What are Kanban Boards

The first principle of Kanban is to visually track every item of work through the entire process. This applies to software or any other item of work that has to move through various stages to completion.

This is done with the aid of a Kanban board, which consists of a series of columns - each representing a stage in the workflow.

The most common medium to track work is through a physical board with stick-it notes representing tasks.

A Physical Kanban Board with stick-it notes

A Physical Kanban Board with stick-it notes

As teams get larger and workflows get more complex, it makes sense to move away from physical boards to project management tools that support Kanban boards.

Digital Kanban Tools

Software development teams are increasingly moving to online project management tools for a variety of benefits.

  1. It is easy to add context through attachments and detailed descriptions. This is very important for technical projects where detailed specifications are a must.
  2. Integrations to other tools (github, zeppelin, slack etc) are available at the click of a button.
  3. Remote collaboration is possible.
  4. Metrics are automatically captured and reports are generated in real-time.
  5. Handling a large number of cards, editing them and modifying workflows are much easier on online project management tools.
  6. Risk of data loss is almost zero.

The most basic Kanban process can be implemented on a board containing just 3 columns : to do, doing, and done.

A Simple Kanban Process

Image credits: Shmula

All the items of work are initially in the “to do” column. As work gets picked up and worked on by team members, the respective cards are moved column to column till they reach the completed state.

The most important aspect of this way of working is that the visibility of tasks is greatly improved. Important decisions regarding work progress and improvements in processes can be made without being in the dark.

The basic principles of Kanban can be applied to more complex processes by creating more columns on the board. There are best practices to be followed to ensure that the right columns are chosen. This is crucial as having too many or too few columns can disrupt the overall workflow and cause artificial bottlenecks.

Here are a few with more complex workflows modelled into the board.

In the next chapter we discuss what a Kanban card is and the different parts of a Kanban card.

Vidarth Jaikrishnan

Vidarth Jaikrishnan

Product at Zepel.io