Implementing Kanban Boards as Part of the Lean Methodology
When looking at a methodology like Lean, there is philosophy and values that describe the methodology as a whole, and there are a number of tools that help with more practical issues.
One of the central tools that are used as part of the Lean methodology that can be particularly effective is Kanban, and more specifically Kanban boards.
What are Kanban boards?
Kanban boards are a visualization tool that deals with work that needs to be done within a workflow, which helps with flow optimization. A Kanban board is an interactive table where each column represents a step in the workflow, where the tasks start on the left and gradually progress through to the right until it is complete.
A physical implementation of a Kanban board is usually a whiteboard with the columns written permanently and the tasks written on sticky notes, so it’s easy to move from column to column, so the progress is visually clear and tangible. Most of the time, sticky notes of multiple colors are used, with each color signifying a different type of task. The most basic example of a Kanban board is a simple three-step workflow with the columns being ‘To do’, ‘Doing’ and ‘Done’. In such an implementation, often the number of tasks allowed in the ‘Doing’ section is limited (usually 3) which helps with prioritization, minimizes the number of tasks at a time (inventory), and helps with proper allocation of resources.
Additionally, besides physical whiteboards, an organization might also use software to make the boards virtual. This allows for larger teams to share the board more efficiently, and for workers or teams that are not at the same physical location to collaborate and coordinate their efforts. Most of the time, Kanban boards are more complex than the basic three-step example given above, and the specialized software allows for a higher level of complexity (without making things too messy), while keeping the visual effectiveness of the tool.
A Kanban board is a tool based on a very simple concept, which makes it both easy to understand, and easy to get started. Despite its simplicity, it can be difficult to maintain the board over time, which is where things break down. If you are just starting out, use the physical kanban board before moving to the electronic version, so that you really learn the methodology and discipline.
Benefits of using Kanban boards
Clear project visualization helps team members be more effective. As humans are creatures that favor visual stimuli, a Kanban boards makes all the project vital data instantly accessible to everyone, and a lot of information can be understood in a single glance. This means that everybody involved in a task can clearly see the context of their own work, and this helps people to strive towards goals that would be beneficial to the project as a whole (not just individual workers completing their own tasks). One of the most common questions the board answers is whether anyone is working on a given task right now, and who is assigned to that task.
Impediments and waste become easier to identify
When the whole process is visualized and the progress of each task can be clearly understood and visualized at any given moment, anything that is not on track is easy to identify. This allows the management and other team members to help out the individual who is behind, so that the project or workflow can move forward. Usually another team member can offload a task from another person who is behind, or can assist the individual with that task, to help them get unstuck. It drives a collaborative environment, where the customer is the focus.
When tasks are completed, there is an opportunity to reflect on how well the task was completed (speed and quality), and identify opportunities to improve the process for next time.
Communication is facilitated
As Kanban boards are very easy to understand and implement, they are an effective tool for bolstering the communication and collaboration in any team. Kanban boards present a lot of information in a very clear way, which allows information about the project to flow freely inside the organization. This eliminates a lot of the most tedious type of communication which allows team member to direct their communication efforts towards more meaningful issues. Kanban boards also free up a lot of time for the managers, because they don’t need to constantly ask for status updates.
Due to all the benefits of implementing Kanban boards listed above, they allow for the team to reach higher productivity with less waste, which is the main goal of the Lean methodology.
Have you used a kanban board within your organization, or do you have a personal kanban board for your work? Leave a comment below…
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