9 Kanban board examples for your business teams
Kanban got its start in the automotive industry as a streamlined way to move a manufacturing line forward. Since then, it’s evolved into an Agile framework embraced by businesses and teams of all types. There’s even a dedicated category of software development for Kanban project management, which is projected to have a CAGR of 18.4% and an estimated worth of $234.7 million by 2028.
One of the reasons the Kanban framework is so popular is its flexibility and adaptability across different team and project types. From software development to product management to marketing, professionals of all kinds have found ways to make practical use of Kanban’s easy-to-implement organizational structure and visual approach for task management.
But with that freedom and flexibility come some challenges. Leaders may struggle to create a Kanban board that works well for their team’s unique needs. This is where it can help to see some examples and brainstorm ideas, since there’s no cookie-cutter solution when it comes to Kanban.
Whether you have “project manager” in your title or serve as an unofficial project manager as part of your job, exploring an array of examples for different team types can help you design a perfect Kanban board, no matter your project type or team organization. Let’s take a closer look at what Kanban boards are, as well as a few specific use cases by team type.
- What is a Kanban board?
- Advice for using these Kanban board examples
- Basic kanban board example
- Kanban board example for IT operations teams
- Kanban board example for software development teams
- Kanban board examples for engineering and product development
- Kanban board example for design and creative teams
- Kanban board examples for customer support teams
- Kanban board example for marketing
- Kanban board example for sales
- Kanban board example for HR
What is a Kanban board ?
A Kanban board is an Agile framework tool used by project managers. It visually represents tasks as cards for a given project, and the work in progress stages as each work item is moved through different columns or lanes toward completion. A Kanban board is designed to help leaders create transparency around task management while also maximizing efficiency and resource management as different items progress through different stages of development.
With this greater insight into the status of all the moving parts in a project, individual contributors and team leaders can:
- Visualize the work process. Everyone can see the exact stage that a particular task is in and the work necessary to move it along accordingly.
- Simplify workflows. Establishing clearly defined stages, visualized as columns, helps limit unnecessary steps and enhances project predictability.
- Increase efficiency. Teams are able to focus on the tasks at hand for their stage or responsibility, streamlining output and speeding up delivery timelines.
Take a closer look at Kanban boards in our article Learn about Kanban Boards and How to Use Them
Advice for using Kanban board examples
As you’ll see in the examples below, getting started with a Kanban board can be as simple or as complex as needed for your project and team. Before launching into planning, keep in mind a few essential principles that can streamline the project management process and keep team members from getting overwhelmed.
- Keep it as simple as possible. Kanban boards can have any number of stages, or columns, included. Be careful to not overcomplicate your boards with more statuses or checkpoints than you really need to achieve your project goals.
- Use only what works. Not all Kanban boards are created equal. As you sort through the many provided examples, you can pick and choose the ideas that best work for your own team and project management style. What works for one person, even in the same industry or department, might not work for another.
- Make sure it is useful to everyone. While a Kanban board layout might make sense to the project manager, make sure you design a method that works for your entire team. Workflow stages, naming conventions, and task sequences should reflect existing workflow elements to make the transition more seamless.
Basic Kanban board example
At its core, Kanban is all about moving different tasks for a project from one stage to the next. This leads to a basic design of multiple columns that, read from left to right, demonstrate the different stages or statuses for the project.
Individual work items, or tasks, are represented by cards that contain additional details and work history. This can include anything from specifications to background documents to team notes. As a best practice, project managers should cap the number of cards in any given status column to a set amount, called a work-in-progress (WIP) limit, depending on the resources available to the team. This helps prevent responsible team members from becoming overwhelmed by too many tasks or creating a backlog along the way.
As the cards move through the different stages, they move from left to right toward completion or the final delivery point. The last stage should represent the end of the workflow, where the product is finalized and delivered per the task specifications.
