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What Is Kanban
By Michelle Symonds

Anyone who has ever been on project management training knows that there are constantly new and innovative methods being introduced to help you become a successful project manager. These are often based on research within the field, and the observations of experts in the field of management. If you have recently been on one of these project management courses, it is possible that you may have come across the Kanban Method.

Aims of the Kanban Method

This approach was originally formulated by David J. Anderson and there are two main aims. The first of these is to help you to remove the chaos of a project by focusing and prioritizing. The second aim is to make delivery more consistent by finding solutions to problems associated with workflow and processes.The catchphrase linked to the Kanban Method is ‘stop starting and start finishing’.

The Basic Principles

This method uses four basic principles:

  1. Use what you already do now. You do not need to stop your current practices as the Kanban Method can be used alongside what you are doing now without making too many big changes in your workplace.
  2. Make small changes gradually. This approach is designed so that you will get minimal resistance from team members. It encourages managers to make evolutionary and incremental changes one step at a time.

  3. Respect and recognize the current roles and processes you have in place as these have value.

  4. People at all levels can be a leader, regardless of whether this is their role or title.

Core Properties of the Approach

The Kanban Method is divided into five core properties:

  • You need to visualize the workflow to help you understand the process from beginning to completion. It is only by doing this that you can identify areas for change. One method of doing this is to use wall cards or columns to categorize your work requests.
  • Limit work-in-progress (WIP). The idea here is to keep work at each stage of the project limited by moving them to the next level before adding new work to that stage. This can help you to identify workflow problems.

  • Manage the workflow through positive change. Once you have identified problems, you need to implement a change to resolve the issue. This is a constant process, as when one problem is solved another may arise.

  • Make policies clear. To do this, you will need to make sure everyone understands the process by publishing, promoting and socializing the changes. If people don’t understand they cannot make the improvements.

  • Collaborative improvement. Making the changes is not just the work of one person. Everyone in the team needs to be involved in identifying problems, finding solutions and making changes.

On project management courses, you may have heard the term ‘kaizen’. This is often used to describe continuous improvement which is the key idea of the Kanban Method. Overall, the Kanban Method is an approach that can be applied to many different working situations, although it is generally intended for improving project management.

Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management training can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and is essential for a successful outcome to any project.

There is a wide range of formal and informal training courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses from organizations such as Parallel Project Training.

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