If you are managing projects and tasks, Kanban is a remarkable tool to use because of the productivity increase it yields after a small effort to centralize and streamline the work. You can create a dynamic visual representation of tasks on a Kanban board in 5-15 minutes.

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Digital Kanban boards increase delivery speed and program success.
Digital Kanban boards increase delivery speed and program success.

A digital Kanban board is powerful, mobile, accessible, and real-time, often yielding 30%+ efficiency improvement in the first week. For improved quality and better productivity in project work, there is not a better tool than a robust digital Kanban board for team collaborative task management.

Pain points Kanban addresses

We have all seen the pain of team members using disparate tools and ways of working, without the necessary collaboration and synchronization to complete their work. Kanban is the answer to several pain points all teams experience at some point:

  • Working in silos
  • Hidden work (those tasks that creep up on us)
  • Unclear priorities
  • Lack of accountability or clarity on ownership
  • Absence of real-time tracking
  • Bottlenecks
  • Hidden blockers
  • Lack of accurate predictability and estimation for new work
  • Managing and including unplanned work

By adopting an electronic Kanban board, a team can easily gain the visibility that can solve these problems in just a few weeks.

Let’s explore some use cases where Kanban can help various types of teams.

Kanban for marketing teams

One use case is a marketing team that had several of these identified pain points. The team was able to resolve them in a short time by trying out an electronic Kanban board.

The marketing team, like many other teams today, was organized by team members according to title: Designer, copy writer, web developer, project manager, editor, social media manager, event planner, and others. All tasks were pre-assigned by function, and everyone was heads-down working on their assigned areas.

The problem was that team members did not collaborate with each other very often with this approach, even though they were highly dependent upon one another for completion of any given marketing campaign. This led to several missteps. They missed a big deadline with an important client and lost their business. When one of their web developers left the agency, poor communication resulted in some low-quality work and campaigns without adequately updated websites.

The editor on the team had used a Kanban board solution at a previous company and recommended they try it. Her hope was that it could lead to:

  • Increased visibility of all tasks
  • Clear focus on the status of each campaign
  • Improved ability to predict estimates and meet deadlines

The marketing team entered all the tasks associated with their campaigns and parsed them out into cards on the Kanban board. They also started a daily 10-minute standup meeting in which each team member updated the group about what tasks they had completed the day before, what they planned to work on that day, and whether they had any blockers that might interfere with task completion. This worked really well since the entire team began to understand their flow, and they learned to juggle campaigns much better in just a few weeks.

The marketing team saw a 40% improvement in their productivity one month after implementing Kanban.

Additionally, they discovered hidden bottlenecks and began to brainstorm solutions. Their daily standups became more efficient in that they could focus on immediate needs.

The team also realized that they needed to break down their functional silos to be a truly cross-functional team. In other words, the social media manager might update web pages now and then and the web designer might update social media accounts from time to time, depending on the need and the workload. They discovered how to pair work and learned to do a few new things, even doing some editing and peer reviews.

Over time, every team member became more cross-functional. They found that empowering everyone to pull new work from the board worked much better than pre-assigning work by functional silo, which resulted in an uneven distribution of labor. When someone on the team had capacity, that person could start work on the highest-priority item in the backlog immediately.

Kanban worked so well for this marketing team that they found themselves improving marketing campaigns and completing them well ahead of deadlines. This led to greater client retention and profitability.

Kanban for hardware, software, and other technology teams

Of course, Kanban is not just for marketing teams. Highly technical software, hardware, and integration teams, as well as other technology teams, can use a Kanban tool for greater productivity, throughput, and quality.

One hardware organization who built next generation servers found themselves in decline as they coped with the threat of a reorganization and potentially losing valuable team members. They had reached a turning point, and the status quo was no longer tolerable.

They were late (months, even years) in delivering client orders. They had stale critical projects in the queue; management gave ultimatums, yet nothing changed. The teams’ inaccurate estimates for time of delivery were embarrassing the product leaders who had to interface with customers. Their backlog had grown larger and larger, with very little accomplished over a period of several months. Some projects had grown so stale that several team members who had not been with the company years earlier when the teams had taken on the work had no idea what they were about. There was no solution in sight.

