A project management team's office space with a Kanban board on the wall and a workers bicycle in view
PHOTO: Shutterstock

We are seeing more and more brands adopting agile approaches in their software development practices. According to a study conducted by the Project Management Institute, 71% of organizations are using agile principles sometimes, often or always.

One of these agile approaches is making use of a Kanban board. But what exactly is a Kanban board, and how do they work?

What Is Kanban Project Management?

Kanban is an extremely popular agile project management methodology which dates back to the late 1940s when car manufacturer Toyota began optimizing their engineering process to the same model supermarket chains used to stock shelves to better match their inventory levels with current consumption patterns.

This was achieved by fostering better communication through visual management. The term Kanban is Japanese for “card” or “visual signal” and has been leveraged by many software development companies across the board in the last decade or so. According to an infographic put together by Kanbanize, 37% of companies saw better visibility of their workflow and project tracking, and 23% managed to achieve a high-level of transparency.

For projects in the software development space, “[A Kanban board], or swim lanes, is the method of visually keeping track of the tasks,” said Katie Lioy, co-founder and CEO at Brain+Trust Insights. “[In a Kanban board], there are generally 4 to 5 swim lanes where each task goes depending on status, typically, 'not started, in progress, blocked, completed, backlog.'"

Christopher Allen, chief strategy officer at Allen Interactions, said the Kanban methodology focuses on “limiting” the amount of “work-in-progress” for a software development team at any one time. “Focused teams, chipping away work will reduce waste simply by not having to prep for so many meetings, engage in dialog across so many issues, start and stop work and thought,” said Allen. “Kanban’s focus on limiting work can also prevent one part of a project from getting too far ahead of another part, which can lead to work needing to be redone when design, requirements or assumptions change.”

Related Article: Agile vs Scrum vs Kanban Weighing the Differences

How Does a Kanban Board Work?

To illustrate how a Kanban board works, we will use Trello, a freemium project management tool that allows brands to apply the Kanban methodology.

To get started, create a new board. In this case, we will call it “CMSWire Trello Board.” Then add in the number of lanes which represents the status of a task, for instance, “To Do,” “In Progress,” “To Be Reviewed” and “Completed” as shown by the screenshot below.

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Once the lanes have been created, add in the relevant tasks and assign them to members of your team. In Trello, you can easily create a task by simply clicking on “Add a card” under the “To Do” list and enter the name of the task once prompted.

In the screenshot below, we have added a number of sample tasks to our Trello board.

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For each task, you have the option of adding a description, setting a deadline and assigning it to a member of your team. This enables your team to communicate the specific requirements and criteria of the project to the relevant team member. To do this on Trello, simply click on the task on the board, then add in all the relevant details on a pop-up window that appears.

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Once the appropriate information is added you can then move the assigned tasks to “In Progress.” This will notify your team that these tasks/projects are underway.

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Once the tasks have been completed, the team member can move the finished task to the next list, "To Be Reviewed" for senior management.

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If the finished task meets the defined criteria, the task can then be moved to the next list, "Completed," to notify the team that it is done. For any issues or areas that need to be addressed, senior management can add in feedback for the relevant team member to follow up on.

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How Kanban Enables Software Management Teams to Prosper?

Today, many software development teams are implementing agile principles, with the Kanban methodology being widely adopted. According to Dan Radigan writing for Atlassian’s blog, the Kanban methodology provides software teams with “more flexible planning options, faster output, clearer focus and transparency throughout the development cycle.”

“Kanban encourages work to be broken down into manageable chunks and uses a Kanban board to visualize work as it progresses through the workflow,” said Laura Kelly, co-Founder and CEO of Keyot.