What is the Kanban methodology? (Plus benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 10 November 2022

Published 29 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Businesses are constantly looking for ways to increase their growth rate and boost productivity levels. Using the Kanban methodology can allow businesses to define, manage and improve workflows and increase their workplace productivity. Understanding more about the Kanban approach and how to use it can help you integrate it in your management and reap its benefits. In this article, we provide an overview of the Kanban system, detail its use and benefits and explain how to create and manage your own Kanban system.

What is the Kanban methodology?

Kanban methodology is a workflow management framework that helps businesses design, manage and improve flow systems. The Kanban model helps you visualise your workflows so you can drive evolutionary business change. The term ‘Kanban' refers to visual signalling mechanisms used to control works in progress. Instead of organising work into distinct time boxes, this methodology allows work to flow continuously through the management system. The work monitored in the system is represented on a visual Kanban board. This means that teams can see the state of every project element or piece of work in real time.

Related: Guide to workflow: Definition, components, processes and uses

When to use the Kanban methodology

This methodology can apply to any knowledge work setting. Although originating in the manufacturing sector, businesses now often use the Kanban method to implement Agile software developments. It can help businesses immediately assign work for quick processing or handle requests that arrive unpredictably. Since this methodology helps to overcome the human tendency to resist change, many businesses use it when implementing change management plans.

Kanban is also extremely useful in project management, as it provides project teams with a holistic view of their various tasks and resources. It can guide them on how to collaborate work efforts while working on different projects. Teams can communicate the status of various work items through the Kanban board and keep other project members up to date on project advancements or changes. The model also produces real-time data that allows project managers to plan with increased confidence and make more informed decisions.

Related: Project management system: Definition and advantages

Benefits of the Kanban methodology

There are several advantages of using Kanban for knowledge work operations. Overall, the Kanban approach can help you achieve business goals and increase business growth. Some advantages of this methodology include:

Increased workflow visibility

The primary function of the Kanban system is to help you visualise every piece of work in your management system. Increased task visibility leads to greater transparency throughout the whole production process and gives team members access to real-time, self-search information. The Kanban board serves as a central hub for all your information and guarantees that all team members are working in agreement.

Better predictability

A Kanban board collects information based on your work input and uses it to produce in-depth flow metrics and insights. The more you increase your workflows, the more data the board generates. These metrics help you understand more about your work processes and identify any potential areas for improvement. For instance, you can use this methodology to determine how long each task takes in your workflow system so you can make accurate predictions on project timelines and deadlines in the future. These business metrics can allow you to make more data-informed decisions and eliminate various risk factors when forecasting.

Improved delivery speed

Kanban provides a clear view of your workflow system and related business metrics. The ability to continuously monitor your management system means you can make informed decisions even when under pressure. If you notice certain bottlenecks in your production process or gaps between processes, you can use this insight to develop quick, actionable solutions. Since team members have immediate access to information, they can adapt their work to incorporate any changes and contribute to faster delivery rates.

Remote access

Kanban software now makes it possible to distribute workflow information all over the world. Team members can gain access to all information from any device and while on the move, therefore demonstrating the agility of the Kanban system. Many businesses create Kanban boards in cloud servers so team members can make their own changes and update management on their work status instantly.

Controlled dependencies

The Kanban system allows you to map and manage various project dependencies. Understanding how each project task depends on others means you can make informed decisions about the project schedule and timeline. This is because project dependencies are likely to influence the structure and flow of tasks in your management system. Managing dependencies using the Kanban model reduces the risk of static production and helps teams coordinate their responsibilities.

Increased customer focus

Kanban systems optimise the amount of value you offer customers as it allows you to prioritise the production of goods that are in demand. It does this by extracting market information from historical data and directing businesses on where to allocate their resources. With increased customer focus comes increased revenue and profitability.

How to create and manage a Kanban system

Implementing a Kanban system requires flexibility, as it always strives for continuous improvement. Its process involves following and mastering six core practices. Here are the six steps necessary to create and manage a Kanban system:

1. Visualise the workflow

Create a Kanban board with cards and columns so you can visualise your workflows. Make sure that each column on your Kanban board represents a specific step in your workflow and that each card represents a task or work item. Before creating your columns, take some time to determine the necessary steps to turn a work item request into a deliverable product.

Kanban boards are usually bookended with a ‘to do' column and a ‘completed' column with various project stages in-between. This structure allows you to track the progress of various work items and spot any bottlenecks before they cause problems in your production. Remember that no single Kanban board is likely to look the same, as project steps differ between businesses and varying activities.

2. Limit work in progress (WIP)

It's important to always limit the number of work items in progress to a consistently manageable number. Work in progress (WIP) limits help you determine when to start on new items and prevent you from overstretching your resources. Set a maximum of items per stage to ensure that work items only progress onto the next step when there's available production capacity. This allows you to reduce lead times, prevent multi-tasking and deliver products more frequently.

3. Manage workflow

Managing the workflows of your Kanban board can help you actively mitigate project risk and ensure timely product delivery. It can help you identify any bottlenecks or challenges so you can find ways to address them immediately. This practice paves the way for a smooth, healthy workflow that maximises productivity and output.

4. Communicate your process policies

Make sure that you clearly define and publish your management process policies. Some policies to include are capacity allocation, the definition of ‘complete' and WIP limits. Doing so ensures that all team members are aware of the workflow standards and are committed to improving them. It also allows team members to take an active role in decision-making processes without detriment to the business. Ensure that these workflow management principles are always visible, and stipulate that they're subject to change with continuous monitoring.

5. Implement feedback loops

Feedback loops are essential for businesses that want to continuously improve their workflows and become more agile. They ensure that businesses adequately respond to changes quickly and communicate these changes throughout the business. Be sure to gather feedback from employees working on the ground, as these individuals are likely to have a better understanding of how workflows operate. The aim of feedback loops is to identify ways to increase the delivery pace and boost available capacity.

Related: The 6 Agile methodology steps for project management

6. Improve collaboratively

The last practice necessary for the successful implementation of the Kanban model is collaboration. Use feedback, business metrics and scientifically-proven methods to drive change in the business and create sustainable solutions. Be sure to communicate any changes to team members first so that the company can work together on new implementations. Use team meetings to discuss new changes, analyse the success of changes based on data and request feedback to continue new company successes. Collaborative organisation and discussion can help make all team members feel valued and committed to company-wide change.


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