Kanban is an immensely valuable tool for managing work across a team or organization. Here are three Kanban examples to illustrate how Kanban can improve the efficiency of your team.
Kanban Roadmap: How to Get Started in 5 Easy Steps
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Kanban is an intuitive way of organizing your work that helps you get more done, faster. Once you learn the basic concepts of Kanban, you might realize that you’ve unintentionally created your own Kanban examples by managing a process in your own life or work. If you’ve ever used sticky notes to denote your “to dos” and moved them to “done” once they were finished, you’ve practiced a basic form of Kanban.
If you want to try out the following Kanban examples with your team, we highly encourage you to read the Kanban Roadmap, which contains five actionable steps to help you get started. After completing the exercises in the roadmap, you’ll have a Kanban board to start using for experimentation and improving the team’s workflow.
Before we discuss Kanban examples, let’s review the basic elements of Kanban:
- Work items are represented by cards (you can think of them as sticky notes)
- Process steps are represented by vertical lanes (usually representing some version of To Do, Doing, and Done) on a Kanban board
- A Kanban board usually represents an individual, team, or organizational process from beginning to end
- Cards on Kanban boards move from left to right with the “Done” lane typically being the furthest right lane
- The first (leftmost) lane typically represents the backlog; this is where new requests go before they are prioritized by the individual /team / organization
Before you get started, it can be helpful to define exactly what you’re trying to accomplish with your initial Kanban board. Are you trying to:
- Increase visibility into status?
- Delegate work across your team in a more balanced way?
- Connect related work items across your board?
Here are three Kanban examples that demonstrate how to build your Kanban boards to achieve those goals.
Kanban Example 1: Giving a Project Manager Visibility into Status
Say you’re a project manager, responsible for managing the work of a team of ten software developers. You spend a vast majority of your time moving between the desks of your team members asking for status updates or sending Slack messages to remote employees to gather their status information.
You’ve tried having everyone send you a daily report at the end of the day, but that still requires you to consolidate information that may or may not still be accurate, and often, team members leaves for the day without sending their reports.
Instead of asking for status reports, you need a way to see where everything is, all at once, and ideally, for team members to update project status themselves, so you can spend more time adding value to the projects.
You decide to use a Kanban board to manage the work. To get started, you set aside a few hours to complete the exercises in the Kanban Roadmap with your team.
By the end of your session, you have a basic process map (i.e. the bones of your Kanban board) and you’ve practiced using your board for a few sample pieces of work. As a team, you’ve determined that your process looks like this:
Backlog – Up Next – Gather Requirements – Design – Coding – Testing – Deploy – Done
This is where the first of our Kanban examples comes into play. You create a Kanban board that reflects your process. Next, you begin adding cards to your board, each representing a piece of work that is either in progress or will begin soon. You place the cards in their respective lanes and ask team members to assign themselves to all cards they are currently working on.
In many virtual Kanban tools, assigning yourself to a card means that your picture will appear on the face of the card, making it easy to see the work for which you’re responsible. Many tools will also let you filter the board by card assignments, so you can quickly get a sense of what cards are assigned to you without having to wade through all the other cards on your team’s board.
After your team has left for the day, you sit alone with the first of your board’s Kanban examples. You notice a few areas for improvement, such as:
- There seems to be a build-up of work in the testing lane. You decide to ask the team why they think that’s the case tomorrow.
- There is one person assigned to seven cards, while most people only have two or three cards assigned to them. You decide to talk to the team tomorrow to determine how to relieve this one person of their workload.
Then it hits you: You finally have the visibility you need to add real value to the team! Even with this first “draft” of a Kanban board and just one of the Kanban examples completed, you already have a much better sense of where work is, and where you can pitch in to help your team operate more efficiently. Operation Visibility is a great success!
You are excited to see how much more free time you will have available now that you don’t have to spend so much of your days hunting down status information.
