A Quick Guide to Kanban Cards


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Kanban, or billboard in Japanese, is a visual tool for scheduling. It was first introduced on the floor of the Toyota factory as a just-in-time manufacturing method that delivered just the materials needed at the time they were needed.

Since that time, kanban has expanded and can be found throughout project management, used by teams that have never assembled a car. Teams have responded to the visual style of kanban software as an easy way to focus on the task at hand. Project managers love its transparency into project workflow.

Kanban Basics

Kanban is made up of a board and cards. It’s really that simple. Whether using a physical board or having a digital tool, the concept is the same and so is the use. That easy interface is part of its charm. If you’ve just heard about kanban or have only cursory knowledge, then read on and see how kanban cards can stack the project deck in your favor.

What Is a Kanban Board?

Before we get to the kanban card, which is the life’s blood of kanban, it’s important to define the environment when those cards reside: the kanban board.

The kanban board is a field divided into columns. Each column is a phase of the production cycle. These columns can be named whatever is appropriate to the project, but in general they are broken up into three: To Do, Doing and Done.

It’s deceptively simple. Under the To Do column is a list of all your tasks. Team members just move the task from the To Do column into the Doing column once they’ve started the execution of that task. Now everyone can see that the task is in play. When done, the task moves to that column, indicating that the work has been completed.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Task Management

Kanban Boards in ProjectManager.com Are Customizable
An example of a kanban board in ProjectManager.com

The kanban board, then, represents the overall workflow of the project. These boards are great for any process. They organize the work and keep teams from getting bottlenecked. But what about the tasks themselves, how are they symbolized on the board?

What Is a Kanban Card?

Now we’re getting to the key part of the kanban process, the card. In project management, they represent the task as it moves through the production cycle. Each kanban card is one task. You can place as many cards under each column as you like. These cards can be assigned to one or more team members.

The team members are able to see the work assigned to them in the to do column. Then they can pull their task one by one into the doing column. There it stays as they execute the task. Once complete they then move the card into the done column. Now it’s clear that the work on that task has been completed and the cycle starts up again.

While the use of the word card is becoming more distanced from an actual card as kanban migrates online, the usage is still valid. It’s the same as a record, even as music is increasingly distributed digitally, the old terms are hard to shake.

5 Kanban Card Tips

The kanban card is a task, but it’s a means to track progress as it moves from one column to the next in the workflow. This gives the production of that task greater transparency. To master this process, here are five tips to get the most out of your kanban cards.

1. Critical Data

The kanban card should be filled out with all the critical data necessary to complete the task. This includes who on the team is responsible for the work, what that work is in a brief description, when it’s due, if there are any dependencies linked to the task and then supporting documents and images attached to the card for greater direction and clarity.

2. Keep It Simple

The point of kanban cards is to keep your focus on what must be done now. When you start using kanban cards, start off simple. You can always ramp up later. A kanban card is going to go through three iterations: to do, doing and done. Of course it can do much more than that, but at first it’s best to stick to the basics. As you get comfortable, expand what your kanban does.

3. Set Up Policies

Before starting to use kanban cards, set up clear policies on methodology. If everyone on the team understands what the kanban cards do, the process will be more successful. For instance, when can a card be worked on, what can it move from one column to the next, etc.? These are important boundaries to set up to make sure your agile workflow is smooth.

4. Feedback Loops

The kanban card is not written in stone. As the project changes, so should the kanban card and board. There is always room for improvement in your workflow and the kanban is there to respond to it. So, take a moment regularly to look at your kanban and see if it can be improved.

5. Don’t Clutter Your Doing Column

You don’t want to have a bottleneck clogging the process of your works. The idea of limiting your work in progress (WIP) column keeps that queue from getting too many kanban cards and potentially leaving a lot of those cards undone. You don’t want cards in an unfinished state or start multitasking in an effort to get things done too quickly. Just work on priority cards.

ProjectManager.com and Kanban Cards

That’s the basics, but kanban boards have developed exponentially as they’ve been folded into larger project management software tools. ProjectManager.com is software that gets projects organized with some of the most dynamic kanban features available.

A Customizable Experience

Some kanban boards might as well be written in stone: they aren’t open to how you work. ProjectManager.com has kanban columns that are customizable, so you can name them whatever is appropriate for your project. Create as many as needed for the project.

ProjectManager.com Kanban Board Example Teams want a kanban that’s easy to use and flexible. Cards can be dragged and dropped from one column to the next, which makes updating progress easy. But these cards are more than mere tasks.

The ProjectManager.com kanban cards are highly dynamic. For example, you can add a to-do list to the card assigned to you and manage your own workflow. Each card can be tagged and prioritized to make it easy to sort. Plus, project managers can attach as many relevant documents and images as necessary to the card.

Collaboration Features

Once the card has been formatted and assigned, then you don’t want it just to sit there. ProjectManager.com has cards that make it easy for teams to work together.

Teams can comment, tag other project members and attach files. All of this is attached to the task, so you don’t have to shift through a mass of emails to find what you need.

Collaboration features in ProjectManager.com Mangers have different priorities. They want to assign and track the project. With ProjectManager.com you can assign tasks right from the kanban card. Team members are notified when they’re assigned, so everyone is on the same page.

Multiple Project Views for More Control

Not everything you do in a project can rest on kanban boards, though. That’s why ProjectManager.com has multiple project views. Teams might prefer the visual workflow of a kanban view, while managers might want to see tasks laid out on a timeline on a Gantt chart, so they can link dependencies. There’s also task list and calendar views.

task list feature in ProjectManager.com

Actionable Reporting

It’s important to have data to track a project. You don’t want to have to switch to another software to see how the project is going. ProjectManager.com has it all under one roof. One-click reports tell you how tasks are progressing, as status updates are instantly reflected in the software. It gives you the data you need to make the right choice.

Stakeholders also want to know how the project is moving forward, but they don’t want you to go in the weeds with them. ProjectManager.com has a real-time dashboard for a high-level view, including task progress, to keep stakeholders in the loop.

ProjectManager.com Dashboard

Kanban is not just for manufacturing anymore. It’s a favorite tool for scrum teams working in an agile environment, but also for marketing teams, HR and anyone involved in any type of project or industry. Kanban cards are a winning hand.

ProjectManager.com has a robust kanban tool that provides visibility into projects and allows teams to have the autonomy to work together more productively. Its cloud-based software gives project managers and teams the most up-to-date data possible, which means more informed decisions. The kanban is but one of four project views, all of which are fully integrated into the software, keeping everyone on the same page. Try the kanban tool from ProjectManager.com today by taking this free 30-day trial.

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