Kanban in task management – what is it and how does it apply?

tablica Kanban

Kanban, a work organisation system, dates back to the 1950s. I was first used to manage production processes in Toyota facilities. What are its benefits? Can you use it to supervise projects? What do modern implementations of this method look like?

What is Kanban?

Kanban means a signboard or a plate in Japanese (literally Kan – visible, Ban – piece of paper). Its original version relied on a circulation of product cards and served to optimise repeatable production processes. For the first time, it was applied in Toyota facilities and it aimed to coordinate the production process and supply chains so as to minimise the need for the storage of subassemblies.

In practice, it was accomplished by pinning cards with consumed materials to a generally available task board, which was a signal for the team delivering the given component that it is necessary to prepare its next batch. The assumed result of such a coordination of activities in individual departments of an enterprise is to reduce the need for storage of finished products, reduce the shortages and increase productivity.

Kanban Toyota
Kanban board at the Toyota factory

Application of Kanban

Kanban, in its original form, is still used to optimise repeatable production processes, for instance in the automotive or electronic industry. However, dozens of its modifications have appeared over the years, aiming to answer to specific needs of enterprises and the specific nature of their production process. A range of benefits derived from using this process visualisation method resulted in its adaptation to solutions outside production industries as well.

The assumptions and concept of implementation of Kanban in software engineering was presented by David J. Anderson in his book Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business published in 2010. To manage his project, he broke it down into a range of tasks composing it and divided them into three groups: to do, pending and completed. Specific contractors are assigned to each of them, which allows easy identification and elimination of potential problematic areas.

This also facilitates optimisation of the process of project implementation and allows control over relationships between successive tasks or their internal division into even smaller units to be performed serially or in parallel. Today, such a modified Kanban is successfully used to organise project-related work in creative agencies, IT companies, architecture studios and other entities.

Implementation of Kanban in IC Project

One of more interesting software out there that allows implementation of Kanban in an enterprise is IC Project. It allows transparent organisation and supervision of current projects. The central part of every project is the Kanban board divided into columns with tasks pinned to it. Conventionally, three categories suggested by Anderson are available, but it is also possible to create a new one.

Tasks are placed within these categories. Each task has a range of attributes such as the title, deadlines or assigned employees and their working time. Moreover, each task can feature a to-do list of smaller activities leading to the completion of the task, file exchange or even a chat between the assigned individuals. A huge advantage of tasks is that they can be assigned cyclicality, which comes in handy when it is necessary to prepare reports or carry out supervising activities.

The tasks pinned to the board are handled in an exceptionally user friendly manner by the simple drag and drop mechanism.The same method is used to assign employees to tasks or remove them and to add files necessary to complete a task or made as part of the given activity. Using built-in options, it is also possible to automatically or manually send reminders of upcoming deadlines and the content of the given working project.

Effectiveness of Kanban

Implementation of Kanban in the Toyota facilities brought an array of benefits. Stock was reduced by 75% and shortages by as much as 95%. Production went up by 25% and production space was reduced by 10%.. At the same time, the surface are of warehouses and the number of employees delegated to them decreased. Such a high effectiveness led to a huge interest in this method of production process organisation in companies operating in various industries.

The most noteworthy benefits of using Kanban most frequently mentioned by practitioners and theorists of management are:

● Improved transparency of the project leading to better overview of its completion status,

● Improved efficiency through ease of identification of problematic areas,

● Improved productivity through better supervision over the number and type of tasks assigned to a specific team or a specific employee,

● Better predictability of results and the dates when they are achieved.

Norbert Sinkiewicz, Head of Marketing w IC Project, underlines the importance of transparency of tasks performed as part of a project: The methods for managing tasks in Kanban is praised by our clients – it creates great possibilities for transparent and intuitive management of tasks. It allows ongoing control over the progress and status of tasks on the common board and every single task offers a plethora of additional functions waiting to be used. As a result, you always know what stage of working on tasks your team is currently at.

Does Kanban have any drawbacks?

Just like with every organisation method, Kanban does have some weaknesses. First of all, its effective use requires some practice and adaptation to the specific nature of the enterprise, its orders and the habits of its employees. This results in the simultaneous operation of several dozen types of Kanban and moving around them may prove very difficult at first, thus discouraging implementation of this method in an enterprise.

tablica Kanban z karteczkami
Kanban board in everyday life

Some features of the Kanban system may result in the fact that it will not allow such remarkable results outside extremely disciplined Japan. First and foremost, its efficient implementation requires full involvement of all employees if we want to achieve the maximum effectiveness at each stage of task performance. Any delays, even ones caused by external factors, may lead to an avalanche-like drop in the efficiency of all production departments. Fortunately, these limitations have less importance and effect on the timeliness of task performance in the project context.

Kanban in a nutshell

As a method of organisation, Kanban does a great job both in production enterprises and in entities relying on projects. Due to its ease of modification and a multitude of variants, it is easy to adapt to the specific activities of the given enterprise, increasing the transparency of the projects being carried out. Breaking them down into smaller tasks to which specific employees, deadlines and guidelines are assigned makes the supervision over the performance of the projects much simpler. It is also easier to respond to cropping up problems.

Contemporarily, Kanban is usually implemented in the form of an online computer programme, e.g. IC Project. This allows easy management of and communication with the employees working in the head office and those working remotely. The possibility of assigning them to tasks, communication between all employees assigned to the given activity, easy exchange of files or a reminder system make the completion of projects in an enterprise flow seamlessly – at least in organisational terms.

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