Kanban, which translates to ‘signboard’ or ‘visual signal’ in Japanese, is about visualizing work, limiting work-in-progress items, and maximizing efficiency. And at the core of this system are the Kanban cards.
These are the real MVPs, providing a visual representation of tasks and helping project managers and developers track progress. The beauty of these cards is in their simplicity. They make the workflow transparent, making it easier to identify bottlenecks and improve overall efficiency.
So, whether you’re a newbie to lean management practices or a seasoned pro looking to hone your processes — knowing how to wield Kanban cards is a must-have skill. Let’s take a closer look.
What are Kanban cards?
Think of Kanban cards as the tangible bits of the Kanban system. They represent tasks or work items in your process or project. They’re loaded with important details, like who’s responsible for the task, what stage it’s at, and what needs to be done. Imagine the clarity you’d have if you could just look at a board and instantly know what everyone’s doing, what’s been done, and what’s next. That’s exactly what these cards do!
You can create them physically, like sticky notes on a whiteboard, or digitally, using various Kanban software tools. The choice between physical and digital often depends on what works best for your team and the nature of your project, but these days, digital is considered more practical (we’ll get into this in more detail later on).
Whether you opt for a physical board or digital screen, Kanban cards move from one column to another, representing stages in a workflow. It could be as simple as ‘to-do’ ‘in-progress,’ and ‘done’. As a task evolves, its representative Kanban card moves across these stages, giving everyone a clear and current picture of progress.
What is a Kanban card template?
Think of a Kanban board template as the canvas where all the Kanban cards come to life, moving from column to column.
A basic Kanban board template usually consists of at least three columns:
- To do (this is where tasks begin their journey)
- In progress (where work kicks off); and
- Done (where completed tasks go).
This serves as the backbone for visualizing your workflow. But here’s the cool thing — your Kanban board template can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. You can customize it to reflect your specific workflow, adding more columns or swim lanes to capture more steps or categories of tasks. For instance, you could have additional columns like ‘testing’, ‘review’, or ‘backlog’ (to name a few).
What are digital Kanban cards?
Instead of being limited to a sticky note or index card, digital Kanban cards give you useful features and flexibility that take your project management capabilities up a notch.
One of the best things about digital Kanban cards is their versatility. You can add so much detail! You’re not limited to just a task name and due date. You can add descriptions, files, links, checklists, custom fields, comments, and more. Plus, you can easily update them as work progresses.
Digital Kanban cards are also typically part of project management platforms that integrate with other tools. Whether it’s your email, calendar, communication tools, or file storage, everything’s in one place. It’s like having a super-organized, digital workspace.
And let’s not forget about collaboration. Digital Kanban cards can be shared, updated, and discussed in real time. No matter where your team members are located, everyone can see the same board, make updates, and track progress — ideal for remote or hybrid teams, or big projects.
And here’s the icing on the cake — digital Kanban cards come with automation capabilities. Want to move a card when a due date is near? Or assign a team member to specific task types? Automation’s got your back.
What are the benefits of Kanban cards?
They bring a host of benefits to your workflow:
1. Visual clarity: Kanban cards give everyone a clear, unified snapshot of what’s happening. At a glance, you can see what’s being worked on, who’s doing what, and where things are stuck. No more lengthy email threads or status meetings!
2. Improved efficiency: By limiting work-in-progress and using Kanban cards to highlight bottlenecks, you’ll find you can get more done. Tasks flow smoothly from start to finish, which means less time wasted and higher productivity.
3. Enhanced communication: Kanban cards foster open communication and collaboration. Everyone knows what everyone else is working on, which reduces duplication, and makes the work run smoothly.
4. Better flexibility: Things change, and that’s okay! Kanban cards are easy to update or move around, making your workflow adaptable to shifting priorities or sudden hitches.
5. Better task management: With each task clearly defined on the card, there’s less ambiguity. Everyone knows what’s expected, which can improve the quality of work and even boost team morale.
6. Continuous improvement: By visualizing your workflow with Kanban cards, you get valuable insights into process issues. This means continuous tweaking and refining of your process to make it better over time.
Different uses for Kanban cards
1. Software development: This is a classic. Kanban got its start in manufacturing, but it’s become a big hit in the software world. Each card represents a feature or bug fix, moving from stages like ‘backlog’ to ‘development’, ‘testing’, and, finally, ‘deployed’.