Visualize the workload of all members in all workspaces to determine whether a team member is overloaded with work or has room to do more.
Visualize the workload of all members in all workspaces to determine whether a team member is overloaded with work or has room to do more.

That’s when their senior manager hired an agile coach to come in and share some ideas on Kanban and Scrum. After a few days of training and discussion, the hardware teams decided to adopt Kanban with some Scrum events, such as a daily Scrum and a monthly retrospective (adapting the Kanban tool for their own version of “Scrumban”). They also borrowed the idea of having a team product owner, the person who owns, ranks, reorders and prioritizes the backlog based on business value.

With a few changes made, they were able to uncover information that was unbeknownst to them! It turns out the backlog was their biggest challenge. There were 200 items in the backlog, and at least 150 of those items no longer had business value or were so low on the list that the newly elected product owner was able to just drop them, freeing up 75% of capacity to work on the top 50 backlog items.

Needless to say, by limiting their work in progress (WIP), the results were phenomenal. In less than a month, their output improved from completing one to five items per week to completing about 30. Lead time from client order to client delivery was reduced from months to weeks.

The teams used the Kanban board to better visualize the flow of work and began to self-organize around a few types of work: Continuous flow simple tickets (order fulfillment) and more complex next generation server projects that took longer to develop. This approach accommodated the continuous and haphazard flow of work.

With the daily standup, they now had a good inspect and adapt process to ensure they were working on the highest priority cards. This was very effective for a hardware team. Additionally, in the retrospectives, the teams were able to identify and remedy many of the age-old broken processes.

Kanban for manufacturing and engineering teams

Manufacturing, engineering, and other teams have great success in implementing electronic Kanban boards as well. After all, Kanban origins came from Toyota’s world-renowned manufacturing processes.

One commercial bus manufacturer was falling behind every month in completing all the engineering tasks that were needed for production. The backlog of engineering tasks was becoming larger every month and threatening bus delivery and customer satisfaction. Kanban was a last-ditch effort to restore the backlog to a normal level.

Various engineering groups also had created a problem by working in functional silos; everything was organized by either mechanical or electrical engineering tasks and no one was allowed to work across that line. No one worked together and the handovers back and forth were killing their throughput. Everyone focused on their engineering tasks without pairing up, swarming, or collaborating with dependent teams or groups as needed. Their list of blockers grew as big as their backlog.

Initially, a physical board was implemented because their process was so convoluted. It took a few weeks to iron out who did what, and where the Kanban cards went after that. One group spent a day with a Kanban trainer who went through their process with them and helped them design steps in their flow that made sense.

The teams started a daily standup where they began to talk to one other, identify and resolve blockers, and pair up and tackle the most critical work together, rather than only working on tasks that had been pre-assigned to them. The gentle pull system of Kanban began to do its magic! Engineers spoke up and asked for help; others offered help when they had capacity. The workload started to balance out between team members.

Soon, engineers had cleaned up their backlogs, prioritized their board by the most urgent and critical work, and delayed the trivial, non-urgent work by handing it over to the offshore team. This allowed the key engineers onsite to focus on urgent, critical work immediately and reduce their cycle time from about 18 days to nine days.

The engineers also were able to improve their throughput so dramatically that they created bottlenecks at the review and processing stage, leading to even more collaboration. They learned to create war room reviews where all the required reviewers met in an agile open work area and time-boxed each review to 20 minutes, so they could break through a big bottleneck of 20 reviews in less than a day; prior to this, work commonly stayed in the queue for review for two to three weeks.

Soon, their success was touted across the entire engineering organization. This led to cross-pollination of other teams, who went through the same process, until all the engineering teams had implemented electronic Kanban boards to better monitor and track their work, reduce bottlenecks and cycle time, and improve throughput.

Conclusion

In summary, having teams adopt a digital Kanban tool is the easiest path to better team productivity, improved quality, and collaboration. It leads teams to a better understanding of their process and a new way of working. With the visual information the tool provides, teams follow through on their most critical business priorities, leading to increased profitability and customer delight. Kanban is something your team can start today in as little as 15 minutes.