Six steps to implementing a Kanban system in your organisation

Kanban has been around as a methodology since the '40s but is now getting more attention partly due to the increase in remote working and the popularity of agile and lean in every sector. While Kanban was originally applied to manufacturing, it can work in virtually any setting. It can be used as a stand-alone tool, or in conjunction with other agile management methods. Implementing it, however, can be easier said than done. Let's take a look at the steps you need to take to implement a Kanban system in your organisation.

Step 1: Learn What Kanban is and is Not

The very first thing you need to do is understand the basics of Kanban. It's also important that you understand its limitations before you get started. If you want to learn more about an agile Kanban board, you should look into the basics online. There are many useful guides which will help you understand how Kanban boards work including their components. You'll learn about things such as WIP limits, swimlanes, and how to use Kanban boards to streamline workflows and work towards continuous improvement as well.

Step 2: Map Your Workflow

The next step is mapping out your workflows. For this, you will need to get your whole team on board. You want to go through the steps that tasks have to go through to go from “to do” to “done”. You want to know where and how handoffs are made, and whether there are any testing cycles in your processes.

You can start mapping your processes on a whiteboard. You can then pick a recent task that was completed and take it through the map to see if changes need to be made.

Step 3: Visualise the Workflow

The next step is taking your tasks and visualising them. You can take upcoming tasks and tasks that are in progress and put them on cards. You don’t need to go into details here. The only goal of this exercise is learning how to visualise work through a swimlane, nothing more.

You shouldn’t overlook small tasks either. That’s what Kanban was created for, making sure that all tasks are accounted for, no matter their size, and that every process is monitored so it can be improved. If any task is taking away some time, it deserves to be on the board, so make sure that you add those as well.

Step 4: Improve Flow

The first thing you'll need to focus on is flow. Good flow means tasks move seamlessly through swimlanes. Bad flow means that there's a lot of stop-and-go. If you see too many cards clogging up a lane, then there's a bottleneck. If some parts of the process always seem to stall, then it might be a good idea to add more people to that task or look at automation.

This is also where you need to get your team together and work on these issues. One of the beauties of Kanban is that it allows you to see exactly who is involved in certain processes and survey them. In some cases, they might be the ones underperforming, but in others, there might be some fundamental flaws in your system. In this case, make sure to only make one change at a time so you can see the impact of every one of them.

Step 5: Work on your WIP

Knowing how to have an optimal amount of work in progress will play a major role in helping you maximise your output. Too much WIP and you’ll have more chances of swimlanes clogging up. You might also be putting too much stress on some parts of the chain, which results in overworked employees on the ground.

Having an optimal WIP will allow you to increase speed, improve quality, reduce context switching, and have smoother handoffs, among other things. Note that you can both limit WIP on a team or individual basis, so we suggest you use both.

Step 6: Work on Continuous Improvement

Kanban's purpose is not simply to help businesses coordinate work through visualisation. Kanban was also created to foster continuous improvement. This means that your Kanban board should always be evolving, and you should always be collecting key metrics so you can make informed data-driven decisions.

Two of the most important metrics to keep an eye on are cycle time and lead time. Lead time is the period between order and delivery and cycle time is the total amount of time it takes for a task to be completed. These will give you the insight needed to start making concrete improvements to your processes.

As you can see, implementing a Kanban system doesn't have to be complicated. However, it will need the cooperation of everyone on your team and your complete dedication to get the results expected.