The importance of a Kanban Board in Agile

A Kanban board in agile development is often viewed as the project plan, product plan, task manager and work assignment tool all in one. The reason is that within the agile world, teams will break their total work down into stories that show on the Kanban board. Those stories are then listed in a backlog. Product owners prioritize those stories into sprints and groom them on a normal basis to ensure teams are working on the most important stories for an upcoming sprint to complete the overall deliverable.

With this approach, a Kanban board in agile becomes the centerpiece to track the overall project. Teams typically will join meetings called stands to review what tasks they expect to work on that day, if there is anything blocking them from completing that work and providing a general update on what was already completed. As such if teams are in person, you can picture the wall filled with stickies but when remote typically teams will use an online kanban board to manage the same with a product owner sharing their screen and walking through the board.

In a waterfall setting, a project manager typically would have a project management software like Microsoft project plan that lays out the moving parts, dependencies and timelines. In addition, there is a requirements document which lays out the specific asks from the business teams. A design document which takes the requirements and communicates how the technical implementation will occur. From there, development teams will code the project from start to finish and to manage the project, you need to track all of those documents and tools. Within agile however, if you use the Kanban system you can see all of the work that is needed, you can see dependencies by using Epics and you can see the breakdown of when the project is expected to complete based on the number of sprints planned.

The reason that the Kanban board in agile becomes so important is that it provides a framework for teams to communicate and track their tasks. However, it does this in a light process way. Often teams focus too much on process to the point where it slows down any progress and can cause delays and problems. The agile approach is all about flexibility and ability to pivot and make changes as needed. The Kanban board gives teams the tools to do this easily.

Kanban Board In Agile Takeaways

  • Easy visibility to the backlog of work needed to complete a project
  • Understanding of how that backlog is broken down into smaller deliverables
  • Teams can view and meet on a daily basis to track the work across the board
  • Allows for easy changes to the work in case scope changes or pivots along the way
  • Improves communication across stakeholders while reducing process
  • Provides a tool to work within the workflow of teams instead of introducing a tool which requires defining the workflow for a team

As the last bullet states, tools are meant to help a workflow be successful. For many teams however, the tool ends up defining the workflow and process due to limitations or requirements of the tool. Kanban boards are very light weight and as a result allow teams to work them into a variety of team flows and providing structure but not weight to make the teams successful when doing agile development.

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