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Making the Switch: 4 Benefits of Kanban Project Management

Kanban Project Management

Kanban project management has gained a lot of popularity over the past few years, and for good reason. Project managers thriving in today’s fast-paced professional environment have to communicate with multiple teams from different geographical locations, track their progress, and ensure that processes are moving smoothly through their workflows. To-do lists and spreadsheets don’t cut it for large-scale projects like these. You need a project management software that lets you communicate and collaborate with teams the moment there’s a change of plans. That’s where Kanban comes in.

In this post, we’re going to look at four advantages Kanban project management has over to-do lists and spreadsheets. But first, a quick history lesson on Kanban.

What Is Kanban, Exactly?

Kanban got its start in Japan in the 1940s as a workflow management technique used by Toyota to optimize efficiency. This was before the days of project management software, so Kanban boards consisted of index cards that represented specific tasks and a board that used columns to represent different stages of the workflow. As teams completed a task, the card was moved to the appropriate column on the board to represent the status of that task.

For example, a basic physical Kanban board might be divided into three columns: to do, doing, and done. When a team begins a task, they take the card assigned to that task and move it from the to-do column to the doing column. And once they finish the assignment, that card is moved from doing to done. The visual nature of Kanban makes it easier for teams and managers to keep track of their assignments and their progress – especially when the team’s workflow has several steps that involve multiple team members or stakeholders. When someone wants to see the status of a task, all they have to do is look at the board and see which column the card is in.

These days, Kanban is a bit more advanced. While Kanban still functions as a visual workflow management tool, just like it did in the 1940s, it has now become an integral part of many project management software solutions. Digital Kanban boards are capable of helping organizations manage comprehensive projects involving multiple teams. For managers that are still using list-based project management techniques, Kanban offers an added level of convenience and efficiency. That’s because Kanban is a visual tool, and most people process visual information easier than text. If you’re tracking the workflow of multiple teams within your organization, visualization makes it easier. And that can lead to you making fewer miscalculations when managing capacity and resources.

In other words, Kanban project management can save your organization time and money. And if that’s not reason enough to make the switch, here are some other benefits that come with making Kanban your go-to project management software solution.

1. Kanban Increases Collaboration

When you’ve got multiple teams working on a single project, you want to make sure everyone is on the same page. Projects tend to run more smoothly when team priorities and goals are aligned and everyone is working toward the same objective. You may be thinking that achieving this level of harmony is easier said than done, but it’s actually not that hard when your Kanban board is used as the single source of truth. That’s because an effective Kanban board comes with its own built-in collaboration software for boosting communication and workflow visibility. Teams can use Kanban to gain valuable insights into the assignments, including:

  • Deadlines
  • Important background information
  • Relevant documentation
  • Priority levels, project status, and tasks involved in completing work

Everyone has access to the same information, minimizing discrepancies. Not only does this make it easier to determine whether team goals and objectives stay aligned throughout the project, it also lets you track the progress of tasks in your workflow without disrupting coworkers. Additionally, your Kanban project management solution should also come with a built-in communication feature that allows you to ask questions and leave comments on task cards. This makes it easier to keep everyone in the loop when there are changes, without having to disrupt productivity by calling meetings every time you need a status update or brief your relevant teams on any changes in the project.

2. Kanban Promotes Efficiency

Like we mentioned earlier, the visual nature of Kanban makes planning and work management easier. Instead of reading an extensive spreadsheet on the status of your project, you get a visual representation of your progress that lets you see:

  • Projects currently being worked on by teams
  • All of the work that is waiting in the backlog
  • Which work teams have completed
  • The status of projects in relation to their due dates

Having the ability to visualize your workflow boosts efficiency by making it easier for you to identify important information. But another advantage of this approach is its ability to optimize flow, so that cards are moving through the workflow quickly and steadily. That’s because Kanban project management makes it easier for managers to identify bottlenecks and stoppages that contribute to bigger delays. You can see exactly where a project has stopped and who’s working on that card. From there, you can reach out to the teams to understand what’s causing the setbacks, and then come up with a strategy that addresses the issue causing the delays.

Sometimes, bottlenecks are caused by teams having too much work in process (WIP). In other words, teams are working on multiple tasks at once, rather than finishing a task before starting new work. Think of assignments as cars and the workflow as a highway, and a high amount of WIP as rush-hour traffic: During rush hour, there are too many cars on the road, so your travel time is increased. Similarly, when you have too much WIP, there are too many tasks in the workflow. This leads to congestion, increasing the time it takes for cards to move through the different stages of the workflow.

Kanban makes it easier to limit the number of cards in process, so you can avoid congestion in your workflow and ensure that everyone is completing their work on time. By letting you visualize your workflow, Kanban makes it easy to identify teams that are working on too many projects. From there, you can set WIP limits to ensure that work is being completed efficiently.

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3. Kanban Encourages Autonomy and Accountability

Kanban is unique in that it’s able to work with a variety of work management approaches. It can be used alongside traditional project management software like Gantt charts, or you can use it with milestone-driven planning through Lean and Agile.

If your organization is planning to adopt a Lean or Agile approach (or if they’re in the process of adopting one already), you may already understand the importance of team autonomy. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, you can learn more about it here. To summarize, Agile and Lean approaches place value in the input that teams have and support workers in having more autonomy over their day-to-day operations, with minimal interruptions from executive leadership.

Kanban collaboration software allows for this level of autonomy. Kanban boards act as a shared, collaborative workspace that lets management track progress without having to micromanage their team members. What’s more, the visibility that comes with Kanban project management means that there’s an added layer of accountability. We know who’s working on what, which often means that people take more ownership in their work.

4. Kanban Promotes Skill-Building

Another benefit that comes with workflow visibility is having the ability to identify areas of improvement. Because Kanban makes it easier to locate bottlenecks and stoppages, it’s easier to find the root of your problems. Perhaps you have a team member who needs additional training or maybe you miscalculated team capacity when planning your projects. With Kanban, you don’t have to play the guessing game when it’s time to identify the cause of friction. You can see where projects are delayed, and since you have access to helpful Kanban metrics like cumulative flow, burndown charts, and lead and cycle time, you can get a better idea of how teams work and where you can help them improve.

Putting It All Together

Kanban has been instrumental in boosting productivity for organizations working in industries like manufacturing, engineering, marketing, and software development­­––to name a few. Regardless of what field your organization is working in, Kanban can help break down communication barriers and make sure that everyone involved in your projects is working towards the same goals and objectives.

Want to learn more about Kanban? Check out our article on why you should start using Kanban project management. If you’re interested in seeing how Kanban can help your organization, visit the Planview website to learn how our collaboration software solution has helped top organizations around the world with planning, executing, and completing their projects.

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Zach McDowell
Written By

Zach is a senior product manager for Planview PPM Pro and Planview Projectplace. He has managed teams across three continents at Planview and largely focuses on driving innovation for mid-market project management and PPM. He led one of the largest releases in Projectplace’s 20-year history and continues to grow and support its global user base.