What is Kanban

The majority of projects could be seen as a process - a series of steps or tasks that achieve the desired result. There are different processes - simple and complex, individual or team, short or long term. Sometimes there are big and multidirectional projects composed of plenty of smaller-scale processes.

Kanban is a tool for managing the flow of materials, information, or any other specific entities included in the project processes. If you can not access necessary entities at the right time, that will create delays and losses. On the other hand, if you have too much material or information, too much work in progress at the same time, that is also producing delays and losses. Kanban methodology is used to establish optimal workflow through the processes.

There are three basic rules you have to follow when starting to use Kanban.

Workflow visualization

The most critical step in adopting Kanban is to represent your workflow visually. This means to analyze your existing processes and to define every stage during the work on your tasks. It doesn't matter how complex your work is.

You can use Kanban if there are just a few steps in your processes: To Do, In Progress, Done. More often, there are more steps involved: backlog, next, in progress, work finished, control, test, deploy, done. Kanban visualization of the workflow is typically displayed on the whiteboard as a series of columns with the step names at the top. The creation of a kanban board allows you to see the status of the work being done at a glance.

Limit Work in Progress (WIP)

Get more done by doing less. You have to limit the number of tasks your team is working on at the same moment. Depending on the team's size and the complexity of the project, there is always an optimal number of tasks that should be in progress in every defined workflow step.

How to identify limitation numbers? Use experience. Define some limits in the beginning and follow up on how it works. If you see this number is never reached, then decrease it a bit. If it is always exceeded, then increase a bit. Once you find the optimal level, stick to it for some time.

Measure and Improve Flow

Like every other process, Kanban is giving better results if it is continuously improved. Real improvement is always based on objective measurements. Concentrate on measuring what matters in the process. Try to expose things that create value. Sometimes there are small measures that could generate a significant difference in results.

A great fact about Kanban is that you can apply it to your existing processes. You use Kanban to identify ways to improve what you are already doing. You don't have to start from scratch. You don't have to worry about losing the things you are already doing well. No sudden changes mean there is minimal risk in applying Kanban as part of your improvement journey.

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