Unlock All Your Team “Kan” Do With a Kanban Template

The transformation of a Kanban board into Kanban template

In 2001, software developers changed project management forever by introducing Agile to the world with the Manifesto for Software Development. Following recognition by Harvard Business Review and McKinsey & Company, Agile is now spreading to all types of organizations and industries.

Agile is an umbrella of methodologies that boost productivity by empowering teams to operate with more flexibility than traditional hierarchical styles of project management. One of the methodologies that sit under this umbrella? Kanban. 

In 1940, industry was disrupted by Taiichi Ohno. He created the Kanban board to help his team at Toyota visually track project progress and improve efficiency. Japanese for “visual signal” or “visual card,” Kaban is centered on managing workload capacity. Managers create physical cards representing individual tasks. Cards are moved along a board divided into the different stages of production. This puts the focus on a continuous flow of a small number of tasks, preventing teams from overcommitting or getting distracted by lesser priorities. 

In the past, teams would build a Kanban board by writing statuses like “backlog,” “in progress,” “complete,” etc. on a whiteboard. Next, they would use sticky notes to track tasks and place the notes in the appropriate column. As the project moves, the sticky notes would too.

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Common Kanban board pros and cons

Pros

  • Works best for teams with a continuous workflow and a steady stream of deliverables.
  • Kanban is easy to implement and provides clear visibility into workload and resource distribution within a team.  
  • It helps push work that often gets “stuck” through to completion.
  • Workloads are visible and easily malleable (especially with Wrike’s drag-and-drop feature).
  • You can quickly check and evaluate productivity across your team.

Cons

  • Since there are no time constraints, deliverables can move slower. 
  • If your team doesn’t keep the board updated, it becomes ineffective and derails productivity.

One of the biggest hurdles for managers introducing any new methodology or process is getting their team to adopt it. While the pros of a Kanban board far outweigh the cons, it means nothing if the Kanban board isn’t updated consistently and leveraged by the team.

Teams need a more, dare we say, agile approach when it comes to making the move to Kanban. Asking your team to manually update a whiteboard or Excel doc is asking for trouble. You’ll end up with everyone creating their own spreadsheet or inputting data differently, outdated information, and a headache. 

So the question is:

  • How can you get your team to easily adopt the Kanban style of project management and effortlessly keep it updated so you can reap all the benefits?

The answer:

Creating a Kanban template means clearly defining your workflows and using the Kanban board to track progress visually. Your work management platform is the perfect tool for building your own flexible Kanban project template. You can ditch your sticky notes and whiteboards and make use of a powerful digital board view that’s completely customizable to meet your needs and connect to the tools your team is already using. 

As you start to build a Kanban template in your work management platform, here are 3 ways you “Kan” use it to solve your most pressing project management challenges and get your team excited.

With a Kaban template, you “Kan” help your team prioritize their work

In our ebook The Stress Epidemic, almost a third of respondents reported that their daily work stress is high to unsustainably high. On top of this, over half looked for a new job, and 25% report they’ve quit a job due to stress. As employees begin to suffer from stress, productivity declines. Almost half of workers say stress at work has caused them to “check out” or stop caring at some point in their career. Checked-out employees cost companies $450 to $550 billion in lost productivity every year, according to Gallup.

In a recent blog, we used "I Love Lucy" at the chocolate factory as an example of outdated work intake processes. It’s the perfect visualization of how many of us feel trying to manage our projects. Our fast-paced work rhythm can negatively impact both employees and the business. David J. Anderson, who further formulated the methodology and wrote the book “Kanban,” posed these questions:

“How can I protect my team from the incessant demands of the business and achieve what the Agile community now refers to as a “sustainable pace”? And second, how could I successfully scale the adoption of an Agile approach across an enterprise and overcome the inevitable resistance to change?” 

Wrike’s work management report revealed that 89% of workers manage projects even though they don’t have “project manager” in their title. This means that their understanding of project management best practices directly impacts productivity. Although priorities may seem clear to you as a manager, you need to help your team prioritize their to-do list without getting overwhelmed. You can do this by establishing a clear workflow funnel that makes work intake simple. 

If you’re dealing with an external request, use work intake forms to help filter and funnel work to the appropriate team members. In tools like Wrike, you can make dynamic request forms that automatically create a project with your Kanban template depending on how the requestor answers the questions. A request process also helps managers gate requested work that doesn’t align with the team’s priorities. Team members are automatically assigned to projects, understand the scope, visually see their workloads, and can easily prioritize work intake.

