What is an Online Kanban Board?
An online Kanban board is a tool that helps you visualize your work and workflow, as well as optimize the way work gets done. The name comes from the Japanese word Kanban, meaning “visual signal” or “card,” and also references the process improvement approach known as the Kanban Method.
How an Online Kanban Board Works
Like a physical Kanban board, a kanban tool uses a series of vertical and horizontal lanes to represent your workflow or process (i.e., the steps that your work takes to advance from start to finish). Kanban cards, representing your tasks and work items, are moved through the lanes to reflect progress, using drag-and-drop functionality. Cards also have visual icons to communicate key details like priority, ownership, issues, or due date. The type of work can be represented using card color, and a host of details can be included in other card fields.
As a result, every team member or stakeholder — whether they’re onsite or distributed around the world — gets an at-a-glance, shared understanding of the status of their work, including who’s working on what and where there are impediments.
Benefits of Using an Online Kanban Board
An online Kanban board makes it easier for teams of all sizes to effectively communicate on what work needs to be done and when. It also gives you the tools to measure, analyze, and continuously improve your process.
A kanban tool is designed to help you:
Visualize your work
By creating a visual model of your work and workflow, you can observe the flow of work as it moves through your online Kanban board. This shared “picture” of work provides insight into work status and minimizes the time spent tracking down progress reports or sitting in status update meetings. Team members and stakeholders are able to quickly communicate high-value information in a way that is frictionless and transparent.
Limit your work in process
By limiting how much unfinished work is in process, you can reduce the time it takes an item to travel through the steps you’ve identified in your online Kanban board. You can also avoid problems caused by task switching and reduce the need to constantly re-prioritize items.
Focus on the flow of your work
By setting up work-in-process limits and developing team-driven policies, you can optimize your online Kanban board to improve the smooth flow of work, collect metrics to analyze flow, and even get leading indicators of future problems. When blockers, bottlenecks, or queues arise, you can easily identify when and where to target resolution.
Support a culture of continuous improvement
Once you start using an online Kanban board, it becomes the cornerstone for a culture of continuous improvement. Teams measure their effectiveness by tracking flow, quality, throughput, lead times, and more. Experiments and analysis can change the system to improve the team’s overall effectiveness. Through the analysis of flow, throughput, and lead times, teams can determine ways to streamline or modify their processes, remove waste, and continuously improve day-to-day operations.
Increase your efficiency
With online Kanban boards, you can plan and track a multitude of work items and steps within and across a variety of teams. By making work more visible, teams are able to effectively indicate work hand-offs and support consistent delivery. When work is re-prioritized to ensure that the focus is on delivering high value, it is visually communicated in the online Kanban board so individuals don’t have to guess where to focus their effort. As you remove waste associated with miscommunication or misunderstandings, productivity goes up and efficiency is improved.
Implement continuous delivery
An online Kanban board operates as a pull system that “pulls” work into process as capacity allows. In contrast to a push system – where work is “pushed” into process without regard to capacity – pull systems contribute to continuous delivery. By delivering smaller portions of a project continuously, without pre-determined time boxes, your team delivers incremental customer value more often and has more opportunity to synchronize future effort with the most recent business requirements.
Achieve Lean process improvement
Teams can begin to understand possible areas for improvement by mapping existing processes in an online Kanban board, managing the flow of work items within the process, and evaluating the effectiveness of the process. Through the analysis of flow, throughput, and lead times, teams can determine ways to streamline or modify their processes, remove waste, and continuously improve day-to-day operations.
How to Choose Software for Online Kanban Boards
To find the right software for online Kanban boards, first assess the current and future needs of your business. Ease of use and flexibility are important considerations for any team. For example, if a tool is too difficult to use or not flexible enough to model your team’s real work processes, adopting the new software can be tough. Also, 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 needs.
For enterprise teams and organizations, a good rule of thumb for your pilot program is to select online Kanban software that has robust flexibility, scalability, and security features. When it’s time to expand, you won’t need to switch tools, which can be costly and disruptive.
Answering these questions can help you choose an online Kanban 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 rollout?
- Will online 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, JIRA, GitHub, 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
- A range of pre-built board templates
- 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
The Bottom Line
An online Kanban board is designed to help you visualize your work and optimize how work gets done. When choosing Kanban software, be sure to pick a tool that will fit well into your existing ecosystem and be able to support your current and future needs.