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How to Use Kanban for Productivity

Whether you’re working in a small to medium business or hustling in a large enterprise, we’re all just trying to make the most of our limited time and resources. But even if we know what we should do to stay productive, it’s often difficult to keep up. Especially when the work continues to pile up. When to-do lists become impractical and spreadsheets inefficient, it may be time to seek out a better option. In such cases, using a productivity and management framework such as Kanban can help. With Kanban, teams and individuals can maintain the highest level of productivity, all while minimizing loss.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to the use of Kanban for productivity. And help you gain a better perspective on how it can help you maximize the performance of yourself and your team.

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a groundbreaking workflow management method based on Lean principles. It is a powerful tool used primarily by software development teams and project managers to optimize workflow and deliver better results while minimizing efficiency. In fact, according to a study published in 2015, both Scrum and Kanban frameworks lead to the development of successful projects.

The word “Kanban” translates to “visual board” in Japanese, from where the framework originated. Toyota introduced it as a scheduling system as a part of its “just in time” (JIT) manufacturing system.

The initial version of Kanban was quite different from what we use today. However, the framework was recognized in the tech industry in the early 2000s and quickly transformed into what we use today.

Nowadays, Kanban can be used by anyone because it’s a popular and powerful method for defining tasks and objectives. It is most popular in Agile teams that are looking for ways to optimize workflow and enhance productivity.

Why Use Kanban for Productivity?

Kanban encourages continuous communication between the team members and visualization of tasks and work assignments. Let’s dive deeper into why Kanban is effective for enhancing productivity in various settings:

It’s Visual

Kanban uses visual boards with columns to represent stages of work. The visualization is achieved through the use of detailed Kanban boards, which allow each member of the team to track the progress of each work assignment or task.

Having a project management tool which provides a clear picture of the entire workflow, makes it easier to understand the current status of tasks, identify bottlenecks, and track progress. This transparency reduces confusion and keeps everyone on the same page.

Keeps Priorities Straight

One of the primary goals of the Kanban board is to optimize the workflow through the system and establish explicit policies that govern how work is handled. The Kanban board consists of three main columns – To-do, Work in progress, and Completed. A Backlog column to hint at what the team should focus on next.

A traditional Kanban board created from project data fields in Ganttic.
A traditional Kanban board created in Ganttic.

Since Kanban boards include prioritization mechanisms, this allows teams to clearly see which tasks are most important or time-sensitive. Having such clarity helps team members make informed decisions about where to focus their efforts.

Limits Work & Reduces Stress

Kanban is a good tool for improving productivity because it allows the team members to limit their WiP (Work in progress) and create a visual representation of the workflow and see what each team member is working on.

According to the Global Organization for Stress, over 80% of people report feeling stressed at work. The stress is primarily caused by heavy workloads and family-related responsibilities. Using Kanban could help you organize and optimize both your workflow and family responsibilities, and ultimately make you less stressed. 

Eliminating all inefficiencies within the project will help enhance the productivity of the whole team and open new opportunities for everyone.

Read on for some more ways to keep stress levels down with our infographic.

It’s Flexible

Kanban is designed to be flexible and responsive to changing priorities. Teams can easily adjust the order of tasks based on urgency or customer feedback. This adaptability is particularly useful in fast-paced environments where requirements can shift rapidly.

Kanban is also known for its flexibility and allows teams to easily adapt to changes and focus on improving their existing results.

Getting Started with Kanban Project Management

With all the benefits that Kanban brings, you might be tempted to dive into this project management tool straight away. Continue reading to learn how to get started with Kanban for productivity. As well as how to create your first Kanban boards.

Creating a Kanban Board’s Columns

To create the most basic Kanban board, one needs to determine the workflow stages. Those stages are directly related to the project or process that a team is working on. That said, a traditional Kanban board progress stages consist of the “Backlog”, “To-do”, “In progress”, “Testing”, and “Done.”

In Ganttic's drag and drop Kanban board, move columns from one to another.
In Ganttic’s drag and drop Kanban board, move columns from one to another. 

Depending on the needs of your project and team, your Kanban board may have more stages or consist only of the most basic stages. Whether that’s simply “To-do”, “In progress” and “Done,” or something more. Either way, each stage should be visualized as a column where different tasks and assignments go.

Defining your Work Items

The first Kanban boards were drawn on the wall or a whiteboard and work items were represented with sticky notes with the task being written on it. But now online Kanban boards are available which make this process more seamless for everyone on your team.

Work items are the projects and tasks that are in progress. On a Kanban, they will be represented as cards, even virtually.

Each card (work item) belongs to a certain stage. For example, if you are working on a content strategy for a new product or service, the card called “Content strategy” will be located in the In Progress column. As work progresses team members will move the cards across the board.

Setting Work-in-Progress Limits

The WiP limits can be set by determining the maximum number of tasks that can be in progress at each stage simultaneously.

That way, your team members won’t overload themselves. Additionally, they will be able to maintain a smooth flow of work. Many Kanban tools have a visual indicator next to the respective column which represents a work stage that allows users to set the limit.

