Bring project parts together in Kanban
Imagine a production line in a factory that makes cars. You have the starting pieces of metal and various teams working on different components at different times. Add those components together at varying stages until you create a shiny, new car.
This is Kanban – the project management method of sectioning off stages of a project, working on them at different times and to different levels of completion until they’re needed for the final product.
Kanban translates to “visual card” and was created by a Toyota engineer in Japan. It’s a project management system that is very visual and takes Agile to the next level of detail.
Declan Collins, development manager at project management advisory company HQ Management, says Kanban further breaks down the stages to get to the final product and acknowledges that unless a stage is on the critical path, it can be done at any time.
“Sometimes you’ve got to take a bit of that leap to go ‘We need to get people to start at stage three even though we’re in stage one because if we don’t understand that now, we will get the second stage wrong’,” he says.
“So, I think it’s having the sense of forward thinking to apply resources at something that may not seem important at the time.
“Kanban allows you to find your scope, identify your stakeholders and your end users. It can be used to really map out everything that is bad about a project and help tailor your delivery model based on those issues or constraints and opportunities.
“Sometimes you can identify what could be a risk and turn it into an opportunity, and then use that to drive everything else.”
In Kanban, the starting point is to identify and define the stages to your project, then use the four pillars of Kanban philosophy.
Four pillars of Kanban
Think of old-fashioned index cards where you have all of the details for a task or client on the card. In Kanban, the “card” is a representation of a task or stage of development.
By having a cap on the number of cards (or tasks in progress), you’re making sure teams don’t have too much on their plate and don’t get overwhelmed or distracted.
Move the cards (tasks or stages) down the list in order of importance.
Constantly analyse and change the work flow for improvement throughout the whole project process.
The benefit of Kanban is that if you only assign as much work as a team can handle, people get less distracted and projects are more likely to fall within deadline.
It operates best when a team is self-motivated and knows how to work well together to keep moving. If using this method, team members should have overlapping skills so one individual doesn’t slow the process.
Collins advises Kanban is probably not the best project methodology if deadlines are strict or tight.
Kanban can be complex to use and it is industry specific. Collins says it doesn’t really work for civil construction or other construction projects.
But it’s a sensible and cost-effective process and methodology for front-end components of a project, “that planning and identification phase where you really want that interaction behind you and as many people as possible, giving you those ideas,” he says.