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Work Management for Teams

General Guidelines for Kanban Board Design

Published By Maria Harper

By now, you’ve probably already heard how Kanban can transform the way IT Operations teams manage tasks. From delegating roles to prioritizing assignments, Kanban makes it easier for IT Operations to meet deadlines and deliver customer satisfaction. But in order to enjoy the benefits Kanban has to offer, you need to follow a few guidelines regarding Kanban board design, so that they work as intended and improve the user experience. In this post, we’re going to look at some of those guidelines and how you can implement them into your project management strategy.


Arguably one of the most important guidelines for designing Kanban boards is custom tailoring Kanban to meet the needs of your team. Even when you’re working with different departments within the same organization, every team has different goals and objectives. What works for one department isn’t going to help another, a fact that’s important to understand when designing Kanban boards. For this reason, you should never duplicate a board from another department and integrate it into your project management solution. Instead, stick to the following guidelines when designing your Kanban boards:

  • Allow the workers to contribute to the design of the board, not just the IT Operations managers. They’re the ones with the practical knowledge and experience, and they know what resources are needed to complete a project in a given timeframe.
  • Design a board that reflects how your team works, making sure to incorporate their strengths and weaknesses. After all, the number one goal of Kanban is to identify ineffective and inefficient elements.
  • Make sure your board is well structured and optimized for transparency, so that idle or blocked work is easy to pinpoint.
  • Minimize scope creep by restricting beginning and end states of your board to only team members.

Also, make sure that your board isn’t overly complex. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point, especially in the beginning phases. You can always flesh your Kanban board out later on, if needed. This will help you reduce time coordinating the who, what, and where of your project, allowing you to get started sooner than you would have otherwise.


Successful IT Operations teams are able to manage their time and capacity effectively by setting a limit for the ongoing tasks they have at any given time. Having too many active tasks in the workflow can lead to overwhelm, fatigue, and unnecessary confusion when it comes time to delegate and prioritize assignments. That’s why many operations teams turn to Kanban, because it makes it easier to visualize a workflow, so you can identify stalled works in progress and pause non-essential tasks for the time being.

Limiting your work-in-progress (WIP) also gives you and your team the opportunity to devote attention to important tasks with minimal interruption. This reduces setbacks caused by context switching and overwhelm by making the workload manageable and approachable.

Other problems you can expect when having a large number of works-in-progress include:

  • Missed deadlines: IT Operations teams juggling too many tasks at once have a harder time tracking and completing assignments.
  • Poor customer feedback: Heavy workloads affect response times, making it harder for operations teams to address customer concerns promptly.
  • Suboptimal work quality: Multitasking prevents teams from devoting their full attention to one single project, increasing the likelihood of making careless mistakes.

We recommend that IT Operations teams pay close attention to tasks stuck in the “Validate” phase on the Kanban board. That’s because one of the more common mistakes is leaving tasks open in this stage rather than completing them. This, in turn, causes tasks to accumulate and become potential problems down the road at an inconvenient time. The good news is that you can limit this from happening with the help of an ITSM tool or other project management solution which lets you automate certain elements of the workflow, like flagging inactive assignments that haven’t been completed after a set number of days—for example, tasks sitting idle in “Validate” for 60 days or more.

Now that we’ve looked at the problems caused by multitasking, let’s see how you can manage your assignments more efficiently.


As an IT Operations manager, it’s your job to empower your team so they’re able to complete tasks to the best of their abilities. One way to do that is by limiting the number of tasks that accumulate in the workflow, so that your team doesn’t have to deal with a large number of works-in-progress at any given time. Here, we’re going to look at some actionable solutions that minimize multitasking and give team members the tools needed to succeed.

  • Communicate with your team: Before making any drastic changes, talk with your team and make sure they’re not taking on too many tasks at once. Stress how important it is for them to minimize WIP and make sure that they’re actually completing their tasks and not leaving them open in the validation (or whatever second-to-last step) phase.
  • Query expedites: Look at how many top-priority tasks occurred over the past 60 days, taking note of the Mean Time to Repair (MTTR). This will help you predict how many expedites you’re likely to encounter in the next 60 days, which is useful for setting accurate WIP limits (more on that below) that empower workers without slowing down progress.
  • Set WIP limits: One of the best features of digital Kanban boards is being able to limit WIP. With a few clicks of a mouse, you can limit the number of tasks your team is allowed to undertake at once. You can even customize WIP limits further, assigning them to individual users or to everyone in a specific lane on your Kanban board.

This will help you better manage your tasks, resources, and capacity. That way, you can make informed decisions about whether it’s time to start a new project, rather than saying “yes” haphazardly.

If you’re still unsure how to set your WIP limits, here are four examples you can use for ideas:

  1. If setting limits per person: Restrict everyone to two open work items.
  2. If setting limits per team: Look at how many members are on the team and allow double the number of open work items. (i.e. 10 team members, a WIP limit of 20)
  3. If setting limit by work state: Set a WIP limit of three for members working in Design, four for people working in Implement, and a WIP limit of five for members working in Deliver.
  4. If setting limit by work item: Restrict WIP to one for big projects, two for smaller projects, three for maintenance-related assignments, and so on.

Keep in mind that these examples may not work optimally for your project. Remember the first guideline for designing a Kanban board: Every project and Kanban board are different, so make sure to play around with your WIP limits, tweaking them so they work best for you and your team.


Multitasking is one of the biggest enemies of progress for project managers. Having a large number of works-in-progress doesn’t only create stress for you and your team, it can also cause friction as team members are pressured to rush through multiple high-priority tasks at once. The good news is that this can be easily prevented with custom-tailored Kanban boards and measures to reduce teams from taking on too many projects in one sitting.

That way, you and your IT Operations team will be working at maximum efficiency.

Want to learn more about how you can design the right Kanban board for your IT Operations team? Download our eBook, “Using Kanban for IT Operations,” for more information on that and many other helpful Kanban-related tips. If you are interested in checking out Planview AgilePlace enterprise Kanbansign up for a 30 day trial today.

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Written by Maria Harper Manager, Demand Generation

Maria Harper is a demand generation specialist at Planview focusing on PPM solutions and French and German marketing. She is passionate about data-driven marketing and enjoys applying analytical insights to creative messaging in order maximize marketing potential. She graduated from the University of Missouri with bachelor degrees in German and Journalism.