How to create and use a kanban board to boost productivity

Are you a part of a team, business or just an entrepreneur that can’t seem to get things into order? Do you struggle to manage your time effectively and end up feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks you need to complete? Are you struggling to structure your day in order to accomplish your short-term and long-term goals? Well, if you’re struggling with any of these problems, or anything else to do with organization, planning, time management or productivity, it is important to find a technique that is going to help you overcome these obstacles, like the Kanban method!

What is the Kanban method?

I was recently doing some research on time management techniques to help me stay productive during quarantine and I stumbled across the Kanban method. Kanban (roughly translated to signboard or billboard in English) is a lean scheduling system developed in Japan and popularized by one of the leading manufacturing companies, Toyota, who are well known for creating great efficiency in the workplace environment. The aim of a Kanban is to manage and improve performance across all human systems, this allows you to work more efficiently and complete your tasks quicker. A Kanban is used by creating a Kanban board that helps you visualize the progress that you are making on your tasks and the process in which it needs to go through from start to finish, we’ll be teaching you how to create your own Kanban board in the next section.

How to make a Kanban board.

This isn’t just sticky notes on a whiteboard, it’s a visualization tool, which allows you to see all the stages of your work flow in order to get your jobs done.

In it’s simplest form, a Kanban board is split up into three different stages which are:

  • Do – the tasks that you want to complete.
  • Doing – the tasks that you are working on right now.
  • Done – the tasks that you have completed.

To create a Kanban board, you need to think about the tasks that you or your team have got to complete in order to reach your main goals, you will then write these down onto cards that you can move, for example by using sticky notes.

After creating your cards (tasks), you then need to create your Kanban board. Depending on what you or your teams job is, will influence the stages you use in your board, however, a simple template to use is this.

Backlog – this is the area where you put all your tasks that need to be completed, it may be your ideas if you’re an entrepreneur or a job you need to do if you work for a company.

Stage 1 – this is the first place where you can make an actionable step in achieving your task, as most things go in order, let’s use Toyota as an example, you’re not going to put the steering wheel on before the actual wheels when building a car.

Stage 2 – this would be the next step in the progress to completing your task.

Complete – this is the stage where a task would go, once all the actionable steps towards it have been completed, using the Toyota example again, this is where the car has been made and can now be sold.

So, let’s say you are a YouTuber for example, your backlog could be full of all the ideas of videos you want to film, then in stage 1, this is the first actionable step you can take, so sticking to the YouTube theme, this could be filming all the shots you need to take. Stage 2 could be the editing process you need to go through before uploading the video to YouTube, this could be where the team element could come in if you have an editor and finally the completed stage, this would be where your video is ready to upload for your appreciative audience to enjoy.

You can have more than just 2 stages in the “in progress / doing” part of the Kanban board depending on how many stages there are to complete a task and how detailed you want each stage to be.

What is the process of using the Kanban method?

When you complete a task, you will then move it onto the next stage of the work flow process, for example, if you complete the first stage for that task, you will then move it to the second, until you can finally place it in the completed column.
To successfully implement the Kanban method In to your life there are 6 practical tips that you should consider, 4 of which are specific to working as part of a team.

The 6 practices to implementing the Kanban method successfully:

Visualize the work flow

The Kanban board follows an orderly fashion from beginning to end. Once a section of a task has been accomplished, it moves to the next part of the process until it is completed. There are no limits on how many stages you should use but, by lowering the amount of steps until completion, you are making it simpler and easier to get things done quick and efficiently. It is important for you/your team to know which roles they are responsible for so there is no misunderstanding and everything runs smoothly.

Limit work in progress

One of the biggest threats to high productivity is being overworked and becoming stressed, which ultimately makes more inefficiency, to combat this, you need to manage the amount of tasks in the “doing stages” of your Kanban board as this is one of the primary factors of the method. Typically, a Kanban board would limit the amount of tasks per columns to 4, this is also known as a work in progress (WIP) limit. The reason for these limits is to make problems more visible and in turn the workload to flow steadily through each stage.

