Kanban is a way to manage tasks and projects better than before. It’s not a new idea – it has been used for decades after Toyota created a manual way to do it using boards on wheels representing their status and individual tasks on hanging cards. Since that time, Kanban has gained greater acceptance as a way to handle multiple projects, many tasks and deadlines for complicated projects.

Let’s dig a little deeper into what Kanban is and how it might be used for better project management.

Kanban 101

The Kanban system uses a minimum of three boards to track the status of each project or task. In its basic structure, the three boards are: ‘To Do,’ ‘Doing’ and ‘Done.’

The names can change according to what’s preferred, but essentially, it is the following:

  • one board for tasks or projects that haven’t been started yet
  • a second board for tasks or projects already in progress
  • a final one showing the completed tasks

Each project or tasks receives its own card to keep track of it on the board where it’s been placed.

The system comes into its own when juggling multiple projects within a team or organization. When projects break down into mini projects, tasks and sub-tasks, it can all get too complicated to handle on a To Do list.

By having all tasks relating to one or more projects on a single Kanban board, there’s a great deal of visibility for project managers, department heads, and the upper management.

How Does Kanban Project Management Work?

When thinking about Kanban project management at its basic level, you’re dealing with individual tasks assigned to a single person. They’ll have a small handful of tasks necessary to complete the particular project. Collectively, these tasks will be presented on the ‘To Do,’ ‘Doing’ and ‘Done’ boards.

When managing one or more projects with multiple tasks at different stages per project with each task assigned to an individual or several people for completion, life gets more complicated! However, Kanban handles that well.

While a Kanban system might just be for a single project, it’s likely that it will cover multiple ones. Doing so isn’t that difficult. The card for the project sits on the respective board – To Do, Doing or Done – to indicate where the project is overall. Then it has what is known as a swim-lanes setup.

A swim-lane is where individual cards representing tasks within the project are shown under the project name. Each colored marker represents a task on that project. Project managers and other users can see what tasks must be completed to move the project along.

Kanban swim-lanes also include the ability to add priorities to individual tasks, assign people or departments to a task, and even add stories representing the emotional side for why a task is important. The project itself also gets a percentage completion number to provide a visual indication of how close the project is to the finish line.

Why is Kanban Project Management Superior?

Using Kanban on projects, it’s possible to manage projects visually while only seeing the necessary information. A GANTT chart is all well and good, but as a mainstay of full-blown project management software, it’s as confusing to most people as project management software tends to be!

What’s needed is a system that the users can all understand – not just the management. This is because it’s the users – the employees – who must interact with the organizational system used to track tasks and projects to their completion. They must fully understand it to use it well. It’s a point that’s often lost on upper management who forget that staff must use the system capably as well.

Kanban for project management works well because at its core, it’s a simple system. Using an online software-as-a-service solution like Kanbanize helps streamline the whole process. Add cards for each task and project quickly. Then use the three boards for tasks and projects that haven’t been started, are in progress, or have been completed already. Simple.

Is It Better Than Task Lists with Personnel Assignments?

A basic task list is fine for individuals. It will also work for a small group of people who occasionally share simple tasks. Where it breaks down is when tasks are frequently shared or have many sub-tasks and dependencies (one task cannot be started until another task is completed first).

Managing projects is also very difficult with task lists because it’s not possible to get a proper sense of the scope of the project and all its moving parts – that kind of detail is hidden in the lists. There’s also an inability to get a snapshot of where the department or the company stands on initiatives because the answer to that is hidden in the tasks lists of all the people involved.

With Kanban, you can visually see all the projects, their individual tasks, who’s assigned to them and what progress has been made. For the CEO and the management team, that’s invaluable.