Kanban project management is one of the leading PM methodologies, and after exploring this guide, you’ll see why. The Kanban approach suits almost every team and goal. It helps you manage the flow of tasks as your team works toward shared objectives.

This method keeps track of documents, information about your tasks, and makes them accessible exactly when you need them.

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The need for Kanban project management

If you’ve ever worked on a project that involves both strategy and execution, you know that getting started is often the hardest part. A lot of time is spent on establishing goals and the vision, but come execution time, the way of thinking reverts to “just get things done”.

But the way things get done can make a big difference. Project management is the crucial element in ensuring an effective workflow for your business, so you can get closer to achieving your vision.

In this guide, you’ll learn more about how Kanban boards work, the pros and cons of this approach, and how to implement it for your business.

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The origin

The term Kanban originates from Toyota’s “just-in-time” production system, which means doing “only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed.” The purpose of Kanban is to:

  1. Eliminate wasteful work, inconsistencies, and unreasonable requirements
  2. Make the process more efficient, and teams more productive

By applying the Kanban approach to project management, the workflow becomes fully transparent and visual. Each team member can see who works on a particular task, what is being worked on, and so on. As a result, your teams can focus on the right tasks, and you won’t exceed their capacity.

Benefits of Kanban project management methodology at a glance

  • Work is divided into smaller and more manageable tasks
  • Collects all relevant information needed for a task
  • Allows for focused and more efficient work
  • The process continues to improve over time
  • Can adjust to your process and team
  • Fits a wide range of applications

Breaking goals down into actionable tasks

At a high level, your team will have overarching goals to meet. This can be as a company, a department, or a focused team.

To accomplish those goals, you’ll need to complete a certain number of projects. Every project has a list of tasks associated to it — creating one page on a website, for example, requires SEO, content writing, UI, development, a review process and so on. Many tasks roll up to one larger project.

Simple, compact steps are perhaps the best way to think about these “tasks.”

Limit work in process (WIP)

Many people believe that multitasking is equivalent to being productive.

However, the Kanban process says the opposite. With this project management method, you’ll instead focus on completing one actionable task at a time. The idea is to accomplish the optimal amount of work without losing efficiency in the process.

Dedicating your attention to one task keeps your mind from wandering, and allows you to get into deep focus. When you complete a task, you move on to the next one. This continues for a team until the project is complete.

Time to close those tabs

Quick question: how many browser tabs do you have open right now? Don’t worry, if the idea of starting with a small number of tasks sounds difficult, aim high instead. Set a higher limit on tasks to start, and then lower it as you see fit.

This will help you adjust to a new method. Plus, it provides you with better insight into the qualities and skills of your team. It informs the company of what a proper workload looks like.

It doesn’t matter if you work on small projects or big initiatives. By applying the Kanban working method, you can focus on just the right amount of work and take a huge step toward achieving your goals.

There’s always room for improvement

Another Kanban pro is that it allows you to evolve your existing processes and make incremental changes on your journey to peak productivity. In order to introduce positive changes, you need to first know what to improve.

The advantage of using this approach is that instead of doing a major overhaul of the way you and your team complete assigned tasks, you first identify holes in your existing work process. Then, you can choose to modify or completely change your workflow, knowing what works best for you and your team.

Make a plan with your employees prior to starting your next project

How to use Kanban boards for project management

The cornerstone idea of the Kanban methodology is to do as much as possible, in as little time as possible. This is why Kanban boards and Agile principles go so well together.

Even though this seems counterintuitive at first glance, it has been proven many times that focusing on the most important thing first improves your productivity.

Kanban is an easy concept to understand. The best way to start learning them is to try out a Kanban board online. Here is an example of a Kanban board created using Hubstaff Tasks:

Tasks screenshot

As you can see, everything related to the task is in one place. Comments, checklists, descriptions of the task, assignees, and due dates are all fields that can be updated as projects move along.

This is only one task within a Kanban project board. Behind, you’ll notice columns; one for each step of your process.

You can customize your workflows by setting rules in Hubstaff Tasks. Choose who is assigned and where a task goes next for each column.

Your team members will get an alert when they’re assigned or mentioned in a comment, so everyone knows what’s on their plate.

Make sure your Kanban projects stay on track

Use Hubstaff Tasks to manage Kanban projects, balance workload, and meet deadlines consistently.

