Let's skip the lengthy introductions. Since you've clicked on this article you probably already know a thing or two about Kanban and are toying with the idea of trying it out with your team.
In case you're new to Kanban, check out our previous article on how and why Kanban works.
Today, we'll put the theory aside and take a look at a couple of practical steps to start.
Begin right where you are
Introducing Kanban is not about radical changes. On the contrary, it is about respecting the state of affairs.
So, first try to map and describe your current workflow as accurately as possible,looking at each step from the start to the end of your work process. These steps are the stages of your workflow.
There are typically the following three steps: to do – in progress – done. However, every team works in a different environment and context, so the names of the steps, as well as their number, can vary.
What to watch out for: don't put on rose-coloured glasses. Describe your process with maximum accuracy and don't try to improve anything or come up with innovative solutions, yet. This will help you get used to the methodology. There will be plenty of time for changes later on.
Get started on the board
Now comes the fun part.Create a board and add columnsthat will represent the stages of your workflow.
For example, if you have a customer support team, your primary columns might look like this: requests – in progress – solved.
The first column will contain new customer requests in the form of Kanban cards. These represent units of work, or tasks, which you are going to work on.
Now you have a board where you can move cards from left to right and thus help your customers step by step.
What you get: the board will be an effective tool that will provide you with visual feedback on what’s happening and what you're working on, so you won't forget anything.
Start limiting yourself
Before you begin moving cards, there's one more important thing to do – set limits on the amount of work in progress.
Setting limits means that you specify a maximum number of tasks per column at one time. You will then only move a card here once there's a free space below this limit.
The specific number depends on the nature of your team, but a good rule of thumb is the fewer, the better. Ideally, one open task per person.
Let's say that in our customer support example, there are two specialists dealing with customer requests. Your limit on the in progress column should be set to two Kanban cards.
Why use limits? The purpose of Kanban is to ensure a seamless workflow and single-tasking is an ideal way to achieve this. You pick a task, fully focus on it, solve it, and then pick another one. In the end, you will work faster than if you were working on more things at the same time because you will avoid interruptions and delays.
Observe, measure, communicate
Kanban is about gradual changes that will make your processes more efficient. Hence, it's important not to stop at the first board.
Schedule regular meetings, where you will analyse the entire workflow.
Pay attention to where the work goes smoothly and where it gets stuck. Measure how much time it takes on average for one card to go through one cycle, i.e. to pass from the left to the right of the board, and how many cards you can solve in a given period of time.
What to keep in mind: To get different perspectives on each stage of the workflow, let each of your team members contribute to the analysis. This will help you see the whole picture and identify minor flaws that can be fixed.
Don't be afraid of changes
The previous step has provided you with valuable data about your workflow. These will now be your starting point for further optimisation.
Work with the ideas that arise during the analysis and look for ways in which you can improve your process and streamline the workflow.
For example, when dealing with some complex issues, your customer support specialists might get stuck waiting for developers. Try adding a designated column for the developers. This will free up space below the limit for consultants, so they can work on other issues in the meantime.
Do you feel like some requests keep repeating? Add another column for those and note how many cards pass through it. If your feeling proves to be right, perhaps it's time to add an FAQ section to your website or implement a chatbot to deal with simple requests.
A modified board could later look like this: requests – in progress – FAQs – dev – solved
Don't push too hard: don't make too many big changes at once, proceed steadily. Discuss new ideas with your team and determine the expected outcomes of the changes. After the first couple of cycles, you can compare the current state with the former one and see if you've met your goal.
The best thing about Kanban is that it doesn't end with this optimisation. It is a cycle, and the changes you make will be the first of many.
You can keep analysing your system and, after small steps and experiments, gradually improve it. Hence, things will start moving more smoothly. Your communication will become more efficient, your team will become more flexible and, ultimately, this will enhance your overall productivity.
Just try it and see for yourself.