Limits of Kanban Boards

Kanban boards took the world by storm, twice. The first time, Kanban conquered the manufacturing and professional worlds, as people sought to copy Toyota’s stunning supply line efficiency. The methodology is powerful, allows for self organization, and is far more responsive to the business environment than traditional top down planning systems. Kanban boards are remarkably intuitive and visual, too, and increase worker engagement and efficiency by increasing employee understanding of the project.

Then the Kanban board was reborn as a personal task management tool. Online drag and drop interfaces brought the simple and effective task sorting system to people’s personal lives, and millions of people now use a Kanban board to sort out their lives and tasks for work, home, and everything in between. Today, Kanban boards are ubiquitous. So much so, that they’re starting to be discussed as project management solutions.

kanban boards

This is a huge mistake.

Kanban boards are a part of a process, and a great way to manage that process, but not very effective at managing a project. Project management is more than “To Do, Doing, Done.” The bigger the scope of a project, the more Kanban boards come up short. They don’t account for complexity. Kanban boards are a task sorting system. Managing the project based on its tasks is like driving a car by reading its manual – you end up crashing because you aren’t looking at what’s ahead of you.

Managing the project based on its tasks is like driving a car by reading its manual – you end up crashing because you aren’t looking at what’s ahead of you.

Used for project management, Kanban boards take the worst part of the Gantt – task lists, and leave out the best part – the visual representation of the project. There’s no real visual representation of a project on a Kanban board. And if there are dependencies on things, you definitely can’t mark those visually. It’s the worst of both worlds.

Tracking personal tasks, looking for a productivity tool, or doing a small one off project? Use the Kanban board. Managing something bigger? Don’t make that mistake.

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