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What Is an Online Kanban Board?

An online Kanban board is a tool that helps visualize work and workflow, as well as optimize the way work gets done. Then name comes from the Japanese word Kanban, meaning "visual signal" or "card," and also references the process improvement approach known as the Kanban Method.

How an Online Kanban Board Works

Like a physical Kanban board, a Kanban tool uses a series of vertical and horizontal lanes to represent workflow or process (i.e. the steps that work takes to advance from start to finish). Kanban cards, representing tasks and work items, are moved through the lanes to reflect progress, using drag-and-drop functionality.

Cards also have visual icons to communicate key details like:

  • Priority
  • Ownership
  • Issues
  • Due date

The type of work can be represented using card color, and a host of details can be included in other card fields.

Kanban cards have visual icons for key details like priority, ownership, issues, and due date.

As a result, every team member or stakeholder – whether they're onsite or distributed around the world – gets at-a-glance, shared understanding of the status of their work, including who's working on what and where there are impediments.

Benefits of Using an Online Kanban Board

An online Kanban board makes it easier for teams of all sizes to effectively communicate on what work needs to be done and when. It also provides tools to measure, analyze, and continuously improve processes.

A Kanban tool is designed to help:

Visualize work

Creating a visual model of work and workflow allows team members to observe the flow of work as it moves through their online Kanban boards. This shared "picture" of work provides insight into work status and minimizes the time spent tracking down progress reports or sitting in status update meetings. Team members and stakeholders can quickly communicate high-value information in a way that is frictionless and transparent.

Limit work in progress

Limiting how much work is in process reduces the time it takes an item to travel through the steps you've identified in your online Kanban board. Problems caused by task switching and the need to constantly reprioritize items can also be reduced.

A shared "picture" of work provides insight into work status and minimizes time spent tracking down progress reports or sitting in status update meetings.

Focus on the flow of work

Setting up work-in-process limits and developing team-driven policies allows optimization of the online Kanban board to:

  • Improve the smooth flow of work
  • Collect metrics to analyze flow
  • Get leading indicators of future problems

When bottlenecks arise, team members can easily identify when and where to target resolution.

Support a culture of continuous improvement

Once a team starts using an online Kanban board, it becomes the cornerstone for a culture of continuous improvement. Teams measure their effectiveness by tracking:

  • Flow
  • Quality
  • Throughput
  • Lead times

Experiments and analysis can change the system to improve the team's overall effectiveness. Through the analysis of flow, throughput, and lead times, teams can determine ways to:

  • Streamline or modify processes
  • Remove waste
  • Continuously improve day-to-day operations

Increase your efficiency

Online Kanban boards allow planning and tracking a multitude of work items and steps within and across a variety of teams. With work more visible, teams can effectively indicate work handoffs and support consistent delivery.

When work is reprioritized to ensure that the focus is on delivering high value, it is visually communicated in the online Kanban board, so individuals don't have to guess where to focus efforts. As waste is removed that is associated with miscommunication or misunderstandings, productivity increases and efficiency improves.

Implement continuous delivery

An online Kanban board operates as a pull system that "pulls" work into process as capacity allows. In contrast to a push system, where work is "pushed" into process without regard to capacity, pull systems contribute to continuous delivery.

By delivering smaller portions of a project continuously, without pre-determined time boxes, the team delivers incremental customer value more often and has more opportunity to synchronize future effort with the most recent business requirements.

Achieve lean process improvement

Teams can begin to understand possible areas for improvement by:

  • Mapping existing processes in an online Kanban board
  • Managing the flow of work items within the process
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the process

Through the analysis of flow, throughput, and lead times, teams can determine ways to streamline or modify their processes, remove waste, and continuously improve day-to-day operations.