What is a Kanban Board?

A Kanban Board is a visual representation of your Kanban system. You will typically find Kanban boards close to the team using it and located on a whiteboard or wall space. Using index cards or Post-it notes / Sticky notes, gridding tape and dry wipe markers you can quickly construct a Kanban board. 

Psychological Impact of Using a Physical Kanban Board

Due to the tactile nature of a Kanban board you’ll find it’s really engaging and supports good collaboration. There’s something about that feeling of accomplishment when you pick up a card on the board and move it to the next column or even better, Done!

In organisations where office politics are rife, a Kanban board can be very effective at reducing this. A lot of office politics are the result of a lack of trust. The lack of trust is often down to a lack of visibility.

Kanban boards increase transparency, which in turn increases trust. With improved trust comes better collaboration.

Consider the Kanban board as a user interface onto your Kanban system. Therefore, ensure your board is created with care and attention to neatness. It really is more than a staff notice board or a bunch of post-it notes on a wall!

How we visualise the world dominates how we perceive the world!

Tools & Materials needed for building a Kanban Board

Most of the materials required to build a Kanban Board you’ll find in your office stationery cupboard. The basic materials include:

  • Dry-wipe markers
  • Blu-tac
  • Post-it notes
  • Sharpie pens (preferable)
  • Whiteboard or wall space (see below if you are in an open plan office with neither)
  • A straight edge for drawing straight lines

How to create a Kanban Board

To create a Kanban board is extremely easy:

1) Map out your process.
Map out your process on a piece of paper first before committing it to the physical board. It will save you a lot of time. 

When mapping out your process I find it’s easier to first map out the start and end of the process. You can then work inwards from each end until you meet in the middle.

2) Colour code post-its to work item types.
Think about the types of work you do in terms of classes of service and map them to colour coded post-it notes. Common classes of service in Kanban are Standard, Expedite, Time Bound, and Intangible. Some teams colour code their post-its to show different projects on the same board.

3) Draw the column lines on your board
Using a straight edge draw your lines on the board to represent your Kanban system. Use a blank post-it note as a guide when measuring column widths.

4) Create your column and/or row headings
Take extra care to make your headings stand out. I like to write the heading and then draw a line around the outer edge of the post-it to emphasise that it’s a header.

5) Visualise your work
Write out each work item on a single post-it note and populate the Kanban board with work.

Your board design should evolve over time as you take an empirical approach to improvements. Therefore, don’t worry about getting it perfect first time.

No walls or whiteboards? Try this!

Unfortunately, some teams find themselves stuck in the middle of an open plan office far from any walls, and not enough space (or budget) to fit a whiteboard on wheels. If you find yourself in this position then don’t despair – we’ve got you covered!

Blockers on a Kanban Board

Get yourself an A1 foam board from your local craft supplier. They’re extremely lightweight and perfectly sized for limiting your WIP. They are extremely cheap – I get mine from Hobby Craft 4 boards for £10. The boards are perfect for visualising work, hand holding during daily stand-ups, and fit perfectly on or under your desk.

Is an electronic tool better than a physical Kanban board?

We would recommend that ALL implementations of Kanban use physical boards supported by electronic tooling. Physical boards are critical in the early days of adopting Kanban in building collaboration and trust.

There are many tools in the market such as Jira, Microsoft VSTS, Kanbanize and Swift Kanban

These supporting tools can provide you with the ability to capture data in relation to your ways of working. These are then fed into your continuous improvement activities.

Kanban Frequently Asked Questions FAQ

In Kanban -

Can you have sprints?

You can easily overlay your sprint cadence with Kanban principles and apply them accordingly. Many teams start with Scrum and move to a sprintless approach, especially when they truly understand how limiting WIP and focusing on flow can help them deliver more with improved quality. You must always start with what you do now and evolve your working practices based upon the challenges or opportunities you face. Don’t simply jump from Scrum to Kanban without truly understanding what problems you’re trying to solve.

Should we still estimate our velocity?

Kanban teams measure their lead time by collecting data. This doesn’t mean you can’t still estimate your velocity over a period of time but what you’ll find is understanding lead time distribution charts is much more reliable than estimating velocity.

Do we still publish iteration goals?

Yes. Having any kind of goal that a team is working towards is a fundamental requirement for successful delivery. Kanban doesn’t prevent teams from taking an iterative approach to delivery but don’t necessarily require a team to operate using Iterations / Sprints.

Do we still use a product or sprint backlog?

Kanban represents your system of work. Where Scrum teams refer to the backlog, Kanban teams refer to this as upstream Kanban. It’s very common for Kanban teams to have represent demand in a backlog column on a physical kanban board.

Does the Product Owner role exist?

For teams evolving away from pure Scrum then it’s very common for the product owner role to exist. Some teams decide to continue with the job title whilst others rename it. The closest mapping from Scrum roles to Kanban roles for the Product Owner is the Service Request Manager (SRM).

Does the Scrum Master role exist?

For teams evolving away from pure Scrum then it’s very common for the Scrum Master role to exist. Some teams decide to continue with the job title whilst others rename it. The closest mapping from Scrum roles to Kanban roles for the Scrum Master is the Service Delivery Manager (SDM).

Further information...

The content of this article is just the tip of the iceburg. To dive deeper into any of these case studies or concepts join our 2 day Portfolio Kanban live online course.

Application for a free Agile Coaching session

I would like to speak with an advisor