3 tips to set up an efficient Kanban board
Posted the 03/08/2016 by Jérémy, Pola
This post was originally published in August 2016 and last updated in June 2020.
Our team often gets 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 shiny new board untouched and your team forgets all about it.
But that’s not a good idea, since user-friendly kanban boards will be indispensable in the more flexible post-Covid workplace, i.e. one with more distributed teams requiring the right digital tools to manage projects remotely.
That’s why we’re here to help you get started. Use these three simple tips to set up an efficient kanban board that will be enjoyed and used by everyone in your company.
1. Start simple and adapt your board as you go
First things first. What is a kanban board? It is a way to show how your work flows between different phases: from an idea all the way to the “finished” state.
The basic principle of a kanban board is to have columns representing project phases and cards representing pieces of work. Your goal is to move cards between columns in a way that mirrors the state of your work. This way, when you look at your kanban board, you have a good overview of what’s going on in your team.
A simple kanban board template in Kantree with project stages
If you’re not sure where to start, go with the three basic columns representing project stages, i.e. To Do, Doing, and Done. This will help you get a sense of the workflow.
Notice the one-way direction from left to right, the basic rule of workflow visualization. Just like a river flows in one direction, approaching work the same way will help you quickly identify any issues in your flow.
After that, write down your work tasks on cards and place them in the correct columns.
Make sure that one card represents one independent chunk of work. You want to avoid dependencies between your cards, otherwise you’ll be hiding complexity in your kanban board and you could miss potential issues in your process.
Of course, you can (and should!) customize the flow to adapt it to your way of working. Update it anytime, but ensure that your entire team understands the changes (see #2).
The types of columns you use will depend on several factors, such as your existing workflow, type of work, and the structure of your team. It’s best to keep it simple, but with Kantree you do have more control and can cover more scenarios with additional columns.
Example of a customized kanban board for a software team
In a hurry? Our growing template library contains ready-to-use Kantree boards (pre-determined kanban workflows and other project views, such as a spreadsheet or timeline). They are designed to get you started on a new project quickly, be it sales, marketing, HR, or product management. Just like boards set up from scratch, they are fully customizable. Learn how to use our template library from this article, featuring a short video.
But you’re not done yet with the kanban method! If you stop now, you will struggle with having all your team use it efficiently. Which brings us to the next point.
2. Set up smart 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 sure it is clear for everybody on your team.
While often forgotten, the rule is the key to getting most out of your board.
Your policies should address the following:
- What conditions a “sticky note” should meet to enter a column;
- What conditions the note should meet to leave a column;
- How and why you’re setting a limit to the number of cards in a particular column;
- Other rules, such as who can move cards around between columns and when you should remove a card from the board.
You don’t have to explain every little detail, but you should be clear enough so that the entire team has an understanding of how to use the kanban board.
One of the most important kanban policies is the definition of Done. If everybody agrees on what a finished task is, you will avoid a lot of issues, e.g. unfinished work that goes into production, unclear responsibilities, tensions within the team.
We also recommend putting a limit on the number of cards in your Doing column. It’s called a WIP (Work in Progress) limit and we already talk about it in “What is Kanban?”
Basically, you don’t want to have more cards in your Doing column than the number of people using your kanban board. The goal is to focus on work in progress in order to avoid leaving tasks in an unfinished state and prevent multitasking. If done well, the WIP limit will strengthen your workflow and improve productivity.
3. Don’t forget about feedback loops
A kanban board should not be set up once and left like that forever. As your company grows, your processes will evolve too. Soon you will notice room for improvement in your workflow and you will want to modify it.
That’s why it’s good practice to step back regularly, look at your kanban board and your work processes, and make changes in your organization accordingly. It could be as simple as a new column or a new way to highlight the different types of work in your board (e.g. using custom colored cards). Or you may need to update your kanban policy.
These feedback loops are often overlooked in the kanban methodology, but they help to keep your workflow efficient in the long run.
Taking it a step further: example of a kanban board with projects grouped by assignees
With these tips, you will surely set up and efficient kanban board and get the most out of it with your team. Just remember to:
- Start with a basic board (or use one of our templates) and see how it goes;
- Make sure everyone understands how to use it by setting clear policies about columns;
- Try a WIP (Work In Progress) limit, it will help improve productivity;
- Analyze your practices on a regular basis and update boards accordingly (it’s good to set up a recurring event in your calendar).