7 Benefits of the Kanban Software Development Process

7 Benefits of the Kanban Software Development Process

Kanban is a project management tool rising in popularity thanks to its simple and straightforward nature. It helps to visualize work processes, limit work-in-progress (WIP), and enhance efficiency or “flow.” Kanban comes from the Japanese word for “visual signal.” This refers to how Kanban systems use visual cues to spur streamlined action and keep production processes flowing.

Kanban’s visual nature makes it especially helpful in software development. It’s also helpful in areas where a lot of work is “invisible” and you’re not creating a tangible product. Kanban software development has an emphasis on visibility and accountability. This emphasis increases workflow efficiency and identifies and resolves barriers to productivity.

This guide provides an introduction to Kanban and its benefits, giving you the knowledge to decide if it will be right for your organization.

Kanban basics: origins and overview

The Kanban approach finds its roots in car manufacturing. In the 1940s, Toyota engineer Taiichi Ohno developed the concept of Kanban. He implemented the approach in the hopes of making Toyota more efficient than its U.S. counterparts. With the Kanban inventory control system, Toyota developed a more flexible and efficient process.

Implementing Kanban requires setting up a Kanban board. A very basic board will have three categories: to do, doing, and done. By emphasizing a task’s status instead of its due date, the Kanban approach prioritizes transparency and accountability. It’s easy to see who’s working on what at every step.

Kanban also enhances collaboration by providing a better understanding of the work being done and making it easy to share progress with others—keeping everybody on the same page.

Elements of the Kanban system

The Kanban board’s defining component is its visual signals—no surprise, since “Kanban” means “visual signal” in Japanese. These could be colored stickers, tickets, or cards, either tangible or digital depending on the Kanban board (more on that below). For example, for a team of professionals engaged in Agile software development, each card could represent a single user story.

Kanban boards tend to contain a few other key elements to organize and guide these basic visual cues, including:

  • Columns: The visual cues in a Kanban board are organized in columns, with each one representing a certain activity. All of these activities combined represent the workflow from start to finish. Columns could be as simple as “to do,” “doing,” and “done” or be more detailed.
  • Work-in-progress limits: Kanban limits work-in-progress (WIP) by limiting the number of cards that appear in a single column. The team must set the WIP limit in advance, and if that maximum is reached, the focus shifts to moving cards ahead in the workflow before adding new ones.
  • Commitment point: Due to WIP limits, Kanban teams may find they have a backlog of cards waiting to go up on the board. The commitment point refers to the moment when a team member starts work on a new card.
  • Delivery point: Last but not least is the delivery point, the satisfying conclusion to the workflow. In most cases, the delivery point is defined as when the product or service reaches the end user. Teams can assess efficiency by calculating their lead time (the time elapsed between the commitment and delivery points).

The Kanban board: physical or digital

Kanban software development boards can be physical or digital, depending on your team’s needs. For hybrid teams that might not share an office space, digital boards are the perfect way to stay on top of tasks while collaborating. Digital project management tools are a wonderful way to encourage productivity among distributed teams.

7 Kanban benefits for software development

Kanban offers advantages for software development with immediate and big-picture impacts. Implementing this process for software development will benefit both workers and your business.

1. Streamline operations with a simple production overview

Software development can be hampered by wasted coding if two individuals tackle the same task. Waste can also come from improper project management (like unnecessary documentation requirements taking up development time that could be better used elsewhere).

Kanban’s easy-to-identify visual overview helps to reduce such waste. It’s easy to see who is doing what with a glance at the Kanban board, and there’s minimal need for extensive reporting. Every team member has a panoramic view. Project leaders can also quickly discern what each person is doing.

2. Boost individual visibility and accountability

Most software developers work in the background. On top of that, a single software developer rarely produces a tangible, visible product. It takes a team. This lack of visibility can be demotivating. Kanban empowers individuals by calling attention to each person’s role in the larger development process, enhancing accountability and providing motivation.

These problems become even more severe with distributed teams. Distributed team members won’t receive in-person acknowledgment or visibility of the rest of the team. When organizing a hybrid team of software developers, Kanban can provide visibility and boost morale. Upwork can help you build your team of independent professionals.

3. Pinpoint bottlenecks to improve efficiency

Working within the constraints of a Kanban-organized workflow will naturally highlight bottlenecks. When the WIP limit is met, users have to look at the board to identify the holdup.

This allows for short-, medium-, and long-term benefits:

  • Short term: Team members can quickly eradicate bottlenecks as they “swarm” those tasks that are getting in the way.
  • Medium term: Immediate processes can be reconfigured to avoid the same bottlenecks.
  • Long term: Overarching feedback can be used to determine long-lasting solutions to avoid backups and decrease the lead time for the future.

4. Focus your team’s attention

It might seem like giving the development team a full overview of the process will distract them from individualized tasks. However, Kanban software development boards focus attention. The WIP limits demand that attention is paid to the task at hand until it’s done. Otherwise, production doesn’t move forward.

This precise attention also improves efficiency. Research shows that jumping around between tasks, a phenomenon known as context switching, wastes time.

5. Promote a collaborative work environment

By providing each team member with a broad look at the software development process, you encourage everyone to get involved. Different stakeholders can provide useful input on identified bottlenecks and solutions, for instance, collaborating on innovative ideas.

This openness to collaboration and creativity can also improve morale. Team members will see that their opinions are valued and important.

6. Minimize backlog overload

Kanban software development roadmaps also help reduce the backlog by inspiring teams to make their own decisions thanks to an ordered system. User stories are seen in terms of customer value, and classes of service (CoS) prioritize these stories.

Possible CoS include:

  • Emergency issue
  • Bug
  • Task with a fixed delivery date
  • Standard maintenance
  • Chore-like task (lower-priority maintenance)

A WIP can be set for each backlog area, making it easy for developers to see what to take on next.

7. Create a coherent flow

By breaking down the production process in a clearly delineated step-wise manner, Kanban promotes cohesive and coherent software development. Since Kanban operates on a task-completion basis instead of a timeline, features can be released more quickly.

For example, as soon as developers finish one element, it can be immediately passed to quality assurance once it enters the next column. If issues arise, the problem can be relayed back to the developer while the coding is still fresh in their mind, resulting in a speedier resolution.

Break through your backlog with the top independent talent

Given the benefits described above, there’s no doubt that Kanban software development is worth trying for your team.

By enhancing visibility, you can streamline production, overcome hurdles, and enhance efficiency overall. On top of that, Kanban is an approach you can use with distributed teams. This is especially useful, given that more than 50% of the U.S. workforce is currently working from home.

If you are looking for independent professionals to join your hybrid team, you can find qualified software developers through Upwork. Find out how to use Upwork to add key talent to your software development team.

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7 Benefits of the Kanban Software Development Process
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