Manage the work flow

The whole idea of implementing a Kanban system is to create a smooth healthy flow. By flow, we mean the movement of work items through the production process. We are interested in the speed and the smoothness of movement. Instead of managing people you should be focusing on the work that they need to complete so that the cycle time is reduced.

Identify the common goal

If you are working as a part of a team, it is important to identify a common goal you are aiming towards. Although you may have your own individual jobs to complete the task, it is important that you work together to achieve one goal. The process of the Kanban should be explained to all team members so, no one is running around like a headless chicken because they don’t know what they should be working on.

Feedback loops

To work in a group setting is very hard and that’s why having a collaborative environment is so important. You should organize a period of time where you and your team can review how your systems are working, otherwise known as a feedback loop. These meetings don’t need to be long or often but, they should be effective by focusing on key features of the business such as, things that need to be prioritized and for seeing problems that may occur. By engaging in feedback loops you and your team will be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Collaborate

To work successfully as a team, it is important that everyone shares the same vision and they are working together well, so that tasks can be completed as quick as possible and without any hiccups. Individual stages, will have different people working on them so, it is important to have constant communication between each stage.

What are the 4 principles of Kanban?

The Kanban method is a technique used to make incremental improvements towards a desired outcome, this is done by having a system that allows you or your team to visualize the progress of completion. There are 4 basic principles that express the key elements of the Kanban method.

The 4 principles of the Kanban method:

Don’t stop the current flow

One of the great benefits of using the Kanban method, is that it is very flexible, meaning that it can work alongside other systems and techniques that you already have in place. If you’re current process for managing workflow is successful, you wouldn’t want to make drastic changes that could disrupt the current flow and that’s why the Kanban method is so useful, because it can highlight mistakes of your current system without effecting it.

Work on the 1%

Like many other Japanese philosophies, Kanban focuses on the small, yet effective changes that you can make to improve your productivity. By using these small building blocks in life, the opportunities are endless. By making these 1% decisions, you are allowing you and/or your team to build great moment, which in turn will create less resistance.

Use your old systems as a starting point

Kanban recognizes that there may already be roles and responsibilities, put into place by you or your company, to help productivity and that doesn’t need to be changed. A Kanban should not worsen the structure of a system, instead, it should only enhance it. The Kanban method should be used only to improve faulty systems.

Leadership is key

For teams it is important for the Kanban method to encourage all the members to foster a leadership mindset. All members of a team should take pride in their roles and responsibilities in order to reach optimal performance.

Why should you use the Kanban method?

Whether you work for yourself, outsource some of your work to others or you are a part of a big chain within a company, you can use the Kanban method to boost your productivity by having a visual representation of your work flow, which allows you to see your progress and problems that may occur.

Benefits of using Kanban

Better understanding

By having a visual representation of your work flow, it allows you to better understand how well things are going. By using a Kanban board, you can look for bottlenecks and improvements that you can make to make things run more smoothly.

Boost In productivity

Wouldn’t it be good if you could do more with what you have already, instead of throwing endless amounts of time and money to complete tasks? Well, with the kanban method you can. By implementing this technique into your work, you can control the efficiency of your work.

By using a system like this, you can boost your productivity, as the cycle time from when something is in the backlog stage, to when it is completed is shortened, meaning that you have done the same amount of work but, just in a quicker time.

Prevents burnout

This method uses a “pull” system, meaning that tasks are only moved into the next stage of the process, when there is capacity to do so. By having WIP limits in place you are reducing the chances of being overworked and ultimately burning out entirely.

Predictability

Although predictability is usually a bad thing, in this case it’s not. This system is very stable and from this, you can expect consistent results. If something is in demand, you can roughly estimate how long it will take for it to complete it’s cycle. The tasks that are being pulled in should be roughly the same amount as the ones leaving, which allows you to make data-driven decisions.

Reduces waste

Waste is defined as any action that uses recourses without adding any value and this is not the case when using the Kanban method, no money is needed, nor is any time wasted, because as any stage of a task is completed, it moves on to the next.

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