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Visualizing workflows: Kanban boards and cards

The greatest strength of Kanban workflows is their visual nature, which makes them easy to understand and navigate.

Kanban boards are a visualization of tasks that helps teams see what’s in progress, and move a project forward.

The Kanban board lets you see exactly what it’s going to take to complete a project. Remember those projects and tasks? The visual Kanban board is how you manage them.

Start with three columns

Create a Kanban board, either physically or virtually, to visualize tasks. At this point, let’s assume you’ve set your goals, come up with the necessary projects and associated tasks for each one.

You’ll then create a column for each of the following: done, in progress, not done.

Post-its on a whiteboard are popular tools for in-person Kanban workflows. First, you grab a post-it, move it to “in progress” and then start working. Once you’re done, you again move the post-it to “complete.”

The entire team participates until the agreed upon tasks are all in the “complete” column. The duration of time is up to you: one day’s worth of tasks, one week, and so on.

The board can also contain other parts of the project management process (i.e. planning, testing, notes, deadlines, etc). Furthermore, the boards are very useful for team members, as they can view the tasks their colleagues are working on in real time. It’s hard to forget a task when they’re all virtually in front of you.

The functionality of the virtual boards is especially useful because team members can drag and drop tasks between boards and lists, or choose “complete.” Both give an equal sense of accomplishment.

Kanban project management examples

One of the fields often associated with Kanban is software development, but Kanban isn’t applicable to this only. With proper execution and a good Kanban software solution, anyone can benefit from using visuals to better communicate and streamlining processes.

Kanban is used by professionals and teams in a variety of settings, including supermarkets, car assembly lines, and software development agencies.

You can improve the workflow of your team using the Kanban workflow project management tools

At Hubstaff, the Kanban system is used not only by the development team but by all of Hubstaff’s fully remote team. We use Hubstaff Tasks’ detailed Kanban cards to organize every task within every project.

To take things one step further, we decide which tasks are in our current sprint, future, and backlog, so that the whole team knows what the priority that week is. It’s another Agile feature that makes focused work possible.

Here are some examples of organizations that can benefit from the Kanban method:

  • Software developers use agile Kanban boards to measure the progress of their coding.
  • Lawyers use Kanban to keep track of the progress of their cases.
  • Salespeople coordinate their sales processes using the Kanban process.
  • Students do their homework assignments in this style.
  • Some people even organize their private lives and chores using Kanban workflows.

When not to use Kanban

There are plenty of online project management solutions out there, but each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. Kanban is no different. Here are a few situations where this approach might not be ideal.

  • Kanban’s open-ended nature makes them less rigid than other styles of project management, which can require major adjustments for some teams
  • Adjusting to fewer and focused tasks can be a challenge — for instance, if you’re used to a Waterfall approach
  • The Kanban process is meant to be adjusted and improved over time, so if you’re the type of person who wants a strict structure that never changes, Kanban might not be right for you

Hubstaff Tasks: The Kanban software to get you started

As mentioned above, Hubstaff Tasks is a Kanban project management software that provides a simple yet powerful visual solution for your growing team.

You can use one of the pre-made templates, or create a custom workflow for each project.

Like other Kanban tools, Hubstaff Tasks makes use of boards and cards. Its features are designed for Agile work, including:

  • Keeping important information for each task in one place
  • Automatically notifying team members about tasks by assigning tasks to them or including them
  • Keeping projects moving with automated workflows and focused sprints
  • Organizing to-dos with labels, deadlines, and checklists
  • Providing progress updates by commenting and tagging involved team members

Hubstaff Tasks’s features make it not only ideal for those looking for a way to manage team projects, but also for those looking for a free personal Kanban software. Using it is completely free for up to five users.

Hubstaff Tasks also integrates seamlessly with Hubstaff for advanced time tracking. In addition to managing your process, you can also manage your team’s time and project budgets.

Everything works together so your business can run like a well-oiled machine. Try both free for 14 days and see how Hubstaff can keep projects on time and on budget.

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Teams across industries are adopting Kanban card systems in their work, thanks to their ease of use and excellent flexibility.

There are many great Kanban software options that can help you implement the system in your work.

Does your team use Kanban in handling tasks and projects? What are your tips for using this method, and what tools do you use? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

This post was originally published January 26, 2016, and was updated June 10, 2019.

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Category: Project Management