Lean and Agile are both practices for project management, and they’re similar in a lot of ways. They prioritize efficiency, continuous improvement, nimble responses, and transparency. Kanban is both a lean and agile approach to project management that aligns production with consumption while eliminating waste. Instead of making a product then trying to sell it, they would wait for orders with the number of products sold and then produce that volume. This realization, and the implementation of Just In Time (JIT) manufacturing, removed inefficiency, waste, and guesswork from the production lifecycle. Lean project management has evolved and adapted over time and any industries can use Kanban to cut waste and boost efficiency.
- Visual workflow
- Work In Progress (WIP) limits
- Flow management
- Explicitly stated processes
- Feedback loops
- Collaborative & iterative improvement
The visualization of a Kanban workflow is a Board. The work is broken down into tasks and each tasks is explained on a card. The board will indicate status by displaying cards in columns with labels like Not Started, In Progress, and Complete. Traditionally, the Card is moved from left to right to indicate progression toward completion. Because the board displays many cards, it is often used to relay an accurate picture of overall project status.
- Self Assignment boosts productivity
- Flexible processes adapt to change
- Productive output at regular intervals
- Easy to misuse process
- Harder to manage priorities
- Delivery dates difficult to report
This method works best when the project team is not bound by time and can work through the backlog based on priority. The role of the Kanban project manager is not to push work to the team; rather, it is to manage the flow of work by governing the way cards become ready and the volume of work in progress. WIP limits put the focus of current, active work on progression and completion before new cards become ready to work. Appropriately applied WIP limits increase productivity by fostering a project culture of iterative improvement through collaboration and this project and process transparency makes waste visible so it can be removed.
Challenges with Kanban are in the process management and reportability. While the Kanban board is great for qualifying project status, quantifying project data is not something that sticky notes on a whiteboard can easily offer. When a project is bound by time the loose structure of the project schedule can add uncertainty and risk and when it is not bound by time constraints project cost can balloon.
Where other methodologies rely on a traditional push system of work assignment, Kanban flips this model and team members pull work when they’re ready and available to self-assign. The value of self-assignment is in the most basic psychology of the action – people who get to choose what they work on are more likely to have a personal connection to it which increases satisfaction, productivity, and quality. The visual display of work in all stages of the lifecycle serves as a constant status update and a reminder of the end goal. The board provides transparency as a tool that is easy to understand, simple to use, and efficiently calls out successes, roadblocks, and waste.
The laissez-faire nature of Kanban (such as “start where you are.”, Just In Time production, and on-demand scheduling) cannot be casually managed which can feel like a cultural paradox in the Kanban ethos. The right tools make a difference and a virtual board will help to bring together what Kanban organically qualifies and what a project must seek to quantify to make a project profitable. Using a cloud-based platform like Cloud Coach provides users with a customizable platform to efficiently enter project data so that it can get to the right decision-makers in ways that are meaningful to both parties.