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Visualize Work: a Short Intro to Kanban Boards

by Carlo Pecchia

If your struggling to manage your work, Carlo Pecchia has a suggestion you may want to try – Kanban. One of the main reasons why people have trouble with work items planning and execution is their inability to visualize all the steps involved. It's to them especially, that Kanban can be a revelation.

What is Kanban about?

The idea behind a Kanban board is full visualization of the process workflow. The board is divided into the process stages (i.e. requirements, development, quality assurance, delivery) and work items (Kanban cards) are placed on it and slid along as they are being progressed.
The goals of doing this are:

  • visualization of the process and radiating the information onto the team
  • limiting the Work-In-Progress
  • workflow management and measurement
Kanban is easy and risk free to implement, it asks no change of the current process, scales very well and doesn't generate extra costs on application.

How to get started?

The easiest way to get introduced to the Kanban method is creating a simple physical Kanban, on a whiteboard or a large sheet of paper, and placing tasks written on sticky notes on it, then moving them along with the process. The information that a Kanban card should hold can include: a simple name of the task, due date, description, definition of when is it complete, assigned person and other. It's typical to use different colored sticky notes to indicate specific types of items (red for a bug, yellow for new features, blue for urgent etc.), this helps to make the visualization even more accurate.

WIP limits

Once you have the process mapped out and all stages presented on a board, you can decide on the upper maximum number of tasks that can be in progress at any stage in one time. This can be done as in per user or per process stage. The main goal of setting WIP limits is ensuring that a maximum possible number of tasks gets finished in a short time – so enabling task completion instead of constant starting new work. WIP limits promote focus and eliminate wasteful multi-tasking. Thanks to the WIP limits it is also much easier to see any bottlenecks form, and therefore to direct some action towards resolving them.

Measurement abilities

Carlo underlines the benefit of keeping your initial approach to Kanban simple – both in establishing working policies and in your monitoring methods. The simplest metric in Kanban is a burn-down chart, allowing to measure throughput of the system – how many items you have delivered over time. This gives you a very clear indication of whether you're making progress or standing still. The other great metric, that is easy to work on is the Cycle Time – measuring the time an item takes from being requested to delivery to the client, proving efficiency of the team and system.


Now you see how little it takes to get going with a basic Kanban – why not give it a try?

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