2. Content creation: Whether you’re running a blog, a YouTube channel, or a social media campaign, Kanban cards can track each piece of content from idea to publication. You can even use them to manage your content calendar.
3. Event planning: Organizing an event involves juggling a ton of tasks. Kanban cards can help you keep track of everything, from booking the venue to sending out invites.
4. Sales pipelines: Kanban cards can represent potential clients moving through your sales pipeline, from ‘lead’, to ‘contacted’, to ‘negotiation’, and, finally, ‘closed’.
5. Customer support: Use Kanban cards to track customer queries or issues. You can move cards from ‘received’ to ‘in-progress’ and then ‘resolved.’
6. Personal to-do lists: You can even use Kanban cards for personal productivity! They’re perfect for managing house chores, study schedules, or even that novel you’ve been meaning to write.
How to create a Kanban board template
Step 1: Choose your digital tool
First off, you need to decide which digital tool you’re going to use. There are many to choose from, so give a couple a try. They often have free trials so you can familiarize yourself with the platform.
Step 2: Create a new board
Most tools let you create a board or project to contain all the tasks related to a particular workflow or project. Name it appropriately so it’s easy to identify later.
Step 3: Define your workflow stages
Next, set up columns or lists representing stages in your workflow. ‘To do’, ‘in progress’, and ‘done’ are musts but feel free to adapt to your specific workflow.
Step 4: Add task details
Now comes the fun bit — creating a Kanban card. Typically, the most crucial elements to include on your card are:
Task name: This should be a concise but clear description.
Task dates: Include both the start and due dates.
Story points: If you’re using Agile methods, story points help estimate the effort required to complete a task.
Priority: This can indicate the urgency or importance of a task.
Overarching project: If the task is part of a larger project, note this on the card.
Sub-tasks: If the task can be broken down into smaller parts, list these as sub-tasks.
Assigned to: Mention the team member responsible for the task.
Step 5: Customize your card template
Most platforms let you customize your Kanban card template. Tailor it to suit your needs by including all the task details mentioned in the previous step. This will be the template you use for each task, keeping everything consistent along the way.
Step 6: Create more cards
Using the template you’ve created, add all your tasks to the board. Remember to keep them in the appropriate workflow stage.
Step 7: Manage your tasks
As tasks progress, move them across the different stages. This gives everyone a visual understanding of the task’s status and the project’s overall progress.
How to get the most out of your Kanban card template: tips for success
Understand your board
First, take a moment to appreciate the big picture your Kanban board template offers. This bird’s-eye view of your project or process is a goldmine of information. Each card, in its respective column, tells a story about the status, progress, and possible bottlenecks in your workflow.
Get to grips with features
Digital Kanban tools come loaded with features that make managing work a breeze. Here are some of the big hitters:
- Automation: Many tools let you set up automatic actions based on triggers. For instance, you can set up your board to automatically move tasks to ‘done’ when all subtasks are complete. Or maybe auto-assign certain task types to specific team members.
- Forms: Some platforms have integrated forms that can be linked to your board. These are handy for streamlining how tasks are added to your board. For example, a form could be used to submit customer feedback directly as tasks on your to-do list.
- Custom fields: We’ve talked about the basic sections of a Kanban card, but with custom fields, you can add any specific details you need. Maybe you want to track estimated hours, cost, or customer satisfaction score – custom fields let you do this.
- Subtasks: Break down bigger tasks into more manageable subtasks. They can have their own statuses, assignees, and due dates. As they get completed, you’ll see progress on the main task — always satisfying.
Now, with all these features at your disposal, it’s time to get cracking! Start moving those tasks along, see how they flow, and watch out for snags or hold-ups. Remember, the beauty of the Kanban system is in its simplicity, but it’s powered by ongoing observation and continuous improvement.
Kanban cards: the bottom line
So why should you use Kanban cards? They’re versatile, collaborative, integrated, and automated. Whether working solo or with a team, on a small project, or managing a complex process, digital Kanban cards can make your workflow smoother and your life easier.
Why not give them a try and see how they can transform your productivity game? Here’s a free Kanban workflow template to help you on your way.