A Kanban tool is a visual aid used to increase productivity and efficiency. A Kanban board can be designed to help identify areas of inefficiency and promote collaboration amongst a team of people.

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How Kanban Tools Improve Productivity

There are many benefits to using a Kanban tool which span across numerous areas. But there is one benefit that should be mentioned first and foremost, which is the satisfaction you get from seeing your work move across the board.

Like checking items off a to-do list, the act of moving a Kanban card from “to-do” to “done” status gives you a sense of satisfaction and personal accomplishment that is not felt from using project management / productivity methods.

How to Choose a Kanban Tool

When selecting a Kanban tool, it’s best to first decide how you will use it. For example, does your team work in one location, or is it distributed? On-site teams may use a combination of manual Kanban boards and online Kanban boards. Distributed teams, or teams that employ people located in different cities, states, or countries, can benefit the most using online Kanban boards because the boards can be accessed from any location with an internet connection.

Teams that adopt Kanban are often surprised at how much waste can be removed from existing processes and workflows.

The most popular Kanban tool is a Kanban board. A Kanban board is a visual tool that is effective at easily communicating a large amount of information using cards, columns, colors, icons, and other visual indicators that help people comprehend and retain information. Most teams that use Kanban boards develop their own unique configurations, making it easier to manage processes and workflows that are important to helping their businesses run smoothly.

Types of Kanban Tools

Kanban tools can be manual or electronic, and both can lead to measurable increases in output, throughput, cycle time and other key performance metrics.

Manual Kanban tools

Manual Kanban tools are made using simple items such as:

  • Signs
  • Signals
  • Bins
  • Crates
  • Note cards
  • Sticky notes
  • Whiteboards
  • Painter’s tape

and other supplies that can be used to create a manual Kanban board (as in offices with professional project teams) or to practice a manual form of Kanban (as in a manufacturing or a warehouse environment).

The key to creating an effective manual Kanban system lies within its ease of use. Using Kanban, teams should be able to not only increase productivity and efficiency but should be able to leverage the system to identify areas for improvement. This is a concept known as Continuous Improvement and is an integral part of the Kanban philosophy.

Manual Kanban systems are most popular in manufacturing, production, and warehouse environments. Manufacturers benefits from cost savings in streamlined production, overhead reduction, and many other areas that benefit from the removal of unnecessary steps that equate to cost.

When companies allow their teams to take a step back and examine how they are utilizing their resources and labor, they often tackle the most obvious opportunities first. Teams that adopt Kanban are often surprised at how much waste can be removed from existing processes and workflows, and they often find “low-hanging fruit,” also known as easy-to-identify reduction opportunities, which were right in front of them all along.

Missed opportunities have the potential of adding up to millions of dollars. Kanban helps to not only uncover those opportunities, but to validate improvement initiatives.

Change initiatives within companies often come from the top and trickle down. While this may work in some cases, it doesn’t necessarily work for every company, as the company leaders are usually not the ones doing the work. Using Kanban, companies can identify opportunities that have either gone unnoticed by leaders or un-exploited by team members who may not be empowered to act.

Online Kanban Tools

While they are similar in many ways to manual Kanban tools, online Kanban tools provide an added layer of functionality not found using physical whiteboards. Online Kanban boards provide instant project visibility for team members in different locations and among teams working on projects with a variety of complex moving parts and pieces, such as software development teams and business project teams. Using a virtual Kanban tool, companies can streamline processes and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a project, thus reducing the cost.

There are many online Kanban tools. Some are free to use, while others offer more features and functionality as part of paid subscriptions. Project managers, Scrum masters, team leaders, and individual team members all benefit from the visibility of a shared online Kanban board because it can be accessed from any location with an internet connection. This makes it easier to collaborate, give and receive status updates, and generally see what’s going on at a glance.

Team Member Empowerment

Innovation is the cornerstone of process improvement. But how can companies drive their teams to innovate?

Innovation occurs more easily when a person or a group is passionate enough about something to want to improve upon it. But how can companies find that passion among team members?

Ownership is the key; assigning ownership of a process or workflow to an individual and empowering them to make the changes necessary to improve is sometimes all it takes to rekindle a culture of innovation.

Using a set of Kanban principles, teams can truly own their work because they are the ones who have identified their own improvement opportunities, implemented their own improvement solutions, and executed the work in the way they designed.

In short, Kanban systems not only reveal savings opportunities that can be passed along to customers in the form of dollars, they can also be used to help individuals prosper through empowerment and ownership.

Online Kanban Tools

Regardless of size or industry, companies can benefit from using an online Kanban tool to maximize a new or existing Kanban system. Online Kanban tools help companies automate much of the tracking and productivity analysis that may have taken too much time to do manually.

For example, companies can easily identify ways to maximize resources and delegate tasks to the right people using online Kanban reporting tools that help answer questions, such as:

  • How long does it take a team to complete one full work cycle?
  • Where do challenges usually occur, and how can they be mitigated or eliminated?
  • How can the team reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a full work cycle, and how much money would be saved?
  • How would changes to one process impact another process downstream?

Once implemented, a Kanban tool can save companies thousands of hours per year in overhead while revealing further savings opportunities that will be passed along to customers. The benefits of Kanban are far-reaching and continuously discovered as teams work to innovate and compete in the global marketplace. Kanban tools also help companies build stronger teams by empowering improvement and facilitating a sense of ownership in all that they do.