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How Kanban Can Change Your Life

by Matt Simpson

Kanban can indeed change your life, and specifically the professional area of it, by bringing order and a method to the way you do things. Greater efficiency, better focus, less waste, easier communication and process transparency are among some of the possible benefits.

Kanban

This is a simple process control method, originally used in production industry to manage stock and allow just-in-time production. It is nowadays applied to practically all industries, regardless of the team size and project scope and adapts greatly to all of them. The Kanban project management is organized on a visual board, divided into process stages, onto which task cards are stuck and moved along as the work progresses.

The process stages

Each of the process steps shall be visualized as one column, where tasks queue up and are being pulled by the next process stage performers according to the First In First Out rule – pull from the top, add new at the bottom. The work stages are meant to be progressing from left to right (with task backlog on the left and completed tasks on the right).

Prioritizing work in Kanban

With cross-functional teams, the way they pull work is logical and simple – since the tasks closest to completion are on the right side of the board – when choosing new work to do, they pick the first available task in the rightmost column (before done). This ensures a maximum possible number of finished tasks.

Efficiency and waste in a project

One of the flag properties of Kanban is putting a limit on the amount of work that can be in progress at any time (WIP limits). By applying them, you're not only making sure that the team works efficiently, since there's no need for them to multi-task, so the focus is much higher, but you're also cutting down on waste. Waste can be premature work (items you aren't ready to deliver to clients), doubled up work or work items that precede the ability of the next process stage by multiple numbers (too much work in one stage as compared to how much can be taken on by the next step).

Cycle Time and estimation capabilities

By following the Cycle Time for your process, you can monitor how the speed of the work changes according to different work items, projects and team configurations. Now, you can break down the Cycle Time further into how long the cycle is for each step of the process, thereby weighing the most wasteful and most effective parts of it, to later decide on the areas most needing improvement.

Kanban transparency

With having all the tasks and their progress displayed on a board, the fact is, that everyone on the team can see what's going on at any moment, without having to ask for an update. This saves a lot of time, many a misunderstanding and facilitates a better appreciation of the process, getting the big picture across to all on the team. The same goes for any issues or hold-ups within the process. As soon as a problem occurs, it can be seen on the board, and the team is immediately able to take action directed at resolving the issue.

Reviews

Keeping in mind, that the projects are always changing and evolving, you should put effort into making your Kanban board reflect and embrace those changes too. Kanban is all about evolutionary improvement. Take the opportunity of review meetings to discuss which parts of the process work and which don't, and alter the board accordingly. So, in order to keep up with the process and with the product demand you have, make sure that your Kanban board is keeping up with it too, therefore ensuring better efficiency and greater business success.


Read our article on Why you might want to use Kanban »
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