kanban framework, categories that say "to do," "in progress," and "done"

Kanban: How can it help your team?

The Japanese word “kanban,” meaning signboard, was originally used by shopkeepers who would create custom signs to attract customers to their shops. Though the signs varied widely in their style, they had one thing in common- like contemporary kanban cards, the content was easy to understand.

In the 1940s, Toyota applied the kanban framework to improve efficiency and productivity, with Toyota line workers using Kanbans (visual signs) to demonstrate when they were running low on raw materials, so that they could be replenished, and also attaching them to completed products. This system helped Toyota drastically streamline their automotive process and inventory management, and quickly spread throughout other industries.

Kanban in the modern day

The virtual Kanban system we’re familiar with today is a far cry from the assembly line, but remains a highly useful visual framework that helps different teams visualise the steps they need to take and align their efforts.

For managers challenged by the constraints of the iron triangle’s measurements of success (scope, cost and time) and want to prioritise value over scope, the kanban method can be extremely useful in helping to gain a clearer sense of the specific steps within a process and in evaluating other factors that contribute to a project’s success.

Part of the appeal of kanban lies in its scalability: whilst single teams can use kanban visualisation to manage their projects and workflows, many organisations can scale growth  across teams and departments using  a hierarchy of connected boards and cards.

In short: when everyone’s on the same page, you cut out the time-consuming status updates at team meetings.

Why does kanban work so well?

  • Visualising the work helps you see the bigger picture

Understanding the state of work in terms of process and progress can be challenging. Creating a visual model of your work and progress will help increase awareness of what it takes to take an item or feature from a request to a deliverable, and can also help the team understand the current state of work.

Visually communicating the status of work through cards on a board (e.g. to-do, in progress, done) can help teams see the big picture, as well as identify current or potential bottlenecks that may affect productivity.

  • Increases collaboration and transparency to bring issues to light

A good kanban system can help teams understand how their time is being spent, and develop solutions to issues such as some team members being overworked whilst others are being underutilised.

Setting a work-in-progress limit helps to ensure that everyone has a manageable workload, meaning that teams are able to work sustainably to complete high-quality work in a healthier environment.

  • Continuous feedback loops means continuously improving workflows

The kanban method aims to achieve kaizen (continuous improvement). Kanban boards provide a dynamic view of workflows and give teams greater flexibility to experiment with different processes and evaluate the impact.

The use of continuous feedback loops can also ensure that teams and organisations are responding in a timely manner to any roadblocks that are identified.

How can Axis guide teams using the kanban method?

Axis may seem like a straightforward meeting tool, but its pre-built activities for the Context and Creation stages can help you and your team maximise efficiency and improve workflows.

Context Stage

In the Context stage of your meeting or workshop, use activities like “Rose, Thorn, Bud” and “SWOT” to find potential bottlenecks your team may face. During planning and retrospective meetings, you can then use the information you've gathered during sessions to refine your process.

  • Rose, Thorn, Bud: Identify your project’s successes, opportunities, and challenges to later create specific ideas for how you’ll improve.
  • SWOT: Uncover the project’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats so you can assess potential roadblocks and develop a strategy to overcome them.

Creation Stage

Axis’s activities like “Idea Creator” and “Creative Matrix” help you and your team create more actionable ideas that you can turn into kanban cards (project tasks). If you're following a Context template, Creation inspires ideas for creating a clear, goal-driven action plan.

  • Idea Creator: Ideate specific tasks to match the key objectives you outlined in the Context stage.
  • Creative Matrix: Define your project phases or task categories to create a future kanban board.

Using Kanban and looking for a better, collaborative tool? Invite your development team to a free Axis session and start making more productive and strategic decisions sooner.

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