Kanban Best Practice
Kanban is about evolution, not revolution — which makes the term “Kanban best practice” a bit controversial. To truly practice Kanban is to recognize that there are no “best” practices regarding your process, only practices that have proven to be effective given current circumstances — those practices can (and should) evolve as conditions change.
There is no best board design. There is no best way to use card types, planned start or finish dates, queues, blockers, or any other element of your cards. To say that there is one single process that works for everyone would negate the very purpose of Kanban: which is to help you simplify, visualize, and optimize your process to deliver the most value to your customer.
However, it’s very possible to use LeanKit, a Kanban tool, and not actually practice Kanban — which limits the potential that LeanKit can have on how you work. So while we would never tell you that we have discovered the best practices for your process, we can tell you what works best for teams practicing Kanban in LeanKit. We’ll call those our Kanban best practices for LeanKit.
Kanban Best Practices for LeanKit
LeanKit was designed to allow you to do even more with Kanban. LeanKit is a cloud-based Kanban tool that allows you to collaborate with your team via Kanban boards no matter where you are. If you’re new to Kanban and its concepts, start by downloading our Kanban Roadmap to get a basic understanding of how to visualize your work and map your process. If you already practice Kanban, and are interested in using LeanKit to advance your Kanban practice, this post is for you.
In this post, you’ll learn how to use LeanKit to create a board that works for you. Using these Kanban best practices for LeanKit will provide the structure to help you establish your own Kanban practices — which will constantly evolve as you grow in your practice of Kanban.
LeanKit: Do More with Kanban
If you’re using a physical whiteboard to practice Kanban with your team, you’ve already experienced the power of visualizing your work — but you’re also probably frustrated by the limitations of a physical board. There’s a lot of manual effort involved to keep your board up to date and ensure that it’s accurately reflecting your evolving process.
LeanKit makes it easier to maximize the impact of Kanban. With LeanKit, you can:
- Edit your board layout with a few simple clicks — no manual sticky note repositioning required.
- Use different card types and custom icons to communicate valuable information visually.
- Add horizontal swimlanes for concurrent processes.
- See board metrics (like cycle time, lead time, and more) to help you learn how to improve.
- Impose WIP limits across your team, to enable better flow.
- See work in board or calendar view.
- Create a card by sending an email.
- Send and receive email notifications about board activity relevant to you.
- And much, much more.
Getting Started with LeanKit
If you haven’t already gone through our Kanban Roadmap exercises, we highly encourage you to start there. The 5-step guide will teach you the basics of practicing Kanban: how to get started with visualizing your work and mapping your process. This will make your experience using LeanKit much richer, and will give you the tools you need to own your process.
Once you have a basic understanding of how to visualize your work and map your process, you have everything you need to try out these Kanban best practices for LeanKit. If you already have a LeanKit account, get started by logging in. If not, sign up for a free 30-day trial to get started.
Step 1: Create Your Board
First, you’ll need to create your board. To do this, go to your Home page, then hit New Board > Default Template at the top of the screen.
When naming your board, think of who will be using it, and for what purpose. We recommend that boards are used by teams to manage all of the work in that team’s system. We generally don’t recommend using boards to manage individual projects (learn why here).
Add everyone who will be using this board to the board using these instructions.
Step 2: Customize Your Board Design
Now that you have a basic board, you’re ready to start editing it to mirror your team’s workflow. You identified your workflow (or process) during the Kanban Roadmap exercises. Remember this Kanban best practice: Resist the urge to redesign your process while you’re building your board. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to improve your board design later. Also, it’s important for your team’s development to make improvement decisions as a group because a change that you make to optimize your process might suboptimize the whole.
To edit your board layout, click the Gear icon and then Board Layout Editor. This is where you’ll always go to make changes to your board design: like adding, removing, or editing lanes; changing lane titles; and adding WIP limits and process policies to your board.
Kanban Best Practice: To Do, Doing, Done
As a team, gather around one computer (perhaps projected onto a larger screen, or shared through screen sharing for remote employees) to begin editing your board layout. Kanban best practice says to have some version of these basic lanes: To Do, Doing, and Done.
This board design allows you to move work from left to right, which is a Kanban best practice. To Do holds work that you haven’t started or committed to yet. Doing holds all work currently in process. Move work to Done when the value of that work has been delivered. If something is likely to come back out of Done and into Doing, it isn’t Done — using a shared definition of Done (documented as board policy) will become important when your team starts analyzing its board metrics. You can name these lanes however best suits your team, but Kanban best practice is to use that basic structure.
