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Why you should adopt Kanban project management

Let me put a scenario into your head, one that most project managers can relate to.

You’ve been tasked by your supervisor to gather a team of colleagues in order to complete a mission critical new project for your organization. This project is a game changer for your company, and you want to get it right. You successfully gather your team, hash out a detailed project plan, get everyone’s buy in and receive the green light from your supervisor. But as you start to execute the project, you’re encountered with issue after issue — an increasingly misaligned team, poor workflow execution, lost or forgotten tasks and scope creep, to name a few. Despite your best efforts in the early stages of project management, your execution is simply falling apart.

Sound familiar? Or at least sound like a nightmare you’ve had before? Well, then Kanban project management is here to help you get your team back on track.

Kanban project management 101

The five core Kanban principles for project management are:

  • Visualizing your workflow.
  • Limiting working in progress.
  • Continuously moving tasks through the workflow.
  • Implementing feedback loops throughout your team.
  • Monitoring, adapting, and improving collaboratively.

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What is Kanban project management?

Kanban is a hot topic in project management today. So hot, in fact, that we recently held a webinar and posted a blog post about Kanban principles. There’s a lot of great information here about the the ins and outs of executing Kanban techniques, so I won’t spend too much time getting into the nitty gritty details. Instead, I’m going to focus on how Kanban relates to the basics concepts and stages of project management.

With that being said, here’s a quick introduction to Kanban project management. Kanban was originally created by Toyota as a methodology to improve manufacturing efficiency. It’s a visual approach to project management that aims to match the amount of work in progress to a team’s capacity, and focus efforts to the most important tasks first. Task information is written onto small Kanban cards, which are placed onto a board with labelled columns indicating where they are in the workflow. As tasks are completed, the cards are moved from backlog, to work in progress, to complete. This process can be as basic or as complicated as necessary.

In general, there are five core Kanban principles that are applied to project management:

  1. Visualize your workflow
  2. Limit work in progress
  3. Continuously move tasks through the workflow
  4. Implement feedback loops throughout your team
  5. Monitor, adapt and improve collaboratively.

In other words, by visualizing your project, transparently sharing and moving your tasks forward, and encouraging collaboration, your team is able to move efficiently and evolve their processes on the fly to achieve the overall goal.

The benefits of Kanban project management

Kanban project management can be used to improve individual efficiency, or as part of a large team.

Some of the core benefits of project management using Kanban include:

  • More flexibility in the planning phase
  • Faster and more consistent deliverable outputs
  • Clearer focus and more efficient execution
  • Transparency throughout the workflow
  • Easy identification of bottlenecks
  • Easier collaboration between team members
  • Reduced downtime between tasks, ensuring constant and speedy workflows
  • Visual metrics around task status, resource allocation, risk and issues

The bottom line is that Kanban provides an easy-to-follow, visual representation of your project. It enables your team to work quicker, with greater focus and with more insight into potential issues.

Where to use Kanban in your project management lifecycle

According to the Project Management Institute, 48% of projects are not finished within the scheduled deadline, 43% are not completed within their original budget, and 31% don’t meet the original goals or business intent laid out in the project charter.

Based on those stats, it’s clear that many organizations regularly encounter issues at some stage during the project lifecycle. Luckily, Kanban is designed to help identify and solve those issues.

As outlined in an earlier blog post, here are the five commonly followed stages of project management:

  1. Project initiation
  2. Project planning
  3. Project execution
  4. Project monitoring
  5. Project closure

Kanban certainly has a use case at each stage of the project management lifecycle, but it really shines during the project planning and execution phases.

While there will always be various reasons for why a project fails, it’s safe to assume that, for many, the stumble will occur at some stage during the longest and most complicated part of the process: project execution. Project teams will often spend a lot of valuable time on initiation and planning, but stumble when it comes to executing projects for a variety of different reasons.

Three areas where Kanban project management really shines to address these issues is around resource allocation, workflow management and waste reduction. Let’s take a look at a sample Kanban process and its benefits for all three.

Resource allocation

  1. Create all of the tasks needed to complete your project.
  2. As a team, determine who is the best person to complete each task.
  3. Assign the tasks to your team members.
  4. Create Kanban cards for each task, with team member name, due date, and any other information that is relevant.
  5. Create a Kanban board with each stage of the workflow — the most basic set up is backlog, work in progress, and complete.
  6. If new tasks are added during the project execution, create new Kanban cards and add them to the board.

As you can see, Kanban project management simplified your task and resource allocation in a visual way, and makes it easy to adapt on the fly.

Workflow management

  1. Focus on the most important tasks on any given day. Complete those, and move on to the next one.
  2. As you execute tasks, move them across each column in your Kanban board. This is an ideal way to visualize both individual and team workflows.
  3. Analyze how tasks relate to one another, and discuss ways to make the process more efficient with your team.
  4. Continuously complete and deliver small portions of your project, while experimenting with different ways to collaborate and improve efficiencies.

By focussing on what is most important, completing that, and moving on, your team members will be able to find a cadence and rhythm that maximizes their individual efficiency. This smooth workflow will be matched by your team as a whole, leading to a state of heightened efficiency and output.

Budget and resource waste reduction

  1. As part of your workflow analysis, take note of wasteful processes, bottlenecks, over- or under-producing team members or broken workflows.
  2. Collaborate with your team to determine a solution before it becomes a full-blow problem.
  3. For example, if you see tasks bottlenecking on one column of the board, you can diagnose and address the issue by assigning new resources.

Kanban project management allows you to adapt on the fly, while still executing your plan and meeting your budget and timeline requirements. If you are having continuous issues with executing on your well thought out project plans, then Kanban might be a technique you should consider to troubleshoot your workflow, and find the best solutions.

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Kanban helps to create a shared understanding of workflows, improves efficiency, and helps you easily identify bottlenecks and recognize priorities in your project. Learn how MindManager can help enable a Kanban workflow.

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