Kanban Software: What You Need to Know

Kanban software is designed to provide better visualization of work and more flexibility for ongoing process improvement than classical project management and work tracking software. A good kanban software system not only improves team collaboration and communication but also automatically generates metrics and reports that give insight into the progress, pace, and predictability of your work processes.

Kanban board software for product development teams - LeanKit

Kanban software presents work items as cards on a virtual whiteboard.

Unlike Agile project management software — which is usually designed around some variant of a process-opinionated methodology, such as Scrum — kanban software gives you the freedom to map your own process. As a result, teams gain a better understanding of their work and the stages or hand-offs that need to happen for work to progress from “to do” to “done.”

Why Use Kanban Software?

Traditionally, teams practicing Kanban have used tools such as whiteboards, sticky notes, and markers to demonstrate workflows, project status, and task ownership. Teams often hold a daily standup meeting around the physical whiteboard to assess priorities and discuss any roadblocks or bottlenecks that may be delaying progress.

Teams that use kanban board software to help them manage work have definite advantages over those that only use sticky notes and whiteboards. With kanban tools, teams can:

  • Increase project visibility across multiple sites
  • Encourage real-time collaboration and communication
  • Automatically collect data for later analysis
  • Easily evolve and improve your team’s processes

Today, as more teams work remotely, the need for online kanban software has increased. More organizations are outsourcing their work, so it’s not uncommon for a business team located in the U.S. to work closely with a development team in a different country. Similarly, companies hiring contractors, freelancers, and part-time associates who may work from home still need a way to collaborate and maintain an open line of communication among team members.

Because the basic idea of kanban software is much the same as a physical kanban board, team members can adopt kanban board software and immediately see how easy it is to create and assign tasks, visualize work and workflow, and identify and experiment with opportunities for improvement.

Why not use the “kanban board” in my current work tracking software?

Typical work management systems that allow you to configure your workflow do so in a very upfront and static way. At the beginning of a project, the team defines their process steps and work item definitions and attributes, but they’re difficult to change after the project has started. This is contrary to how real teams actually work. Real teams don’t adopt a prescribed, wholesale process in a single day; instead, they incrementally adopt practices as their process evolves.

Dedicated kanban software is designed from the ground up to handle this problem. A good Kanban software system allows you to facilitate evolutionary process improvement and handle changes to the work and workflow gracefully, throughout the life of the project.

Kanban software metrics and analytics - LeanKit

Kanban software automatically generates metrics and reports. (Shown: LeanKit’s Efficiency Diagram)

How to Choose the Best Kanban Software for Your Team

To find the best kanban board software for your team or organization, first assess the current and future needs of your business. Then, look for a kanban tool that best meets those needs.

A good rule of thumb for enterprise teams is to consider a virtual kanban tool with scalability and security features for your pilot program. When it’s time to expand, you won’t need to switch tools, which can be very costly and disruptive.

Ease of use and flexibility are also important considerations. If a tool is too difficult to use or not flexible enough to model your team’s real work processes, adopting the new tool can be tough. If your kanban tool can’t integrate with your existing systems, then duplicate data entry may be required. It’s important to select a tool that’s flexible and powerful enough to meet your own needs.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing a kanban software tool:

  • How many people will be using the software for the pilot?
  • How many people do we plan to have on the system after a full roll-out?
  • Will kanban software be the only tool we use, or will it need to be integrated with existing systems? (e.g., Microsoft Project or Team Foundation Server, Oracle Primavera, etc.)
  • Do we need software that helps us track multiple projects at once?
  • Do we need reporting tools built in to help us analyze our processes and track our progress?

And here’s a basic checklist for good kanban software:

  • Built-in work-in-process (WIP) limits
  • The ability to assign work to multiple team members
  • Flexibility and scalability in board design
  • Flexibility in card customization
  • Easy-to-use collaboration features
  • Companion mobile applications
  • The ability to support and coordinate multiple boards and multiple teams
  • The ability to integrate with and share data with existing enterprise software systems
  • Metrics and reports for analyzing the flow of work

One of the biggest headaches for managers looking for productivity software solutions is finding one that can be integrated with existing enterprise software (e.g., project management software, social collaboration software, and developer tools). When choosing a kanban software system, be sure to pick one that will fit well into your existing ecosystem and be able to support your current and future needs.

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