Kanban is not a term many people hear outside of traditional project management. However, with the evolution of agile project management in recent years, more departments are applying Agile practices to help manage their ever-growing workloads.

7 Project Management Tips

How to manage projects within a fragmented workforce

Read the whitepaper • 7 Project Management Tips

Kanban 101: Supercharge your team’s productivity

By encouraging teams to identify, prioritize, and intentionally complete work items one at a time, Kanban can help combat the damaging effects of multitasking in a hyper-stimulated world.

View the eBook • Kanban 101
Kanban boards enable teams to collaborate and execute for optimum productivity.
Kanban boards enable teams to collaborate and execute for optimum productivity.

With departments and teams working on multiple projects at the same time, often with different stakeholders, department managers are finding themselves in the position of unofficial project manager with little or no training, trying to track time and deliverables for numerous projects.

Here is where spreadsheets and post-it notes will fail. We have all seen teams “manage” projects with a wall of post-it notes 15 feet wide. Lost emails or chat messages for project details will delay the process even further. Managers are desperate for tools to help them keep track of their teams and deliverables in a fast-paced working environment.

Versatility, First and Foremost

Kanban is a project management system that allows teams and departments to work together more effectively and efficiently. Created in the 1940s by Toyota engineer Taiichi Ohno, it was designed to maximize productivity and reduce bottlenecks by continually monitoring the workflow process. As the Kanban method has evolved in the last several decades, its benefits have only increased.

One of the biggest perks of implementing a Kanban system is its versatility. In any company, all departments have some common denominators when it comes to project management. The first is the need to organize projects and the tasks needed to complete them. This includes all of the details, contact information, and deadlines.

But most importantly, team members and managers alike need to know the current status of the entire project. Kanban boards address this with cards that can be moved from status to status within a customized workflow and even color-coded to indicate tasks that have blockers or have missed their milestones.

Another benefit of Kanban is that it is simple and easy to understand. When suggesting any tool to teams that really don’t have any project management background, it is important that limited effort is spent trying to figure out how to use the tool. It is also key that upper management is able to look at the board and get answers to their most basic questions without training.

Kanban boards focus on the current status of projects and tasks. So, the focus for the team member is just moving the task from one status to the next as the work is done. With the color coding for deadlines and roadblocks, managers can easily see where there are problems on a Kanban board and know where time and attention need to be spent.

That brings us to another big benefit: meeting time saved. Team members spend less time in meetings because the status of the project and all of its tasks are clearly visible to the managers and the team members. This allows everyone to focus on the trouble spots and bring these issues to the table quickly instead of going over lengthy status reports from each team member. Meetings are shorter and everyone can go back to removing blockers and getting the project back on track.

This versatile tool easily sells itself within any company in any industry, as teams are able to see the benefits firsthand in the ease of implementation and collaboration with other teams.

This article will use the example of Company X to demonstrate how, once one department started using the Kanban method, soon the entire company had gone Kanban.

Digital Experience Solution Goes Viral

Evidence shows that when one team begins to use a solution such as Kanban, chances are good that other teams and departments within the company will want to follow suit. Say, for example, the Digital Experience (DX) department of Company X starts using Kanban in its more traditional form. Each project has a board that allows the team to keep in one place all of the decisions and change logs for a project.

When the project starts to cross department lines, the process or tool will need to adapt. Because the project that the DX team is working on requires work from the Marketing department for design, they invite the Marketing team to use the board and give access to their internal communications about the project. The Marketing team is then able to see the full life cycle of the project and where they fit into the time and development schedules.

Having the project laid out on a Kanban board allows all of the team members working on that project see each of the necessary requirements. In addition, they know who to contact for questions or concerns should they arise.

Workspaces for all types of work offer flexibility in planning and execution.
Workspaces for all types of work offer flexibility in planning and execution.

With Kanban, gone are the days of long email chains that may get lost in the shuffle or end up in the inbox of someone who is on vacation for two weeks. Instead, the project keeps moving along steadily, with everyone involved able to see the steps completed and the tasks that still need to be done.

IT teams are often the purveyors in a company for project management best practices. The level of organization that is needed helps them collaborate easily with other departments and keep the lines of communication open to ensure a smooth transition from one step to the next.

Here is an example of an IT team that, by implementing a project and portfolio solution, not only found focus but led by example for the rest of the company: Mentor Transforms IT to Achieve Project Visibility and Improved Communication Across the Business.

Marketing Teams See the Value in Using Kanban

As the Marketing and IT teams of Company X work together on the project, the Marketing director sees the Kanban board as a better answer to their revision process problems than the complicated Gantt charts they had been using. So, the director sets up a Kanban board for their department so that they can break down the website design process.

Using a Kanban board allows the different designers to work on different pieces at the same time, and they can easily link to draft files and get sign-offs from stakeholders. When the design specs are ready, the tasks and process cards can be handed off back to the DX team so they can start the work needed for developing the site.

