The Kanban system is a simple task management workflow which allows anyone to track work from start to finish. If you are building something brand new, you may start with an idea. To move that idea forward, you need to sit down and think about all of the baby steps you need to take to make that idea a reality. These baby steps become your tasks. In the Kanban system these baby steps are the tasks you need to create and add to your left column called “To Do”. This is where your work begins!
Once you have defined your “To Do” tasks, you just begin to work on your project. As you decide to tackle a task, you slide it into a second column called “In progress”. These are the items you are actively working on, and you should ideally stay focused on completing those before picking up any new tasks to work on. Once you have finished your “To Do” items, you would slide those into the “Done” column and decide which task is up next to work on.
Seems simple? The reality is the Kanban system is really simple, that is kind of the point! The idea is that to do any work you really just need to know what are all of the tasks that are outstanding. You need to really prioritize those tasks to make sure you work on the most important stuff first. You pick up a task, you work on it to completion and then pick up the next task. This solves the common problem that people try to do too much at one time. Also, typically we get great ideas but feel overwhelmed and not sure how to move it forward. With the Kanban system, you can really breakdown a big idea into smaller tasks which makes the whole project feel easier.
One of the most satisfying parts of the Kanban system is dragging your cards or tasks into the done column. Even better is when you drag your last card across and know you are complete! The Kanban system focuses on the tasks needed to be completed. This does not focus on the time it takes or the project plan. This is designed to help you manage the tasks, prioritize and track the work to completion. You can however define dependencies and track many smaller tasks into one large task called an Epic.
Often a project you are working on has many moving parts that are not related. In this case instead of using an Epic, you would want to create a Kanban board for each workstream that is being tracked. This will keep your Kanban system accurate for that workstream and since there are likely different resources working on various workstreams it keeps the focus on tasks for that team or individual.
The Kanban system also works well for projects that are completed and now are in maintenance. If you have just normal work to do for example. In this case, typically you would have what is referred to as a backlog. A backlog is a list of tasks you want to get to at some point to improve your system, platform, marketing or whatever it is you need to do. You can then decide which items from your backlog you want to tackle and create a Kanban board to track the specific tasks you picked up for this effort. This is referred to as grooming where you review all of the tasks you could work on and decide which ones are the highest priority to tackle in an upcoming sprint or work effort.
The good news is that Kanban system is very straightforward, simple and flexible. The process supports large project work as well as day to day management. You have full control over what you work on and when it completes. The one tip is that you should create your tasks as small as possible so that you are able to make normal progress on your project. If you create large tasks, then the velocity and effectiveness of the Kanban board is lost. Think small levels of effort and work when you initially task out all of the baby steps for best success.