Kanban Example 2: Using a Kanban Board to Delegate Work Across a Team
For the second of our Kanban examples, let’s imagine that you are the Director of Content Marketing at an enterprise organization. You manage a large team comprised of content writers, content strategists who also manage video creation / editing, a Creative Director, and several graphic designers.
Your team works quickly to create and release high-quality content, producing four or five high-quality blog posts, web pages, or infographics per week. As the team’s manager, it can be difficult to stay on top of what work is in progress and ensure that the work being done is aligned with one of your high-level goals.
Your team often gets confused about who is working on what, so you often end up with duplicate effort: For example, your video creator and graphic designer often end up stepping on each other’s toes.
You try to communicate the specific requirements for each piece to your team, but because your team works so quickly, work often must be redone because it fails to meet its requirements.
As a team, you want to be more intentional with the pieces you create, tying each piece to a specific organizational goal.
You want to:
- Foster a more collaborative work environment, with more effective communication
- Feel more aligned in your efforts
- Waste less time stepping on each other’s toes
You decide to begin using a Kanban board to manage all content creation. You design your board as a team, using Kanban examples you’ve seen as a guide, and then you, the director, create cards for each piece of content needed for the next month.
Each card includes the topic, any requirements for the piece, and the specific goal for each piece. You place these cards in the backlog.
As a team, you discuss your team’s policies for using the board. You decide that:
- The team is collectively responsible for all work on the board.
- Team members are responsible for assigning themselves to cards, unless you (the director) want to assign a piece specifically to a specific person.
- Team members should only be assigned to two active cards at a time.
- Everything being worked on should be visible on the board.
After two weeks, you realize that it’s been two weeks since you last had a duplicate effort incident, or someone on your team had to redo a piece. Systematically adding all the requirements and goals to each piece to each card has helped keep everyone aligned about the work.
Simply seeing all current work in a shared, collaborative space has allowed your team to work together more efficiently and effectively.
You’ve managed to go from creating four or five pieces of content a week to six or seven while maintaining an exceptionally high caliber of writing and design. The content your team creates has not only been high-quality, but goal oriented as well, created to meet a specific need in your overall content strategy.
Kanban Example 3: Connecting Related Work Items Across Boards
For the third of our Kanban examples, let’s say you’re a sales director in a large tech company. Your CEO has called upon every department to establish a few OKRs for the next quarter – big-picture Objectives and Key Results that your team will work to accomplish.
Within each OKR, there are many smaller projects and tasks. You need to find a way to:
- Break all the work of these larger initiatives into smaller, more manageable projects
- Delegate those to individual teams
- Allow those teams to break the work down further into tasks as needed
You need to have a quick way to check on the status of your initiative.
You’d also like to be able to look at all the cards involved in a specific OKR, so you can see exactly what your teams are working on and look for signs of scope creep; this is where the third of our Kanban examples comes in.
You know that your virtual Kanban tool allows you to connect cards across multiple boards, so you decide to create an “OKRs” board, and then create a card for each of your OKRs. You use each of these cards as a “parent” card, and your teams create “child” cards on their boards that roll up to the parent cards. They use subtasks within each of those cards to keep track of the work involved on a more granular level.
As teams complete the child cards on their board, you can see this progress on the parent card: For example, you can see that 47 out of 58 cards are done. From your OKRs board, you can drill down to see the 11 remaining cards and look to see if any of them are blocked or off track in any way.
This Kanban example illustrates how to get the big-picture visibility to know how your initiative is progressing, with the ability to see exactly what your teams are doing as part of that initiative. At the end of the quarter, you can confidently report to your CEO that you have completed four of your five OKRs on schedule and are on track to deliver the fifth by early next quarter.
See More Kanban Examples
Using Kanban to manage work can help individuals, teams, and entire companies communicate and collaborate more effectively. It can give managers visibility into project status and who’s working on what, while providing everyone with a helpful, intuitive tool for managing work.
To see more Kanban examples for specific team types, we recommend reviewing this article.