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Why Your Projects Need a Kanban Board (Plus 7 Kanban Templates)

Everything you need to build your first Kanban board.

Curious about Kanban?

Many have seen the word. Far fewer could tell you what it really means (or how to pronounce it… hint: “con-bon”). Something to do with manufacturing? A tool for software developers? A style of project management?

Try all of the above.

While Kanban was developed as a way to create less waste and more efficiency in factories, it’s grown to be adopted by a variety of industries for countless use cases. Which isn’t surprising, because regardless of the application, Kanban offers an important set of benefits:

  • It makes work highly visual
  • It prioritizes effort on the most critical tasks, at the most critical time
  • It eliminates waste (both in work and, in some cases, raw materials and inventory)
  • It increases transparency for teams

Kanban is one of the most effective tools available for managing project-based work. And with the rise in Kanban board apps, it’s never been easier to implement the system in your own work, whether you’re a team of one or 100.

Ready to see what Kanban can do for you? Let’s explore some use cases, tools, examples, and templates.

What is Kanban?

Before setting up your own project Kanban system, it’s helpful to understand the origin. Japanese for “signboard,” Kanban got its start at the Toyota factory in the 1940s. The company was looking for better ways to manage inventory and reduce waste­, and Toyota engineer Ohno Taiichi hatched an idea to treat production parts like items in a grocery store. When optimized correctly, a grocery store stocks its shelves with just the right amount of product to meet consumer demand — no more, no less.

To implement, Taiichi crafted a series of physical Kanban “cards” that would travel throughout the manufacturing process, triggering certain events (such as making more inventory of a certain part) at just the right time. This system eventually gave rise to the revolutionary lean manufacturing method.

With the success of the Kanban system clearly seen in the manufacturing world, software development teams eventually realized that they too could benefit from the system’s focus on reducing waste and inefficiency (though in their case, it eliminated wasted effort instead of wasted inventory). This discovery led to an entirely new methodology — lean software development — which was created to mirror the Kanban production system created at Toyota.

Can Kanban Be Used for Project Management?

Of course, software development is far from the only knowledge work that can benefit from Kanban. For people who enjoy having a clear picture of where their projects stand, Kanban is a perfect complement to a project management toolkit.

The beauty is in the simplicity. Cards and columns. That’s pretty much all there is to a Kanban board, meaning you can sort and customize it to fit your project needs (check out our Kanban board examples below for some inspiration).

One of the most common ways to use Kanban boards for project management is tracking tasks. Kanban cards are added to the board to represent individual project tasks, assigned to the responsible party, and moved throughout the various stages of work until they are complete. This gives everyone working on the project an eagle eye view of where the project stands at any given time.

Another great use of Kanban boards for projects is tracking milestones and deliverables. And with some Kanban board tools and apps, you can link the to-do list for each deliverable right inside the card on the board. Everything you need is just one click away.

How Do I Set Up a Kanban Board?

With the right tool, setting up a Kanban board for your own projects is easy.

The first step is determining the use case for your board. Are you tracking tasks? Deliverables? Bugs? Development?

Here at Basecamp, we create a unique Kanban board inside each individual project. For example, every article we write is tracked as a card on a Kanban board (or as we call it inside Basecamp, a “Card Table”) that lives inside our Content project. That way everyone on the Content team (as well as anyone else who might be interested) knows the status of every single article by taking a quick glance at the project (check out our examples below to see how to create your own Kanban content marketing calendar).

Once you decide what your Kanban is going to track, the next step is to build your columns. Here’s the trick with Kanban columns — only add what is actually going to be useful. For example, if you run a sales team and want to track the status of your proposals with a Kanban board, it may be overkill to include a column for each and every time a salesperson follows up. A simple “proposal sent” column might give you all the information you actually need.

Not sure what columns are right for your board? Let’s explore some real Kanban board examples and templates:

Kanban Board Examples & Templates

All the Kanban Board Templates below were built in minutes using the Card Table feature inside Basecamp. If you want to follow along, sign up for free right now in 30 seconds:

Kanban Board Content Calendar

Whether it’s blog posts, social media updates, or YouTube videos, Kanban boards make excellent content calendars.

Here’s a look at the real Kanban template we use here at Basecamp to manage the content for our blog. Every article idea starts as a card inside the “Pending” row.

Each idea gets added as a card in the Pending row
Each idea gets added as a card in the Pending row

Inside each card, we’ll add details such as points we want to make, how long we want the article to be, examples of other articles we can use as resources, a space to link the draft when ready, due date, etc.

Each article Kanban card get populated with all the pertinent details
Each article Kanban card get populated with all the pertinent details

Once we commit to writing an article, it gets assigned to one of our writers and moved to the “On Deck” column, so the writer knows this is the next piece they should work on. Once they start, the writer moves the card over to the “Writing Draft” column, and when complete, moves it again to the “Sent for Edits” column. Once it reaches this column, our Content Marketing Manager gets notified to take a look at the article and provide any necessary feedback. After that, the card gets moved to the “Revisions” column and then finally, the “Done” column once it’s 100% complete.

