Kanban board

The Kanban technique was created by a smart bunch of engineers at the car manufacturer, Toyota, who discovered one of the most compelling productivity techniques in the most unlikely of places: the supermarket.

They were inspired by the way supermarkets managed to only stock the items required, thus ensuring that customers could always buy what they wanted. The process was known as ‘just-in-time delivery’ and Toyota realised they could apply the same methodology to their production line.

But what is Kanban? Put simply, it is a method by which the individual elements of large projects are broken down into bite-sized pieces and placed onto a board that features separate columns for the various stages each element must go through.

Nothing illustrates this better than an example, so here’s a (very simple) Kanban board in action:

Kanban board example

However, Kanban is yet another productivity hack, and a quick browse through this very website will find numerous examples of alternatives. So, how do you know Kanban is right for you? I think there are 6 telltale signs:

1. You’re constantly seeking the progress of tasks

Even if you’re the one undertaking the task in question, you may continually ask yourself at which stage along the product line it sits. And, if someone else is heading it up, the inability to easily check the progress they’ve made or what lies ahead is a key indication you need to invest in Kanban.

2. Others are constantly seeking the progress of tasks

If you’re a project manager and your team is constantly knocking on your door or sending you emails asking “has project X reached testing yet?”, they clearly don’t have ultimate visibility of the project as a whole. Kanban is designed to give everyone involved just that.

3. You finish work and question what you’ve achieved

There’s nothing worse than getting home from what felt like a hard day at work only to realise that you can’t recount exactly what you achieved. If that sounds familiar, Kanban can help, because it excels in providing a record of completed tasks you can access at any time. With Kanban, if you’ve done something – you’ll know you’ve done it.

4. You experience regular scope creep

Scope creep is when the requirements for a project increase during its production. It is incredibly difficult to deal with and almost always results in a finished product that is late to market.

Scope creep usually takes place when there is no easily digestible overview of the project that clearly shows the individual stages of each constituent element. Kanban provides that picture and acts as gatekeeper to the project’s success. If a task isn’t on the board, it isn’t happening – simple.

5. You can never find project collateral

Those meeting notes from three weeks ago, the original spec for Part A, the comment from Sarah about how a particular element of the project should be undertaken – if you’re forever losing stuff that relates to the project because it all lies in disparate locations, Kanban could be the answer.

If you use an app-based Kanban board such as Trello, everything relating to the project and the individual to-do items are contained within one location that can be accessed from virtually anywhere and on any device. Documents, discussions and checklists will no longer be misplaced.

6. ‘Completed’ projects are incomplete

Let’s use a software development company as an example. If they’re constantly releasing software that is full of bugs and missing features, it is unlikely they are abiding by the Kanban principal.

Kanban ensures that every element of a project follows the route it is supposed to. When applied to our example company, this means that every piece of software they produce will, at some stage, pass through testing and user acceptance, lessening the chances of a buggy product making its way to users.


Kanban isn’t for everyone and, like everything productivity-related, if you find something that works for you, stick with it – don’t experiment. However, if you work in a heavily project-led environment and recognise some of the signs above, it may be time to take a leaf out of Toyota’s book and try out Kanban.

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