The Kanban Guide

Kanban Planning

Using historical data, Kanban helps you make precise estimations about project length and use your Kanban boards as a planning tool to prioritize upcoming work.

In traditional project management, the Gantt chart is one of the most widespread tools for planning work, assigning starts and end dates to tasks, and controlling project activities against the initial plan. We will not argue if this is wrong or right. But let’s clarify that building a Gantt chart is acceptable in contexts with low variability. In the dynamic and flexible work environment of knowledge work, they can be a real nightmare.

Here, contrary to focusing on exact dates, Kanban planning offers an alternative, based on your workflow historical data, rather than on your gut feelings.

Why Kill the Gantt Chart?

The Gantt Chart is a useful tool if you want to visualize dependencies or sequencing. However, when you attach start and end dates to the individual work items, you become the root of all evil. Why is that? Because:

  • We have the means to twist hands, a.k.a. “the project is late, you will work on the weekend”
  • We have the means to justify bad decisions, a.k.a. “They want us to do it by Friday, let’s not do what we have to, but what we can”.
  • We know when we are on time, a.k.a. “The charts are green, but no one knows what the heck is going on around here”.
  • We have some more time, no rush, a.k.a. “The task is planned for 3 days, let’s make sure it takes at least that long”.

As it is clear, the Gantt chart is heavily focused on scheduling – assigning fixed start and end dates for individual tasks. Now imagine scheduling all tasks in a website development project. It is not only unrealistic to approach knowledge work projects in this way. It also creates a lot of waste.

For this reason, Kanban planning is what we recommend for knowledge work projects. Focused on outcomes, delivery dates, and cycle time analysis, this approach allows more flexibility. Planning the Kanban way acknowledges that we do not have control over the future and refuse to go into unnecessary details. It represents moving from a deterministic to a probabilistic approach and working with ranges and probabilities instead of fixed deadlines.  

Planning on a Kanban Board

At Restyaboard, we call the Kanban board “The new Gantt Chart”. You cannot translate one into the other without losing some of the characteristics, but there’s a pretty good correlation, which makes Kanban Planning possible. Whether you want to plan your projects weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc., the Kanban board allows you to do that.

Imagine that the “Not Started” area of your Kanban board is a reversed timeline – the rightmost column is “now” and the leftmost, sometime in the future:

With this basic timeline in place, we can easily use stickies to plan when some items are most likely to be delivered. Suppose one item has to be expedited or postponed. In that case, we take the Kanban card and move it to another column of the Kanban board, changing the card’s priority.

That’s pretty much the Kanban Planning approach – reorder the stickies to be in the right column. Of course, we should use Kanban cards if we are using Kanban software for this purpose.

The Kanban board also helps your teams plan their daily and weekly activities. It gives a constant up-to-date overview of all work items’ status in the pipeline and the different tasks’ priority. This way, when capacity frees up, people have all the needed information to proceed with the most important task in the queue.

Depending on how you prefer to plan your strategic goals, you can also create dedicated columns on your board representing your different planning horizons.

This way, planning on a Kanban board will help you keep your upcoming projects and future goals in front of your eyes. 

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