work more efficiently and make more effective decisions. For example, they may use a Kanban board to manage work by demand, priority, or team member specialties.

Project management

Kanban boards help project managers to break down large projects, track progress, get real-time status reports, and promote transparency within the organization.

This system ensures that the pace of work keeps moving forward without interruption because it allows project managers to easily see when team members are idle and assign work where appropriate. This means that team members always have a task to work on and that bottlenecks and assignment overloads can be avoided.

Software development

Kanban boards can be used to visualize the software development process to help team members to identify improvements. For instance, a simple Kanban board consisting of three columns – 'backlog,' 'in progress,' and 'done' – can be used to show the team's progress.

This can help teams to measure their lead time and also helps to manage the changing requirements and priorities of each software delivery cycle.

QA teams

Kanban boards can help QA teams to visualize their workflow and prioritize the most important tasks. For example, columns in a Kanban board for QA teams might include: 'coding,' 'waiting for tests to pass,' 'ready to review,' and 'review.'

Benefits of Kanban boards

Kanban boards are an excellent visualization tool for organizations. We've included some examples to explain why you might decide to use a Kanban board instead of other organizational methods available:

Better visibility into an entire project or workflow

Kanban boards clearly provide an organized view of each stage of the project. This makes it easy for team members or project managers to understand the structure of a project or workflow just by glancing at the board.

Improved efficiency

Kanban boards provide an overview of the most urgent tasks, making it easier for project managers to understand which tasks should be assigned first. It also lets managers quickly get an understanding of individual bandwidth to see if work can be reassigned across the team.

Improved collaboration and accountability

The transparency of Kanban boards increases the level of accountability within the team and encourages team members to work together to complete the tasks.

Increase productivity

Kanban boards can make daily meetings significantly quicker by providing a transparent overview of the tasks that need to be completed. In some instances, they can even replace team meetings altogether. This reduces the number of distractions and gives team members more time to work on the tasks that actually matter.

Helps with resource allocation

Kanban boards provide project managers with a thorough overview of the work that needs to be completed and where team members and resources are allocated. This means they can quickly identify idle team members or bottlenecks and relocate them where necessary.

How to make a Kanban board

To make a Kanban board, follow these simple steps:

  1. Identify the workflow you want to visualize: The versatility of Kanban boards means they are applicable for various organizational uses. However, before you start to create your Kanban board, it's important to have a thorough understanding of the specific workflow you want to visualize.
  2. Define the columns: Columns help you organize tasks based on what work you plan to complete. Column header examples include:

    • To Do
    • Ready to Begin
    • In Progress
    • Completed

    While your 'To Do' column will typically include a complete list of tasks you'd like to complete in the future, the tasks listed in your 'Ready to Begin' column will typically include a list of tasks that are almost ready to initiate.

  3. Populate the board with cards: Once you have your columns outlined, it is time to populate your Kanban board with cards. Cards are used to visualize work items and typically include information such as a brief description of a work item, the owner, its due date, and status. Later, you can add notes of any issues blocking the item's progress.
  4. Set expectations/deadlines: Setting expectations such as deadlines or the urgency of the work items helps project managers and team members better understand which work items should be prioritized.
  5. Begin the workflow and continuously improve/adapt: Even after your Kanban board is complete and your team has begun the workflow, you will likely need to improve and adapt it as time progresses. One of the key purposes of a Kanban board is to motivate people, so you should continuously ask for feedback from your team to gauge its effectiveness.

Why use MindManager to make Kanban boards

You can draw a Kanban board by hand or use concept map software designed specifically for creating visualizations. MindManager is a Kanban board creation platform that helps you turn ideas into plans and plans into action.

MindManager is an industry-leading collaborative tool designed to help you create Kanban boards. Some of its key features and benefits include:

  • User-friendly interface that is intuitive and easy to learn
  • Large image library—over 700 topic images to use within your kanban boards
  • Convenient and simple file management
  • Topic styles and filters to aid in data categorization and sorting
  • Powerful integrations with file storage apps like DropBox and OneDrive
  • Google Docs integration via Zapier
  • Built-in templates for different concept map styles and various use cases

Kanban board templates

MindManager comes pre-installed with many templates. To use these templates:

  • Open MindManager
  • Click NEW in the navigation menu
  • Select the template you want to use
  • A preview screen will appear - check to see if you'd like to use your selected template
  • Select 'Create Map'
  • Customize the template for your specific project

Kanban board FAQs

What is the difference between a Kanban board and a scrum board?

The key difference between a Kanban board and a scrum board is that a Kanban board is used throughout the entire lifecycle of a project. On the other hand, a scrum board is cleared after each sprint and is then recycled.

What are the different types of Kanban boards?

There are two different types of Kanban boards: physical Kanban boards and digital Kanban boards.

A physical Kanban board typically uses sticky notes to represent work items. The Kanban board is typically a whiteboard separated into columns using a marker. A digital Kanban board is generally stored in a shared drive online.

Digital Kanban boards are much more flexible than physical whiteboards and can let project managers track multiple workflows at once.

Use Kanban boards to plan your daily workload

Kanban boards are an effective way to visualize your workflow and figure out which order you should complete your tasks. They are frequently used by IT teams, project managers, QA teams, and software developers to improve efficiency, help with resource allocation, and provide better visibility into entire projects.

Visualize more with MindManager

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