Are you familiar with those large panels which are packed with multi-hued Post-its? I’m sure you are, it’s part of a long-established, well-known system that is still the favorite organizational method for many companies and individuals around the world. These boards, with their sticky notes, may seem outdated, or even archaic, but they are still widely used for personal organization and even in large projects. Its continued relevance is due to the existence of an essential methodology behind the seemingly old-fashioned design. So, here we’ll discuss what is kanban and learn what it is all about.
What is kanban and where does it come from?
As you may have noticed, the name is of Asian origin. More specifically, it comes from Japan; an industrial engineer invented it in the Land of the Rising Sun. Its inventor first put it into practice in the 1960s, at a Toyota assembly plant, while the company was going through a critical transformation. Amid a lack of resources and the need to modernize to keep up with rapid changes in the market, Toyota perceived a need to adapt its management methodology.
The company understood that it had to act urgently to create a new kind of manufacturing system. Inspired by Henry Ford’s book Today and Tomorrow, managers at Toyota developed two distinct methodologies. One was JIT (Just in Time), a production management system that ensures that everything is produced, transported, and purchased at precisely the right moment.
The other methodology is our focus today, kanban. The organization and operation of American supermarkets, which replace goods on the shelves as soon as they are sold, inspired the method.
In English, kanban translates into “board.” The method uses cards (the famous post-its or, these days, the digital version of cards) in a framework to indicate and visually follow, in a manner that is both practical and uses few resources, the progress of production flows in a company.
>> Recommended reading: Agile methodology: the software industry’s gift to best management practices
An example is often useful
Imagine that in your company, you set up a large board, which you then divide in half. On one side you list the tasks that need to be performed. This is called the Backlog. On the other side, you list the respective execution stages (“in progress” and “delivered”). You choose the specific nomenclature according to your company’s internal processes.
The following two posts refer to the first half of the kanban board, the backlog:
- Runrun.it now has Backlogs! All about the new feature and its use
- What is a Backlog: the list that helps you refine your product development
According to kanban, as tasks are performed, its card or post-it is placed in the field corresponding to the task’s status. Simple, right? You might already be using a form of kanban without even knowing it.
Does it really work?
When Toyota was experiencing difficulties, kanban’s visual aspects greatly facilitated the production and assembly teams because the system significantly improved communications between employees and sectors. It also improved the perception of which parts needed to be replaced and when. The system subsequently led to increased levels of standardization as well as a reduction in unnecessary waste.
“But that was in the 1960s,” you might say. And you’d you right. It was, in fact, another age. Today, we have a wealth of much more modern tools, and kanban has been adapted for use on online platforms. Initially, people who conduct this type of management starting keeping track of projects using email. But this method has its drawbacks. When your inbox is full, and you’re receiving dozens, if not hundreds, of emails per day, how much time would you need to spend tracking status updates regarding the projects that are under your responsibility?
It’s undoubtedly easier and more practical to replace that unwieldy array of emails, spreadsheets, and to-do lists with a board where a change in the column or color of a specific card displays the status of the task to the whole team.
>> Recommended Reading: Project Management: What It Is, Types, Tools, and Other Tips
Is this related to visual management?
That’s exactly right, though in a simplified way. Like kanban, visual management is a template that makes it possible for critical control items to be within reach of the entire team.
Both are related to the agile methodology. One of that methodology’s foundational principals is that “agile processes promote a sustainable environment” and continuous deliveries. Kanban was also soon melded into agile methods such as XP (eXtreme Programming) and Scrum.
In the end, the whole team is must be fully informed about the progress of the projects in which they are involved. Kanban can be a great way to accomplish this visually. To understand more about the agile methodology, read this post on our blog.
Why does kanban work?
It works because when your team can visually track individual tasks in relation to the whole, it becomes easier to organize the tasks that need to be accomplished, focusing on prioritizing the most critical activities. Another principal advantage is that the system makes it easier to circulate information, thereby contributing to a more collaborative environment in your company.
When you adopt the kanban methodology, you will discover that it will be much easier to detect hidden problems, delays and failures. It’s a tool that can also frequently help you find more efficient solutions to improve your processes.
Putting kanban into practice
Now that you know understand a bit more about kanban, the first step in its implementation is to get your team involved. Our blog already has a number of posts that you can consult that are highly useful in this sense. First, take a look at this text about performance assessments and then check out this one, about generating engagement. Getting your employees to feel a sense of commitment, or engagement, is crucial because in kanban all of your employees are responsible for keeping the board up-to-date.
Another fundamental issue is where you place the board: it must be readily accessible and visible to everyone. After all, the kanban is meant to be interactive.
But what happens when you are using a virtual kanban? Your employees are almost always involved in more than one project. What if there were a kanban through which you could account for every team members’ participation in their various projects and what if you could directly monitor and control the workflows? When a card is moved, that change would automatically affect the responsible person’s task list, and therefore the delivery times for the projects they in which they are involved. Runrun.it is unique in the market, in that we offer this type of functionality, which we call the RR-Board®. Take a more in-depth look at how it works in this post.
Kanban in the Digital Age
There are online tools that incorporate the agile principles of kanban to facilitate management. Runrun.it is one of them, and it allows you to track, in real time, the progress of all the requirements, and projects, that your team is executing.
Everyone in your company will be committed to the same goals while avoiding wasted time or resources when using this methodology. And even more importantly: they’ll be focused on following the path you charted to expand the reach of your company. Sign up for a free trial at http://runrun.it