For many businesses that successfully implement Agile working, there’s a pretty good chance that Kanban boards are playing a significant role behind the scenes.
While this lean workflow management method is widely adopted by all kinds of industries these days, it was actually Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota that first introduced the concept to the workplace back in the 1940s.
A Japanese term, meaning ‘visual board’ or ‘sign’, Toyota incorporated the approach as a scheduling system for ‘just-in-time’ manufacturing based on consumer demand, using it to optimise each stage of the production line and maximise overall efficiency.
Fast forward 60-odd years and software developers discovered that Kanban could make their own lives a hell of a lot easier, and so naturally, it began creeping into the technology industry more and more frequently.
The Kanban method we recognise today has evolved a fair bit since Taiichi’s stellar work and really began to take shape around 2007, pioneered by leading figures of the Lean and Agile communities (yes, they exist) after years of tinkering.
David Anderson is one of those figures, and his work found that Kanban boards can be broken down into five components: visual signals, columns, work-in-progress limits, a commitment point, and a delivery point.
Put simply, a Kanban board is a simplistic way of assigning tasks, monitoring progress and predicting completion times.
We’ve picked out five key reasons you should use Kanban boards.
Increased efficiency and productivity
One of Kanban’s biggest benefits is its ability to quickly highlight inefficiencies and bottlenecks in a workflow, allowing project managers to address problem areas head-on.
This process optimisation naturally leads to increased productivity. By measuring two key metrics:
- cycle time (how long it takes for a task to passthrough your process)
- throughput (how many tasks are delivered in a set period).
Kanban shifts focus towards finishing work, rather than starting it.
Protects your team
‘Work in progress’ limits are a crucial factor in the methodology and act as an essential buffer to prevent your team being overburdened with a backup of tasks. The ‘pull system’ means team members can pull tasks into their workflow only when they’re ready, allowing project managers to clearly see if responsibilities need reassigning to meet deadlines.
This was the main motivator for Toyota to roll out the Kanban method and it remains at the forefront of pretty much every effective business today.
Taiichi Ohno, who was apparently a bit of a stickler for these kinds of things, identified seven key causes of waste when shaping hisLean Manufacturing legacy:
- Inappropriate processing
- Unnecessary inventory
- Unnecessary/excess motion
Tying in with the efficiency theme, Kanban boards are built specifically to target waste, which presents itself in any kind of non-essential action that uses resources, without adding value.
Kanban encourages constant collaboration, a trait at the core of any high-performing team. Whether it’s project managers organising the priorities of a single day, or looking further ahead and laying out goals for the month, this frequent dialogue is integral to both the immediate and long-term success of a business.
This transparency, along with the encouragement of feedback and independent thought among teams, is central to nurturing a healthy company culture and ultimately improves performance.
If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that businesses need to be flexible to navigate what is still an extremely unsteady global climate.
While project roadmaps are obviously still necessary, they can’t be as rigid as they once were. Kanban allows business leaders and project managers to react quickly to volatile markets, reassessing priorities and shifting roles and responsibilities around to ensure the business is able to cope with fluctuations.