The Kanban Guide

How to select the Best Kanban Project Management Software?

As you approach your selection of Kanban software, you will have some high-level choices to make. Here are some decisions that are common in any software selection:

  • Should you choose open source or proprietary software?
  • Should you choose software customized for your industry?
  • Should you choose a hosted solution or one that is cloud-based?
  • What integrations are important to have?
  • What is its profile for ease of use and flexibility?

Let us look at the major considerations for each of these.

Open Source vs Proprietary – There are many open-source Kanban solutions, which some companies prefer because they do not want to be restricted to a specific vendor. Another attraction of open-source software is that it is usually free or very inexpensive and can be installed wherever desired without needing to track license restrictions. On the downside, there is no dedicated support or commitment by the authors to update it, which proprietary software often provides.

Industry-Specific or General Project Management – Project managers may seek software adapted for needs like their own. Software development is perhaps the most popular use for Kanban, and many solutions were initially designed for IT applications.

However, one of Kanban’s strengths is its flexibility and adaptability. So generally, you do not need software designed for a specific industry if you choose a solution with robust Kanban board functionality. Kanban boards can be customized to fit your workflow. In many instances, templates exist for specific sectors and commonly encountered process patterns.

While some general project management platforms say they can be adapted to perform Kanban, it is generally wise to avoid these unless a solution can easily create a visual project board in line with Kanban principles.

One note about the use of Kanban in software development: some software teams combine Kanban with other techniques including Scrum, which focuses on a time-boxed sprint (two to four weeks). Kanban does not incorporate time limits and is driven by the limit on the amount of work at any one time. Even for these teams, the Kanban board remains their most critical need, so the guidance above generally applies. However, “Scrumban” (as this hybrid is known) teams may want to ensure that Scrum features such as sprint planning tools and metrics like burndown charts are also available in the software.

Hosted vs Cloud-Based – There are two main advantages of hosted software: the potential to keep your data more secure and having greater control of the software asset. However, upfront costs are higher, and hosted options also pose some security risks. Also, you take on greater responsibility for maintenance and updates. Many users are moving to cloud solutions because they often offer lower costs over the product life cycle, make it easy to add or subtract users or locations, and the vendor handles support, maintenance, and updates.

Integrations – The number and type of integrations are critically important. You will want to assess the other software, tools, and platforms your organization uses, and choose Kanban software that integrates seamlessly with as many of them as possible. These include file-hosting services, browser extensions, spreadsheets, data storage, email, digital signing, calendars, app integrators, programs, and developer tools.

Ease of Use/Flexibility – You want software that your team members can figure out and use, so know your team’s strengths and weaknesses. A technically adept team will be comfortable with more complex features and need less training. Technophobes will want the most goof-proof software available. You will also want the ability to push irrelevant information out of view. Of course, everyone loves a great user experience. Additionally, you want to confirm the software is flexible enough to meet your needs including growth in the number of users, potential changes to your processes, and functionality to manage multiple projects.

When should you Invest in Kanban Project Management Software?

In this guide, we will look at when you should use Kanban within your team and how you can get your team ready and adopt Kanban.

Your team has less time for planning meetings.

One of the first principles of kanban is to make small incremental changes to existing processes. Teams that want to start a new approach to project management without turning existing processes upside down will naturally find a good fit with the kanban methodology.

Your team has a repeatable workflow that can be visualized on a board.

It also helps if your team has a broad set of steps that repeat themselves for different tasks. This makes it easy to visualize your entire workflow on an online Kanban board. Teams that have a wide variety of user stories that require flexible workflows may not find it easy to maintain and practice kanban.

Kanban is a better fit for teams that strive for consistent delivery of features and updates rather than working with maps and releases of iterations.

To summarize, you can use Kanban if.

  • You want to implement a system without overhauling your existing workflows entirely.
  • You have a largely repeatable process for work to pass through.
  • You want to limit planning and meetings to focus on delivery.
  • You want a continuous delivery of features and improvements rather than delivery in fixed releases/cycles.

Getting your team ready for Kanban

Once you have decided to adopt kanban for your team, the next step would be to get everyone on the same page to ensure a maximum chance of success.

The various stakeholders could include people in senior management, software development teams, designers, QA, and other individual contributors.

Management buy-in

The first step to adopting Kanban in any organization is getting management approval. This can be done by submitting a proposal highlighting the Kanban methodology and how it helps improve the team’s current processes. It is important to set the correct expectations and present a concrete implementation plan.

One of the advantages of Kanban is that it does not require an overhaul of existing processes. Teams can start by mapping their existing flows to kanban software and start tracking progress. The only initial commitment needed is the commitment to observe and make incremental changes to improve processes and outcomes.

Educating Development Teams

After getting management buy-in, it is essential to get your teams organized to use kanban boards effectively. Educating the development team about the kanban methodology and how tasks are going to be tracked from start to end should be a top priority. Kanban, being an incremental change, is typically easy to implement.

Key features when selecting a Kanban Project Management Software

Finding the best Kanban software that fits your needs may be a time-consuming exercise. So here is what to look for when trying to discover the best Kanban apps:

  • Ability to add swimlanes, limit work in progress, edit columns, sort cards, apply filters.
  • Attach files, assign tasks, create links between cards!
  • Analyze workflow data, visualize metrics, extract reports.
  • Automate processes, create notifications, set project/task deadlines.
  • Integrate with other tools.
  • Scaling functionalities – create multiple Kanban boards and visualize work across more than one team.
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