If it’s an internal request, start with your Kanban project template every time you have a project. This makes it easy for your team to consistently use workflow statuses. When someone changes a workflow status in their task, the task automatically moves to the appropriate column on the Kanban board view of your project management dashboard. 

In a tool like Wrike, your team can easily switch between “Board” (Wrike’s version of Kanban), Gantt chart, list view, and more. Adopting Agile techniques like Kanban sets a foundation for building out your processes with a growth mindset. Agile tools like these make it easy for your team to visualize project progress, shift priorities, and spot potential roadblocks.

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With a Kaban template, you “Kan” bring visibility to bottlenecks and see where you need to limit work in progress 

We’ve all experienced a variation of this situation: A project is moving along and everything is running on schedule. You get to a point in the project where you need to collaborate with someone else before you can move on to next steps, but all you hear is crickets or that they need more time. Your project comes to a screeching halt and you decide to work on other projects in the meantime. But in the midst of your new project, the response you’ve been waiting for comes back. Now you need to rush back to the first project and try to get it back on track — leaving the new project to fall through the cracks.

According to Wrike’s ebook on stress in the workplace, poor communication and team members not pulling their weight on projects are the top two reasons for stress. And in our ebook on project management challenges in the professional services industry, the biggest work challenge was keeping projects on track and hitting deadlines. 

Bottlenecks lead to frustration and break down communication. In a world where we are required to collaborate more and more every day, one of the biggest benefits of a Kanban project template is that all stakeholders can visually see and ease roadblocks to help projects run smoothly. David J. Anderson, author of “Kanban” elaborates:

“Reducing coordination and transaction costs… is waste elimination in its most potent form. It allows smaller batches to become efficient. It enables business agility. Reducing coordination and transaction costs is game changing.”

A Kanban template within your work management tool brings clear visibility into where bottlenecks are happening. By providing consistent, clear steps for your team to follow for every project, you can start to see patterns where bottlenecks are forming. For example, the board view in Wrike provides full visibility by allowing each team member to drill into the task and see all communication and updates in context. 

Is it a workload issue? Do tasks always bottleneck at a certain part of the workflow? Set limitations on how many “cards” or tasks can be in a workflow status at one time. 

Is it a labor issue? Do tasks always bottleneck around a team or individual? Instead of in emails or IMs, communicate about the project right there in the task. And if team members are falling behind on due dates, you can simply @mention them — or your manager — to help get tasks unstuck. 

In order to ensure handoffs and collaboration are smooth, everyone needs visibility into roles, expectations, and real-time project progress. A Kanban template makes it easy for teams to visualize that progress while providing the consistency that helps managers spot bottlenecks and patterns that impact productivity.

With a Kaban template, you “Kan” continuously improve project processes

Goals are more aggressive than ever and teams are expected to improve results quarter over quarter. In order to keep up, you need to do more than just sustain production — you need to optimize it.

One of the biggest benefits of a Kanban template is that you can use it on top of existing workflows. It’s flexible and easy to adopt, which helps your team maintain momentum. Layering Kanban over your projects brings issues to light so you can introduce positive change over time. Instead of taking your whole team out of the tools and rhythm they’re used to, you can easily spot where bottlenecks are occurring and implement small fixes.

As Julia Wester from Everyday Kanban says, 

“The Kanban method is an approach to change management that is designed to meet minimal resistance. Therefore it encourages continuous small incremental and evolutionary changes to your current system. Sweeping changes are discouraged because they generally encounter increased resistance due to fear or uncertainty. I call it ‘baby steps to awesomeness!’”

A Kanban template enables small course corrections that make life easier for you and your team while optimizing productivity to help you meet goals. The bonus? When your Kanban template lives in your work management platform, you provide everyone transparency, consistency, visibility, and a documented single source of truth at every step of a project.

Yes, you “Kan”! Get started today with Wrike’s free Kanban template

Ready to leverage the Kanban style of project management? Wrike’s got you covered. We’ve built a flexible Kanban template to help you get started right away. Download your free Kanban template now!

With Wrike, your Kanban project template is stored in the cloud so even remote teams have complete visibility. With this Kanban project template, you can ditch your sticky notes and whiteboards and make use of a powerful digital board view that’s completely customizable to meet your needs.

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