Kanban, explained

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Kanban, a term borrowed from Japanese, means ‘visual sign’ or ‘card’. At its core, it is a visual management tool. It aids teams in managing and optimizing workflow. Kanban focuses on continuous improvement, flexibility, and flow. Let’s delve deeper into understanding its essence, how teams can leverage it, and how it stands apart from Scrum.

What is Kanban?

Originally, Toyota engineers in the 1940s developed Kanban. They sought to improve manufacturing efficiency. Today, many sectors use this method, not just manufacturing. IT, HR, and sales are just a few examples.

Kanban, explained
Photo by Eden Constantino on Unsplash

Kanban operates on a few basic principles:

  • By making work visible, teams can easily spot bottlenecks and areas of inefficiency
  • Teams limit the number of items they work on. This reduces multitasking and ensures focus
  • Monitor, measure, and improve the flow of work items
  • Establish clear guidelines for each process stage
  • Regularly review and adapt processes

A Kanban board is a common tool to implement this method. It displays tasks on cards, moving through columns. Each column represents a phase of the workflow. For example, “To Do”, “In Progress”, and “Done”.

How teams benefit from Kanban

Kanban greatly enhances transparency in teams since every member has the ability to view tasks, understand their status, and identify who’s in charge, which in turn fosters a sense of accountability and promotes clear communication. This system also bolsters efficiency: by pinpointing and addressing bottlenecks directly, operations become more streamlined and wasteful activities diminish. Unlike other methods, Kanban offers remarkable flexibility by not binding teams to extended plans, allowing them to swiftly adapt to any emerging changes. One of the fundamental aspects of Kanban is its emphasis on continuous improvement, facilitated by a steady stream of feedback and an inherent adaptability, which collectively pave the way for ongoing refinement and growth. Furthermore, Kanban plays a pivotal role in reducing burnout among team members. By consciously limiting the Work in Progress (WIP), individuals are able to concentrate more effectively, handling fewer tasks simultaneously, which naturally alleviates stress.

Kanban vs. Scrum

Kanban and Scrum both reside under the Agile ‘umbrella’, yet they offer unique approaches. For starters, Kanban follows a continuous flow, while Scrum revolves around fixed-length iterations known as sprints, typically lasting two weeks. Additionally, Scrum has defined roles like the Scrum Master and Product Owner. In contrast, Kanban doesn’t lay out specific roles. When it comes to boards, Scrum’s resets after each sprint, but Kanban’s remains ongoing without resets. Release cycles also differ; Scrum teams release at the end of sprints, whereas Kanban teams release whenever necessary. Finally, Kanban champions flexibility throughout the process, but Scrum leans toward implementing changes primarily at sprint boundaries.

In conclusion

Both Kanban and Scrum offer unique advantages. Teams should select the method that aligns best with their needs. For those valuing flexibility and continuous flow, Kanban is ideal. On the other hand, teams looking for structure might lean towards Scrum.

In essence, Kanban is a potent tool for efficiency and adaptability. By visualizing work, limiting WIP, and encouraging feedback, it fosters a culture of continuous improvement. So, teams seeking to streamline their processes might consider giving Kanban a try.

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