What is Kanban Planning: How to Make Complex Projects Simple

It’s true for eating elephants, and it’s true for tackling big projects: The only way to get through it is one bite at a time. When you’re facing a big project, it can be difficult to know how to get started or how to prioritize all the various tasks involved. Kanban helps you visualize and break down large, complex projects into manageable, bite-sized tasks. Using a Kanban board can help you stay focused, making sure you’re doing the right things. Read to learn how Kanban planning can help you see the big picture while making sure all the little things get done.

Kanban Planning FAQs

To get started with Kanban planning, you’ll need to create a Kanban board that accurately reflects the way you’d like to plan your project or body of work. Whether that’s by week, month, quarter, team member, or otherwise, start by creating a Kanban board that shows this, with each of those units represented by a vertical lane.

What Can I Plan With Kanban?

You can plan virtually anything on a Kanban board - whether that’s your team’s work for the quarter, a new marketing campaign, a product release, a baby shower, or a home renovation. You can think of a Kanban board as a visual task board - a way to represent your tasks and manage them as they move from “to do” to “doing” to “done.”

Why Would I Use Kanban Planning Over a To-Do List?

There are several advantages to using Kanban planning over a simple to-do list or to-do list app.

When you’re planning a big, complicated project across multiple people or teams, a to-do list becomes an unwieldy, unmanageable beast. Using Kanban planning - especially within a digital Kanban tool like LeanKit - can help everyone share a common understanding of what needs to be done, and when. As a team, you can gather around a board, talk through which tasks need to get done, in what order, and by whom, and then get to work. You can use the same Kanban board to plan and manage your work, keeping everyone focused and in sync as a project or initiative progresses.

That makes sense for big projects across teams, but what about small, personal projects? Even in a seemingly simple, personal project - such as buying new rugs for your home or choosing a daycare for your dog - Kanban planning takes the cake over a simple to-do list.

Even small projects contain details, tasks, and minutiae that can easily fall through the cracks. With a Kanban board, you can keep all the project details in one place. So if you’re buying 5 different rugs for 5 different locations in your house, you can save size requirements, links to your favorite ones, and other important information in separate cards - one for each location. You can share your board with your spouse to easily show them what you’re thinking for each room. You can exchange comments about each rug in each card. Using Kanban to manage all of this can help you ensure that you consider all available information when making your decisions.

Regardless of the project or initiative you’re trying to manage, using a Kanban board can help you stay organized, and stay focused, so you can quickly identify the answer to: What was I doing again?

Do I Need to Create a Separate Kanban Planning Board?

A common question about Kanban planning is whether or not you need to create a different board for planning than you use for managing your workflow.

The answer is: It depends. There are benefits to having a separate Kanban planning board, especially if the body of work you’re trying to plan is particularly large or complex. If this is the case, you might consider creating a planning board, and then regularly moving tasks from that board into the backlog of your primary team board.

If you’re simply looking for a way to plan out small chunks of work in advance, you might decide to do your Kanban planning on the same board that you use to manage your workflow, such as your team or personal board. You can do this by adding a lane (or lanes) to the left of your current backlog section.

How Can I Use Kanban Planning to Be More Productive?

Without Kanban, we spend our days switching back and forth between “planning” mode and “doing” mode. This is cognitively taxing, and makes us less effective at both (you can learn more about the dangers of context switching here).

Without Kanban, we end up wasting a ton of mental energy just keeping track of everything that has to get done. It’s easy to get distracted and end up spending too much time on activities that don’t matter - and not even time making sure that the most important parts of our work get done. Kanban helps us record and store the ideas we have while planning - helping to make sure that they actually do happen.

Using Kanban to plan and manage your work will not only make you more productive, by helping to keep you focused, it can also improve your work quality - because when you’re able to really focus and dive into something, you’re more likely to do a good job.

Get Started

Ready to dive in? If you’re new to Kanban, we highly recommend reading our Kanban Roadmap, which contains helpful exercises that will help you create your first Kanban board. If you’re already using Kanban to manage your work, consider creating a planning board or adding planning lanes to your existing board to manage your next big project.

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