As work gets completed, each article card moves through the columns on the board
As work gets completed, each article card moves through the columns on the board

The entire journey of each individual article is visible to our entire team, all at once, meaning there is never any question as to the status of any given project. Less time worrying, more time writing.

Kanban for Customer Service Teams

Customer Service is another excellent use case for Kanban boards. For example, say you run a small software company. A good portion of your customer emails are regarding payments, billing, user access, etc. But what about those pesky software bugs? You know, the ones that require a developer to fix?

With a well-designed Kanban board, your support team and your developer team can all work through the issues together. Customer Service Representatives start by filling out cards in the “Triage” section. Once a developer on your team has been assigned, they can move the card to “Figuring It Out”. After the issue has been identified, they can move the card to “In Progress” or, if they need additional information, “Waiting on Customers”. If the card gets moved to the latter, you can set up an automatic alert that lets the Customer Service Rep who filed the ticket know that they need to reach back out the customer for more information before the team can identify a fix.

Keeping customer service requests on track with Kanban
Keeping customer service requests on track with Kanban

Now everything you need to offer great customer service is all located in a single place.

Kanban for Sales

Tracking sales pipelines is another excellent use of a Kanban board.

To start, all leads can be added as cards to your “Backlog”. After assigning to a salesperson, the cards/leads can move to the “Prospect” column, and then to the “Needs Analysis” column once they begin their research. From there the card can move through all the sales stages, such as “Develop Proposal” and “Awaiting Response” once the proposal has been sent. After the lead is closed or lost, the card can then move to its final column to note whether it was won or lost.

Track all your sales prospects with this clean Kanban board
Track all your sales prospects with this clean Kanban board

With just a quick glance, Sales Teams can now see their entire pipeline.

Kanban for Teachers and Students

Know a teacher or a student looking to keep better track of lesson plans or homework assignments? Look no further than a simple Kanban board.

The only homework your dog can’t eat
The only homework your dog can’t eat

This student homework Kanban takes just a few minutes to set up, and can easily track the progress of assignments, due dates, and more. As an added bonus, parents can now avoid the dreaded “Is your homework done yet?” question every night at the dinner table. Simply take a quick look at the board and you’ll know exactly what your child is working on.

Kanban for Recruiting

Recruiting can be a messy business. With hundreds (or even thousands) of candidates to track and coordinate, it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks. That is, unless you set up a Kanban board for recruiting.

Moving candidates through your recruitment pipeline is as simple as sliding a card
Moving candidates through your recruitment pipeline is as simple as sliding a card

On this board, candidates for open roles are tracked through the entire hiring cycle, from “Screening” to “Offer” to “Accepted”. The best part about using a digital Kanban board app is that individual notes and notifications can be added directly to the candidate’s card, meaning the recruiter and the hiring manager no longer need to send long email threads back and forth discussing the role. Just drop your thoughts into the card (e.g. “Interview went great, let’s extend an offer!”) and everything stays neat and organized.

Kanban for Software Development

One of the original use cases outside of manufacturing, Kanban for software development has exploded in popularity over the past few decades. And for good reason. Kanban boards serve as the perfect place for development teams to coordinate projects, identify waste, and ship work that matters.

The complexity of a software development Kanban board will vary greatly based on the needs of the team, but like most things, it’s best to start simple. In the example below for an iOS development team, tasks get added as cards to the “Backlog” until they are assigned. Once assigned, the card moves to the “Ready” column, and when the work begins, it gets sent to the “Work in Progress (WIP): Coding” column. From there, it moves on to the “WIP: Testing” column and then finally the “Approved” column.

Kanban boards help organize all your development projects
Kanban boards help organize all your development projects

Fast. Simple. Clear. This board keeps software projects moving forward without any confusion or wasted effort.

Kanban for Project Management

Of course, all the Kanban examples above are really just projects in disguise. But what about when you have a bonafide project on your hands? You know, a specific objective with specific goals, tasks, and timelines that you need to get done…

Well, Kanban for project management is just about the cleanest way to get something done.

In the template below, we’re using a Kanban board to complete a trade show exhibition project. Trade shows have a ton of moving parts, but with a board we keep everything super organized and clear, meaning it gets with less effort and less time.

Organize any project with a simple Kanban board
Organize any project with a simple Kanban board

Getting Started with Kanban

As you can see, it’s no surprise Kanban boards have exploded in popularity. They reduce wasted effort, keep things organized, increase transparency, and help teams get more done in less time. Plus, they’re a breeze to build!

If you’re ready to start visualizing your own projects with a Kanban board, you can build your very own for free with Basecamp’s new Card Table feature. Click here to get started today.

Learn with Basecamp.

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