A Kanban board can help you break down one large goal into several smaller tasks, then easily delegate them to your team and work more efficiently until all small tasks are completed and your ultimate goal is achieved. 

Tracking your Progress

By regularly updating the cards, and moving them across the board as you complete the work stage, you will be able to track your team’s progress. Setting visual indicators can also help with tracking tasks, in the case where a certain work item needs reworking or crossed the deadline.

Finally, regular stand-up meetings and flow metrics analysis will help you identify the ways to improve your workflow even more and minimize inefficiencies.

Tips for Using Kanban Effectively

The below tips will help you maximize your productivity with personal or office-wide Kanban boards.

Prioritize Your Work

The visual aspect of Kanban boards allows you to focus primarily on your tasks and move them from the To-do to the Completed stage. The cards you work on contain all the tasks you need to complete in a given timeframe.

The board will help you find the tasks that are a priority and help you collaborate with other team members on tasks you’re not sure you can complete on your own. It helps identify urgent and important work, while less urgent projects can be found in the Backlog column.

Kanban Pro Tip:

The sky’s the limit for the kind of details that will help you get priorities straight. Organize projects around budget size, those that have the best ROI, or billable vs. non-billable. You can also organize around team duties: whether a client has been communicated with, the type of features your Dev team is working on, or even by project manager.

In Ganttic, a Kanban board can be created from all  your data. Here it's organized by team lead, so they can see all the projects under their belt.
A Kanban board can be created from all kinds of data. Here it’s organized by team lead, so each person can see all the projects under their belt.

In Ganttic, add project data fields which will help prioritize the status of your workflow and focus on getting work completed in the right order. These can be further color coded for instant clarity and a visual appeal.

Track Progress and Milestones

As you delegate tasks to team members, make sure to assign deadlines to each task. You can use due dates or target completion dates. This adds a time dimension to your Kanban board, indicating when tasks need to be completed.

Implement daily standup meetings where the team discusses the progress of tasks and any potential blockers. This communication helps in identifying issues early and making necessary adjustments to keep tasks on track to meet their respective deadlines.

Then once tasks are completed and deadlines are met, celebrate your milestones! Acknowledging achievements boosts team morale and motivation, encouraging everyone to continue working efficiently toward the ultimate goal.

Kanban Pro Tip:

Different teams have different priorities. So each team or even individual may want to use their own Kanban board. However, it’s nice to also keep a master board for all ongoing projects that can be shared with stakeholders and project portfolio managers.

Include the Right Details

A Kanban board is a highly effective tool for visualizing your tasks and WiP. It allows you to map the work stages from the beginning to the end and set work items.

Visualizing all tasks you need to complete in a day, week, month or sprint gives you a better idea of the scope of work and which tasks should be prioritized over the others. A Kanban board can also help your team avoid missing any important details for each task, which can help you complete the objectives faster and with less or no error.

In Ganttic's project management tool, you can create a Kanban board from your project data fields. A quick glance can tell you what's been done and what you still need to tackle.
In Ganttic’s project management tool a quick glance at the board can tell you what’s been done and what you still need to tackle.

If you need another POV, sometimes it helps to change focus. Being able to flip between Kanban and Gantt for example lets you see projects from every angle.

Focus on Workload

Tools with built-in Kanban boards allow you to limit WiP to avoid overwhelming amounts of work and burnout. Strong focus on the flow of work can help you identify potential bottlenecks in the product development and address them before they affect the performance of your team.

To prevent overload and maintain focus, limit the number of tasks that can be in progress at any given time. This constraint ensures that team members are not overwhelmed and can give their full attention to a limited number of tasks, improving the chances of meeting deadlines.

Kanban Pro Tip:

Ganttic has built-in resource utilization tracking, ensuring that everyone has the right workload for each project phase. Read more tips on getting utilization right.

Continuously Improve

As you’re able to identify potential issues that hold you or your team back, you will also be able to take the right steps to address them. With every new project or sprint, you will be able to identify your most challenging and time-consuming tasks and organize them in a way that will make you more productive in the future.

Identifying all the issues, broken deadlines and mistakes you made in the previous sprint or project will allow you to make informed decisions and continuously improve your organization and performance.

Kanban Pro Tip:

Many online project management tools with Kanban also have a reporting option. This can give you a quick rundown of mistakes and missed milestones, helping you improve along the way.

Better Project Productivity with Kanban!

Kanban has proven itself to be a powerful project management framework that can be used in different industries and for varying purposes. It offers numerous benefits, such as promoting transparency by providing a clear overview of tasks, deadlines, and progress. Kanban also enhances team collaboration and communication, enabling better coordination and reducing bottlenecks. It helps prioritize work by visualizing task flow and identifying high-value activities.

Ganttic is an online project management software where you can see any of your ongoing projects arranged as a List, Gantt, or Kanban board. The free version can be used for small teams with less that 10 resources, but with unlimited projects, users, and Kanban boards. Try it now and start increasing productivity with our free Kanban tool.

Start managing with Kanban today!