How to Use Kanban Boards for Project Management and Improve Workflows
How to Use Kanban Boards for Project Management and Improve Workflows
Lina Yakunina
Product Marketing Manager
/ Last updated:
April 6, 2022
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Of the five human senses, our vision processes up to 85% of cognitive information from stimulus. Employing a visual approach for project management can feel like having a “secret weapon” in your leadership toolkit, as many workers claim vision as their dominant–or preferred–learning mode.

Kanban boards offer a project management solution that allows teams to see a project’s status in real-time to ensure accurate completion from start to finish. Once created with sticky notes or dry-erase boards, today’s digital Kanban boards can accommodate remote employees looking for ways to collaborate online. Utilizing this method holds team members accountable for expediting and improving workflows. 

This piece explores the origin and visual emphasis of Kanban boards, and how using Kanban for project management can improve workflow productivity. 

Brief History of Kanban Boards

With origins reaching back into the 1600s, the term Kanban comes from two Japanese words: Kan, or “sign” + Ban, or “board,” used to describe the vivid, custom signs in shop windows. The sign on each board gave potential customers a visual cue, drawing them off the street and into the shops. 

The first Kanban system for management originated in 1943, when Taiichi Ōno, an engineer for Toyota, noticed how the manufacturer struggled to keep up with American competitors. To improve production value, Ōno developed a tracking system that he called “Kanban,” using paper cards for signs. 

He gave his production line and external suppliers clear, visual cues by placing cards on each product and its component parts. When a vehicle eventually sold, its card was returned to the starting point to begin the process for another vehicle entering production. Thus began the first Kanban system of project management.

A Kanban system provides project transparency for teams. For the automotive industry, that means ensuring an effective workflow from supplier to end consumer. Following a visual process from beginning to end can identify bottlenecks that reduce production value. 

In the early 2000s, software developers adopted the “Kanban” style of project management. Workers took physical cards from boards labeled with their assigned tasks. Upon completing a task, employees had to return the card to its original board before they could take a new card from a different board to begin a new task. The concept has continued to evolve alongside the digital workforce over the years. 

From paper cards to sticky notes on walls, Kanban boards have revolutionized project management.

Benefits of Visualizing Workflows

Communication can be challenging for remote teams. Employees located in multiple time zones across the globe increase a company’s reliance on digital communication. Instead of communicating via countless chats and Zoom calls, a transparent project management solution expedites response times and ensures critical tasks remain on track. 

A visual workflow can:

  • increase communication efforts
  • identify bottlenecks in the workflow process
  • streamline tasks
  • improve productivity

Transparency amongst team members improves productivity and reduces the risk of mistakes from miscommunication. Implementing a visual workflow for your team can help ensure tasks are completed on time and in the most effective way possible. 

How to Use Kanban for Project Management

Kanban systems may differ based on the task management software, but most use the same general concept: guiding a task from start to finish. The Kanban method has gained popularity in many companies as a way to build a transparent workflow amongst staff, particularly for those working remotely or with a distributed team. Popular Kanban-style platforms include Kanban Tool, Taskworld, Asana, and Trello. These tools offer similar features, but one may work better for your company than another. 

A standard Kanban board displays columns with cards that can be moved from either “to-do,” “in-progress,” or “done.”

When researching how to use Kanban for project management, the process is simple. 

  1. Create a board
  2. Name the board
  3. Invite relevant team members
  4. Assign specific tasks
  5. Start collaborating

The goal is to take a project–like launching a website or running a marketing campaign–and ensure a seamless flow from start to finish. This simple, visual method makes it easy to identify where potential issues arise and how to resolve them quickly to streamline workflow

Collaborative Project Management with Gmail Kanban Boards

At Gmelius, we created a Kanban board for teams right inside Gmail. Teams can create shared inboxes to manage company email addresses collaboratively, such as support or sales@[companyname].com. By managing shared inboxes with Gmail, teams can utilize Gmail labels for organization and turn any email or label into a Kanban board within your Gmail inbox. Since any conversation can be converted into a task card, teams can manage inboxes and projects visually together. 

With Gmelius, teams can build different Kanban boards for a variety of purposes. For example, teams can create a general board to help get tasks done with simple labels, such as “to-do,” “in-progress,” and “done.” We also recommend an extra “pending” column for items on hold or that require additional support.  

Our team board template allows managers to check in on team members’ workloads to ensure tasks are divided evenly amongst staff. The board shows who's working on which tasks as well as task progression. 

Kanban boards can also give sales teams tremendous insights to boost results. Employees can maintain sales momentum with a “follow-up” column for leads. With columns for each point along the sales pipeline – like "contacted," "qualified," "won," or "lost" – teams get an overview of individual and holistic progress, allowing for pivots to meet unexpected opportunities. 

In addition to our Gmail integration, Gmelius also syncs with Trello. Teams do not have to copy and paste information into a separate project management solution. All of your team's project information is inside the tools your team is already using. 

Our unique two-way sync between Trello and Gmail avoids creating information silos to save time and streamline workflow amongst your team. 

With Gmail Kanban boards, your inbox becomes a visual workspace you can use yourself and share with your team. Kanban boards give enterprises a better overview of tasks, build communication with clear transparency, and expedite workflows by identifying errors in the process right away rather than losing time on corrections later. 

If you are researching how to use Kanban for project management, Gmelius can help.Check out our features and integrations and learn how Gmelius is built to improve team communication and collaboration. Ready to get started? Sign up today!

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