Kanban is an intuitive way of organizing your work that helps you get more done, faster. Once you learn the basic concepts of Kanban, you might realize that you’ve unintentionally used Kanban to manage a process in your own life or work. If you’ve ever used sticky notes to denote your “to dos” and moved them to “done” once they were finished, you’ve practiced a basic form of Kanban. Kanban is an immensely valuable tool for managing personal work, as well as work across a team or organization. Read to learn the benefits of using a Kanban system from these two Kanban examples.
Before we discuss Kanban examples, let’s review the basic elements of Kanban:
- Work items are represented by cards (you can think of them as sticky notes)
- Process steps are represented by vertical lanes (usually representing some version of To Do, Doing, and Done) on a Kanban board
- A Kanban board usually represents an individual, team, or organizational process from beginning to end
- Cards on Kanban boards move from left to right with the Done lane typically being the furthest right
- The first (furthest left) lane typically represents the backlog - this is where new requests go before they are prioritized by the individual/team/organization
If you’re looking to try Kanban with your team, we highly encourage you to read the Kanban Roadmap, which contains five actionable steps to help you get started. After completing the exercises in the roadmap, you’ll have a Kanban board to start using and experimenting with! Once you begin using your board, you’ll likely to encounter these two Kanban examples:
Scenario #1: Giving a Project Manager the Visibility She Needs
Say you’re a project manager, responsible for managing the work of a team of 10 software developers. You spend a vast majority of your time moving between the desks of your team members asking for status updates, or sending Slack messages to remote employees to gather their status information. You’ve tried having everyone send you a daily report at the end of the day, but that still requires you to consolidate information that may or may not still be accurate - and often, team members would leave for the day without sending their report.
You want a way to see where everything is, all at once - and ideally, your team members would be able to update the project status themselves, so you can spend more time adding value to the projects.
You decide to try using a Kanban board to manage the work. To get started, you set aside a few hours to complete the exercises in the Kanban Roadmap. By the end of your session, you have a basic process map (i.e. the bones of your Kanban board) and you’ve practiced using your board for a few sample pieces of work. As a team, you’ve determined that your process looks like this:
Backlog - Up Next - Gather Requirements - Design - Coding - Testing - Deploy - Done
You create a LeanKit board that reflects your process. Next, you begin adding cards to your board, each representing a piece of work that is either in progress or coming up soon. You place the cards in their respective lanes and ask team members to assign themselves to all cards they are currently working on. In LeanKit, assigning yourself to a card means that your picture will appear on the face of the card, making it easy to see the work for which you’re responsible.
After your team has left for the day, you sit alone with your team’s new Kanban board. You notice a few areas for improvement, such as:
- There seems to be a build-up of work in the testing lane. You decide to ask the team why they think that’s the case tomorrow.
- There is one person assigned to 7 cards, while most people only have 2-3 cards assigned to them. You decide to talk to the team tomorrow to determine how to relieve this one person of their workload.
Then it hits you: You finally have the visibility you need to add real value to the team! You no longer have to spend your time hunting down team members for status information - instead, you can spend your time helping them deliver work faster.
Scenario #2: Using a Kanban Board to Delegate Work Across a Team
For this example, let’s imagine that you are the Director of Content Marketing at a quickly growing tech startup. You manage a team of five people - three content writers, one content strategist who also manages video creation/editing, and a graphic designer who handles all other visual media.
Your team works quickly to create and release high-quality content - producing 2-3 high-quality blog posts, web pages, or infographics in a week. As the team’s manager, it can be difficult to stay on top of what work is in progress, and ensure that the work being done is aligned with one of your high-level goals. Your team often gets confused about who is working on what - so you often end up with duplicate effort. You try to communicate the specific requirements for each piece to your team, but because your team works so quickly, work often has to be redone because it fails to meet its requirements.
As a team, you want to be more intentional with the pieces you create, tying each piece to a specific organizational goal. You want to foster a more collaborative work environment, with more effective communication. You want to feel more aligned in your efforts, and waste less time stepping on each other’s toes.
You decide to begin using a Kanban board to manage all content creation. You design your board as a team, and then you, the director, create cards for each piece of content needed for the next month. Each card includes the topic, any requirements for the piece, as well as the specific goal for each piece. You place these cards in the backlog.
As a team, you discuss your team’s policies for using the board. You decide that:
- The team is collectively responsible for all work on the board.
- Team members are responsible for assigning themselves to cards, unless you (the director) wants to assign a piece specifically to a specific person.
- Team members should only be assigned to 2 active cards at a time.
- Everything being worked on should be visible on the board.
After two weeks, you realize that it’s been two weeks since you last had a duplicate effort incident, or someone on your team had to redo a piece. Simply seeing all current work in a shared, collaborative space has allowed your team to work together more efficiently and effectively.
You’ve managed to go from creating 2-3 pieces of content a week to 4-5, while maintaining an exceptionally high caliber of writing and design. The content your team has not only been high-quality, but goal-oriented: Created to meet a specific need in your overall content strategy.
Ready to get started with Kanban?
Using Kanban to manage work can help individuals, teams, and entire companies communicate and collaborate more effectively. It can give managers visibility into project status and who’s working on what, while providing everyone with a helpful, intuitive tool for managing work.
Get more Kanban examples and learn about Kanban for project management in our Learning Center.