Kanban Best Practice: Vertical Lanes
Of course, your process is probably slightly more complex than this basic model. Perhaps you want your To Do section (also called a Backlog) to be organized by subteam, work type, or some other categorization.
For accurate reporting, make sure that you create these categorizations within your larger To Do lane, so that you can measure cycle time from when work is moved into Doing. To do this, click the “vertical split” icon to create vertical lanes within your To Do lane.
Kanban Best Practice: Designate a Default Drop Lane
In your To Do (or Backlog) section, be sure to designate a Default Drop lane, where all work will start. Designating a lane as the default drop lane will cause all cards created in an arbitrary lane to appear here. To designate a lane as a Default Drop lane, make sure you’re in the Board Layout Editor, then select the Gear icon in the lane you’d like to designate. Under the Policy/Description box, check the Default Drop Lane box, and click Save to save this setting.
Continue adding vertical lanes within your Doing and Done sections. Name the lanes as specifically as you can: For example, a marketing team might have Plan, Create, Edit, and Deploy within the Doing (or In Process) section of its board.
Kanban Best Practice: Horizontal Swimlanes
If your team has two concurrently occurring processes, it might make sense to use horizontal swimlanes to visualize your work on one board. This is especially useful if you have some team members who have work moving through both processes, so you can make sure that they aren’t overburdened.
Using the marketing team example from above, it might be that much of your team’s work follows the Plan, Create, Edit, and Deploy process — but some work follows a Research, Plan, Create, Test, Edit, Deploy, Measure process. In this case, you can create horizontal swimlanes to allow both processes to exist on one board.
To add a horizontal swimlane, click the “horizontal split” icon for each lane and name each lane appropriately.
Step 3: Put Work on the Board
Once you’ve created a board design that accurately reflects your existing process, you’re ready to start adding cards to your board. If you already have all your work on sticky notes, this will be easy. If you haven’t, go through the exercise in Step 2 of the Kanban Roadmap, then report back here.
Kanban Best Practice: Use Card Types
Start by organizing all your sticky notes by work type. This presents an opportunity to learn another Kanban best practice: Avoid organizing card types by the person responsible — organize instead by project, type of work or other process-based identifier. Using our same marketing team example, you could have the following card types: Campaigns, Customer Research, Content, Landing Pages, Marketing Operations, Website, Events.
Another Kanban best practice is to limit the number of card types you have. The purpose of Kanban is to help you visually communicate in a faster, more effective way. When you use more than 7-9 card types, the colors start to lose meaning, and it becomes harder for your brain to process the information.
Also, a significant number of card types might be an indicator that you’re trying to manage too many different types of work on one board. In that situation, it might be helpful to discuss how to break up into two or more functional teams, so that each team can have a board that works for them. You can use the Connections feature to make sure related work stays connected, so everyone stays on the same page.
To create/edit card types, click the Gear icon and then Board Settings > Card Types. Here, you can add, edit, and customize the colors for each of your card types.
Kanban Best Practice: Use Cards the Same Way
Now that you’ve identified your card types, it’s time to start adding work to the board. Discuss as a team the level of granularity you want to use in this initial round of card creation. A good definition to use: Every card should represent a piece of work that, when delivered, will add value to your user/customer. It will take your team some practice to define exactly what “size” of work each card will represent. Some types of work will inherently be “larger” than others — it’s up to your team to decide what works best.
Minimize unnecessary details during this process for the sake of speed — add enough to make the work identifiable, but don’t be exhaustive. It’s sufficient to start with Title, Card ID, and Card Type.
Have everyone add their work items onto the board and place them in the appropriate lanes.
Step 4: Start Using Your Board
Now, you’re ready to start using your board. Avoid making major changes to the board for at least a week or two, so you can identify patterns and discuss them as a team so that everyone can learn.
Remember this Kanban best practice: It’s very important to treat the board as a system. Focus on managing the flow of the team’s work through the system, rather than directing the work of each team member. Notice where work flows quickly, and more importantly — where work gets stuck. One Kanban best practice is to add queue lanes (representing wait states) between each step in your process, so you can accurately identify your bottlenecks.
The best way to start observing the flow of work is with routine meetings called daily standups and frequent retrospectives. Learn more about how to conduct productive standups and retrospectives here.
Step 5: Practice Continuous Improvement
Following these steps will help you create a basic, workable Kanban board, but that doesn’t mean you’re done. Remember, Kanban is all about evolution. There are many ways to use Kanban to continuously improve your flow. Start with these five steps. When your team is ready to advance its Kanban practice, we recommend these resources: