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What is a Kanban Board?

Simply defined, a Kanban board is a tool that enables you and/or your team to enhance the flow of your work. There are two types of Kanban board, a Physical Kanban board and an Online Kanban board. The former is when someone uses sticky notes on a whiteboard to track a project’s status, issues, and most importantly, progress. On the other hand, an Online Kanban board takes the whiteboard method virtually by using a software.

Where did Kanban Boards originate?

Historically speaking, what we know now as the Kanban method actually originated in Japan sometime in the late 1940’s. It was initially used by Toyota to track their manufacturing and engineering progress. Initially, line-workers in Toyota used colored Kanbans or actual colored cards to inform each other of what is needed for a specific task.

Kanban is actually the Japanese term for “card” or “visual sign”, and this specific approach to workflow has allowed the teams within the company to communicate easier than they used to, hence they were able to maximize their workflow, refine their processes, and standardized their cues.

Although the application of the Kanban method has greatly influenced Toyota’s system of production, it has also been adapted to human resource management as well as software development throughout the years. This is due to the fact that the Kanban method’s core principles can be easily adapted into other industries.

What are the Kanban core principles?

The Kanban method enables you to first visualize your work, and then limit the said work in terms of process, which will enable you to focus on flow, and then eventually, you can practice constant improvement.

Why do I need to visualize my work?

In the manufacturing industry, the process of accomplishing tasks is seen in the arrangement of the production line. In knowledge work, however, the process is often not as transparent.

Using the Kanban method in mapping out process on a Kanban board and using Kanban cards to characterize work, delivers transparency in the process. Additionally, using this method will show the project’s workflow.

Visualizing one’s work and workflow has a lot of benefits, including how our brain soaks up and process certain information. Scientifically speaking, the human brain store graphic information to up to 60,000 times faster than when we look at texts, and since the Kanban method requires you to create a visual of your work, the visual presentation of your work will be easier to understand and remember, hence, there is continuous productivity.

Additionally, graphic or visual details are presented in a single place, which will minimize the time that is spent tracking down information such as progress reports, updates, and even meetings. The Kanban board and the Kanban cards signifies a mutual visual language that a team along with stakeholders can use to easily communicate and pass on project information transparently.

What are the goals of using the Kanban method?

It’s actually fairly simple, the goal of the Kanban system is to simply limit the work quantity in terms of process so that the workflow matches the system’s capacity. Simply put, a system can only handle a certain amount of traffic to make everything flow smoothly throughout the rest of the steps in the process.

Hence, visualizing your work first using the Kanban board and the Kanban system will elevate both virtual and physical whiteboards from a simple to-do list to a well-optimized workflow system. This will enable you to limit your work in terms of process, give you a transparent vision of your work flows, and most importantly, gather needed data for further improvement.

The downside is that once the system becomes overloaded, the entire work flow tend to slow down, turning the smooth sailing work process to an impasse. The good thing is that it is easy to spot jammed work flow on a Kanban board due to the piling work cards within the affected lanes, which will give you an instant idea into which lane needs to be resolved.

Kanban boards can help prevent jammed work flow through utilizing one or more WIP (work-in-process) limits. Simply put, a WIP limit is a constraint that can be used and applied to certain parts of the work flow, or to the rest of the whole process. Using WIP limits can highly improve the work flow through the steps in the process that you have initially outlined on your Kanban board, eventually helping your team to become even more productive and more efficient.

When your Kanban system is finally set and in place, it eventually becomes the foundation of a constantly improved work flow. With a well-oiled Kanban system, teams in general can track and measure their effectiveness and efficiency through the tracking of their flow, lead times, quality, and more.

Physical or Virtual Kanban Board?

There are certain teams that opts to go old school when using the Kanban system, preferring physical Kanban boards over a virtual Kanban board. A physical Kanban board uses good old sticky notes or even index cards for the Kanban cards, and the board is drawn on an actual whiteboard or wall. This option works really well for teams that are in the same workspace, since every member of the team can physically interact with the board and need not to rely on their other colleagues to move their own cards using a proxy.

Generally, physical Kanban boards are a very inexpensive way to begin observing the Kanban system in the work place.

On the other hand, a virtual Kanban system would give your team a lot of additional features for collaboration such as email integration. Using a virtual Kanban board can also give you a detailed trail that tracks the history of each card, and a far more sophisticated data reports and metrics in an instant.

Virtual Kanban boards also gives you the opportunity to integrate with other software needed for your operation, such as project portfolio, or HelpDesk platforms that will help remove duplicated entries. And when the time comes that your team needs to expand, there will be no need to switch to other tools which can surely delay the team’s productivity, cost, time, and resources.

But whether you prefer to use a physical or a virtual board, Kanban boards in general will make your processes transparent to the rest of your team. It will also give you a quick glance of the progress of your work, to help you further enhance your work flow for further effectiveness.

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