What is a Kanban board? (Plus how to create one in Jira)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 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.

The Kanban board originates from Kanban, a scheduling system designed to improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process and create transparency in the work process. Kanban boards have become a valuable tool across industries, with digital boards for collaborations and old-fashioned whiteboards for handwritten notes. Implementing the Kanban board can help managers improve work processes and their team's efficiency. In this post, we explain what is a Kanban board, the Kanban method, its general practises and how to create Kanban boards using Jira.

What is a Kanban board?

To answer 'What is a Kanban board?', it's a work management tool used by individuals and organisations to manage work processes. It originates from the Japanese word Kanban, meaning visual sign or signboard. Toyota used this method first in its manufacturing process during the 1950s. Kanban is a lean practise or method used to manage workflow and improve the efficiency of a workforce. The Kanban board ensures efficiency in the work process by depicting workflows visually.

The Kanban board uses cards to represent work items and columns to represent each stage of the work process. The cards move from the left to the right column to show how the work progresses. It also coordinates the team performing the work. The board is divisible into horizontal swim lanes that represent roles and employees required to complete them. There are simple and complex boards. Simple boards have columns like 'waiting', 'in progress' and 'done', while complex boards may have several sub-divisions under each action.

Related: What are project management tools (with 15 examples)

What is the Kanban method?

The Kanban method follows a principle, which involves:

  • Using pre-existing ideas: It's unnecessary to discard what you already know. Instead, build on existing concepts and refine them as you progress.

  • Flexibility and growth-oriented: The organisation or team is aware of the importance of continuous improvement that involves adopting new ideas that promote growth.

  • Respect current processes: Understand that the organisation's current procedure, values, individual roles and responsibilities are paramount to their progress.

Related: Different types of project management methodologies

The Kanban practices

The following are the general practices of the Kanban method:

Improved work process

You can better manage your work process when you have a clear idea of what it entails and its risk. This is where a Kanban board is useful as it can help to break down the work. It can give you a visual understanding of the process involved and can help to better understand the process from start to finish.

Active participation

When every member of the organisation actively participates in decision-making at all levels, it leads to significant growth. Employees can have a sense of duty and make decisions without input or supervision. This attitude encourages growth since anyone can see an area for improvement and contribute their idea.

Limited 'work in progress'

A lot of 'work in progress' means an organisation isn't performing at its best. The implementation of the Kanban system limits 'work in progress'. By setting 'work in progress' limits, teams only work on what they can. This can help teams to manage their workflows better.

Straightforward policies

Some policies, such as technical infrastructure, can be challenging to understand by non-technical personnel. It can become an issue when trying to communicate important information. When every policy across the organisation is straightforward, communication can become more effective.

Workflow monitoring

By continuously monitoring and reporting workflow, you can track how quickly teams complete work. It also documents the effectiveness of each stage. A fast and effective workflow means systems can create value quickly, thereby minimising risk and opportunity cost.

Managed feedback

You can get the most out of a service or production system with a controlled feedback system. When there are ongoing communications between the teams, it's easy to compare expected outcomes with actual outcomes. In addition, necessary adjustments to operational policies are easier to make when there's a managed feedback loop. The practices used by Kanban for feedback include:

  • stand up meeting

  • service delivery review

  • operation review

  • risk review

Adaptivity

When an organisation is adaptive, it can cope with a complex environment. The Kanban method builds on and encourages adaptivity. It can be challenging to predict the future of any process but adaptivity prepares an organisation for this.

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

How to create a Kanban board in Jira Software

You can create a Kanban board to manage organisation workflow in Jira Software. To follow these steps, create a Jira Software account and a Jira Software project and then the following:

1. Create a board

To begin creating a Kanban board, perform the following steps:

  1. Click on the search icon, then 'View all boards'.

  2. Click on 'Create board.'

  3. Select board type 'Kanban'.

  4. Select a new project template or add your new board to an existing template.

2. Customise the board

After creating the board, you can customise it by doing the following:

  1. Click the search icon, then 'View all boards' to view your board.

  2. Click on the ellipsis icon (...), then 'Settings'.

  3. Plan how you wish to configure the columns.

3. Configure the columns

Columns make your board reflect the team process, which is a good start in creating a Kanban board. The steps involved in editing columns for the team-managed project are different from those involved in editing columns for the company-managed project. You can view whether you're in a company-managed or team-managed project by checking the lower-left of your project sidebar.

If you've confirmed from the lower-left sidebar that you're in a company-managed project, continue with this step. For team-managed projects, you may find this documentation helpful. Note that only a project administrator for the board location or a board administrator for the particular board can configure the column. Follow these steps to configure a column:

  1. Click the column tab.

  2. To add a new column, click on the ‘Add column' button, enter the details for the new column, then click on ‘Add'. The simplified workflow automatically creates a new status to match your new column.

  3. To change the name of a column, click on the name area, modify the previous name and click 'Enter' to save.

  4. To delete a column, click the 'Delete' icon found at the top of the column. If a workflow maps to a deleted column, it moves to the unmapped column.

  5. To move a column, hover your mouse over the top of the name of a column, then drag it to a new position. Once other columns have adjusted into their new position, release the mouse to place the moving column in its new position.

  6. To map 'To do' and 'Done' status to columns when using the default Jira workflow, use 'Open' or 'Reopen' and 'Resolved' or 'Closed', respectively.

  7. To map 'To do' and 'Done' status to columns when using simplified workflow, use 'To do' and 'Done', respectively.

  8. To map the 'In progress' status for either the default or simplified workflow, use 'In progress'.

  9. To map status to a column, drag a status from the unmapped column to your desired column.

  10. To unmap a status from a column, drag it from the current column to the unmapped column.

  11. To enable column constraint, which triggers an alert after reaching a limit to ensure continuous workflow, from the ‘Column constraint' dropdown menu, select ‘Issue count' or ‘Issue count, excluding sub-tasks'. If you exclude sub-tasks, it might limit the number of stories available to your board to only the main issues.

  12. To set a column minimum or maximum constraint from the fields at the top of the desired column, enter a minimum value in the yellow box and a maximum value in the red box.

  13. To delete a constraint, delete the existing column.

  14. To enable Kanban backlog, go to the column section and drag a status to the Kanban backlog column. It gives you an optimised list view of the issues you're creating and ranking for your team and allows you to plan story developments without disturbing your team.

  15. You can also enable the epic panel that displays epic issues in a panel instead of cards on your board after enabling the Kanban backlog.

4. Configure quick filters

Quick filters enable team members to focus on emerging issues. The process for configuring a quick start in a company-managed project and a team-managed project differs. Although this step explains the steps for a company-managed project, you can find this documentation helpful if you're in a team-managed project. Only project or board administrators can implement the following steps:

  1. From board settings, go to 'Quick filters'.

  2. To add a new quick filter, type the name of the quick filter, its JQL and the description into the blue area, then click the 'Add' button.

  3. To change the name of a quick filter, click on the existing name to modify it, then click 'Update'.

  4. To change the JQL of a quick filter, click on the JQL area to modify, then click the 'Update' button.

  5. To delete a quick filter, click the 'Delete' button at the right of the quick filter.

  6. To move a quick filter, hover over the grid icon to reposition the quick icon.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Related:

  • What is the Kanban methodology? (Plus benefits)


Explore more articles