Designing the Kanban Board

Creating a visual backdrop of the steps in a process, through which cards representing individual work products are moved as work is completed

Why to Do This Practice

Kanban boards are a way of visualizing work. They help those using them know what has been completed, what has not yet been started, what is currently being done, and how much progress has been made on what is being done. They also help know how much work is assigned to each person in each role that touches each piece of work. The kanban board makes all this and more visible.

Who Does This Practice

All roles in a Lean-Agile organization are involved in this practice

What to Do

Inputs

Inputs to this practice include:

  • Value Stream Map or a generic process (e.g., the phases for an organization’s standard software development process).
  • The organization’s Classes of Service

Approach

  1. Create a grid for the board.
    • If starting from a Value Stream Map, create a grid in which the columns are the activity boxes in the Value Stream Map and where there is any significant delay between the completion of one activity and the start of another, add a queue column to the Kanban board between the two activity columns
    • If a Value Stream Map has not yet been created, initiate one if possible, and do the above.
    • If starting from a generic development process (less advisable), create a grid in which the columns are the standard activities in the generic process; e.g., “Requirements,” “Design,” “Coding,” “Testing,” etc.
    • Develop a card design that includes the most-important characteristics of each work item; e.g., start date, completion date, assigned worker, etc.
  2. Write explicit policies for each column in the Kanban board, for when a card can enter or leave a column (either work activity or queue). Both entry and exit will not be needed for every column, but both should be considered for each column.
  3. Identify WIP (Work-in-Process) limits for the columns, aiming to minimize them. Lower WIP limits lead to work “pile-ups” just before work steps that fall behind. This allows the users of the Kanban board to see where the pile-ups are happening, and analyze, identify, and then fix the root causes.

Discussion

A kanban board has these elements:

  • A table that shows work activities and queues as columns. It can also have horizontal “lanes” for different kinds of work (e.g. Classes of Service)
  • WIP limits on each column in the table
  • A design for “cards” that represent work items that will be moved through the table as team members work on them. These show key information about each work item, such as the name of the work item, when work on it first began, who is assigned to do the work, when it must be done (if it has a fixed deadline; omit if it doesn’t), and actual finish date

When to Do This Practice

At any time. While Kanban boards are more effective as part of an overall approach to improving organization or team effectiveness (e.g., as part of a Kanban Management System), they can be used on top of an existing process (e.g., Waterfall or Scrum) to gain deeper insight into how the ongoing work is progressing. The organization or team can use the insights this provides, to identify needed improvements

Where to Do This Practice

This work should be done within the organization or team that will be using the Kanban board

Outcomes

This practice helps provide real-time knowledge of the status of the work the organization or team has been and is doing.

Progress on actual work items is usually invisible. A visible representation is needed to make work underway seen so it can be managed. It enables teams to reduce many factors that slow progress and stress workers; such as overtasking/multi-tasking, misallocation of roles (such as too few testers), etc.