Recognizing its potential to streamline the project management process, the Digital Marketing team runs with the tool as a way to track tasks for larger projects. A year-long email marketing campaign, for example, involves planning out each task months in advance and tracking the completion, delivery, and success of each email. This is what tools like Kanban were made for; it is also a great way to keep up with repeating tasks for monthly and quarterly deadlines.

Another benefit of using a Kanban board for Marketing is the ability to track the process for print ads and other external production-related projects. Deadlines for print ads are now clearly visible to the entire team, and drafts and revisions are available to all of the stakeholders for sign-off and feedback. A digital Kanban board can also be an invaluable resource for remote team members to make it easier for them to visually communicate information and eliminate potential roadblocks.

Marketing meetings became much more effective after Company X started using Kanban. During the meetings, the team was able to review the current cards and quickly identify and resolve any roadblocks from the in-flight projects.

Here is an example of another creative team that found Kanban to be a powerful solution to increase transparency and save wasted man hours: Hallmark Cards Saves 1,000 Man Hours a Year by Streamlining PMO Projects and Agile Execution.

Legal Department Manages Contracts and RFPs

On occasion, the Marketing department for Company X has a design that has to be approved by the Legal team. When this happens, the Legal team is introduced to the project to review the content and mock-ups, provide their approval, and keep the whole process moving.

When the chief attorney sees how clearly and efficiently everything is organized, he is impressed and immediately wants to know how his team can use Kanban boards for their department.

The board for the Legal team uses cards to handle each customer contract and renewal. It can also manage the Request for Proposal (RFP) process for new vendors and for their renewals. As the card moves through the workflow from negotiations and revisions to final sign-off, contact information, change logs, and document revisions are all kept together and up to date.

The ability to use the Kanban board to immediately see where a contract or RFP was in the process became invaluable to Company X’s Legal department, saving them hundreds of work hours.

Instead of wasting time in meetings or following up with emails, they were able to stay informed quickly and easily just by checking the Kanban board.

Network Admin Manages Maintenance and Installs

Meanwhile, the DX team has to reach out to the Network Admin team to for help with some hardware upgrades for one of their projects. They invite the network administrator to review the Kanban board and the cards and tasks they need that team to accomplish.

The Network Admin is immediately impressed with the ease of use and can see the value of using a digital Kanban board for network maintenance and upgrades. A board is set up with all of the maintenance tasks for the quarter, with their maintenance windows and deadlines. It also allows the team to keep up with the email notices that have to go out to the company when systems are required to be down for maintenance.

One of the largest benefits of implementing the Kanban board solution is that these tasks can be picked up and moved through the process at any point by any member of the Network Admin team when they have the time to complete them, making it easy for team members to get tasks done whenever there is downtime or when someone is working the night shift and a supervisor is not on site to ask for direction. Assigning cards to team members allows everyone to see their tasks and priorities, and they can simply pull the next card from the top of the queue and get started.

The Company X Network Admin team added upgrade requests and new installs to the workflow. Their Kanban board became a large part of their internal customer support process. When a department emailed and wanted software purchased and installed, support created a card for the request that allowed them to track the approval and purchase process prior to the install.

Even HR Teams Benefit from Using Kanban

In conversations with the Human Resources director, the network administrator expressed how valuable his team’s Kanban board was in making things easier for his department. He suggested she consider using one for the employee recruiting process, as he knew the HR director had been looking for a way to more efficiently manage the interviewing and hiring processes. In the past, the company had missed out on candidates because interviews were not completed in a timely manner.

When they started using a Kanban board to track the status of candidates, the process was so much smoother. HR was easily able to follow up if a candidate’s card stayed in one status too long, and all of the candidate’s contact information was easily accessible on the card without having to look up their file. Handoffs to onboarding were made simpler, and candidates could move from recruiting boards to new-hire boards with all of their information intact. Hundreds of hours were saved, and no one slipped through the cracks.

Beyond IT: Kanban Provides Benefits Across All Departments

In looking at the success of Company X and the companies in the case studies provided, it is easy to see the common denominator in all of these cases: The requirement for a tool to track the process of a project or product through a series of steps to completion. While the steps and requirements are unique to each department, they all share a need for transparency and a simple way to view the status of a project and hand off individual tasks at each stage.

Time is a precious commodity in today’s fast-paced business world, and everyone is trying to get more things done in fewer hours, days, and weeks. Kanban has proven to be a flexible tool that enables companies to maximize productivity by more effectively managing their time and resources.

A digital Kanban board is a simple organizational tool that is easy for anyone to implement and understand without requiring hours of training. Its focus is on the current status of any given task or process, and as a result, it provides a valuable communication tool that cuts down on meeting times and status reports because all of the details of a project are visible to all of the stakeholders involved.