3 tips to set up an efficient Kanban board
Posted the 03/08/2016 by Jérémy

simple Kanban board

Here at Kantree, we’re often asked how to start using Kanban to organize work. Beginning from scratch can be tough. Without the right practices, it won’t be long before you leave your beautiful Kanban board untouched with all your team forgetting about it.

Follow these 3 simple tips and be sure to build a good system loved and used by everybody in your company.

## 1/ Start simple and adapt your board on-the-go

A Kanban board is about seeing your work flowing between different states as it goes all the way to the “finished” state.

The basic principle of a Kanban board is to have columns representing states and cards representing pieces of work. You’re goal is to move your cards in the columns that mirrors the state of your work. Thus, when you look at your Kanban board, you have a good overview of what’s going on in your team.

Now, if you don’t know where to start, you should go with the 3 basic state columns “To do”, “Doing”, “Done”. It will help you get a sense of what a workflow can be. Notice the one-way direction from left to right. It is a basic rule to visualize a workflow. As a river flows in one way, having work doing the same helps to identify the issues in your flow.

After that, write down your work tasks on cards and place them in the correct columns. Be sure that one card represents one independent chunk of work. You want to avoid dependencies between your cards. If you don’t, you’re hiding complexity in your Kanban board, and you could miss potential issues in your work processes.

Of course, you can (and you should!) customize this basic flow to adapt it to your way of working. Change it anytime, but be careful that all your team understands why when you do so (see the next section). What kind of columns you use depends on your existing workflow, type of work, and the structure of your team. It’s best to keep it simple, but you do have more control and can cover more scenarios with more columns.

example of customized Kanban board Example of customized Kanban board for software team

But you’re not done yet with the Kanban method. If you stop now you will struggle having all your team using it efficiently.

## 2/ Setup clever Kanban policies

One important rule of the Kanban method is to set up policies on how to use your board. The other part of the rule is to make them clear for everybody in your team.

This is one of the most forgotten rule of Kanban and yet it is key if you want to get the best out of your board.

You should cover:

  • What conditions a sticky note should meet to enter a column,
  • What conditions a sticky note should meet to leave a column,
  • How and why you’re setting a limit to the number of cards in a particular column
  • And a lot of other information like who is able to move cards on your board, or when you should removing a card from the board…

You don’t have to be verbose, and explain every little details, but you should be clear enough so that all your team is understanding how to use the kanban board.

One of the most important is The definition of Done. If everybody agrees on what is a finished task, you should avoid a lot of issues (unfinished work that goes in production, unclear responsibilities and tension in your team…).

One other policy your should try is to apply a limit to the number of cards in your “Doing” column. It’s called a WIP (Work in progress) limit and I already mentionned it in my last post about kanban. Basically you don’t want to have more cards in your “Doing” column than people using your Kanban board. You want to force the focus on the work in progress to avoid leaving tasks in an unfinished state, and prevent multitasking. If done well, it will strengthen your workflow and improve your productivity.

3/ Don’t forget about feedback loops

Kanban board should not be set up once and left like that forever. As your company evolves, your processes will evolve too. Soon you will see room for improvements in your workflow and you will want to modify it.

So it’s a good practice to step back regularly, look at your kanban board and your work processes and make changes in your organization accordingly. It can be a new column. It can be to setup a new way to make out visually the different types of work in your board (with custom colored cards for instance), It can be a change in your policy.

These feedback loops are often overlooked in the Kanban methodology, but they help a lot to keep your kanban efficient in the long run.

Takeaways

With these 3 tips you will surely get the most out of your Kanban board.

So remember to:

  • Start with a basic board and see how it is going.
  • Let everybody understand how to use it by setting clear policies about your columns
  • Try a WIP limit, you will seriously get addicted to it.
  • Take time regularly to analyze your practices and make changes in your boards (the best is to set a recurring event in your calendar)

To start right away, we’ve configured a little board template for you to use with Kantree. You can find it here : Kanban template. Don’t hesitate to try it and modify it for your own use.

As always you can reach me on twitter @djeremh.

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