The most basic Kanban boards follow these principles while incorporating these key stages :
- To do. The first stage of the Kanban board — the to-do list — should be the starting point where all tasks are placed for initial review and assignment. Some project managers label this column “Not Started” because these tasks are not currently being worked on by any team members.
- In process. Cards should be moved to this stage once they’ve been assigned to a team member and work has begun on them. This demonstrates everything that has been allocated to a resource, helping managers see what tasks are in the backlog versus what has been started already.
- In review. When work has been completed, tasks are moved to a new status representing review and approval. This can be for both team review as well as stakeholder or external approvals. Items in this stage are not actively worked on by the project team. When feedback comes in, the card can either be moved forward if the task is approved, or backward to the “In Process” status for additional work.
- Complete. When an item is completely done, the card is moved to the Complete column. No additional work will be done on this task moving forward, as it is considered delivered.
While this basic structure works for many teams starting out with Kanban, project managers can also adapt it to represent their unique workflows. For example, instead of moving an item back to “In progress” following review, a project manager may opt to add a stage such as “Revisions” to separate initial work from work resulting from feedback.
Kanban board example for IT operations teams
When it comes to project management, IT teams often face a continuous onslaught of inbound demands and shifting priorities. This can make it difficult for management to see clearly exactly what resources are being allocated to specific projects or how a task is moving forward within a given time frame.
Here, IT operations managers can customize a few Kanban factors. In addition to ensuring that each column or status reflects their team’s workflow, they can also use a feature called swimlanes. Swimlanes are horizontal rows on a Kanban board that separate different work categories. For example, an IT operations team may have an “In Progress” column with several swimlanes for different types of work, such as networking tasks, security tasks, and software upgrade tasks. This can help managers ensure adequate resource allocation while monitoring WIP limits.
For larger organizations, swimlanes can also be used to represent different teams or groups of people dedicated to different deliverables or skillsets. This can further help team leaders and managers ensure that workloads are allocated evenly and prevent the department from committing to more deliverables than it can provide in a given timeframe.
Kanban board example for software development teams
Software development teams often benefit from the implementation of Agile frameworks. Teams using other methodologies can also gain an advantage by visualizing their workflow in a Kanban board. Development processes typically require more than the four standard statuses, and project managers should start by making sure their board’s columns reflect the many steps their team’s projects progress through. This often includes stages like a backlog, grooming, in development, testing, validation, review, regression, implementation, and delivery.
Swimlanes can also be used to represent different priorities for a developer team. Some Scrum teams, for example, estimate the effort different tasks will take using points or t-shirt sizing. Tasks can then be separated into swimlanes based on the level of effort. Another use for swimlanes is to divide tasks into priority levels to ensure that urgent items have the right resources allocated and are prioritized ahead of less timely tasks.
Using Kanban boards can also help managers, product owners, or Scrum masters ensure that no one developer is assigned more than they can handle in a given sprint, or iteration cycle. Again, WIP limits become essential to ensuring that everything assigned in a sprint can be completed as promised with deliverability deadlines in mind.
Kanban board example for engineering and product development
With its roots in manufacturing, it’s no surprise that Kanban works expertly for physical production environments. Product development often involves a number of different teams, making communication of deliverables and timeframes essential. A Kanban board can break down a complex process into a simple status report that’s easy to read.
Most commonly, project managers align each column on their Kanban board with a different stage in the production lifecycle. Often, this includes a number of pre-production statuses, sometimes called a drop lane or an unassigned column, to show inbound requests and monitor issues. Project managers can also group columns in broader categories that make the board easier to read, such as creating a header called “Task queue” and placing “Backlog” and “To-do” columns underneath it.
Kanban boards are also widely used to provide management and stakeholders with updates on project or product progress. Managers can choose to organize their boards to group tasks more broadly and progressively become more detailed as they move down the board through various swimlanes. For example, the top swimlane may show a high-level timeline for all projects in progress with a swimlane below it for cards just allocated to a particular project.
Kanban board example for design and creative teams
Creative teams often have a number of different campaigns and projects running at a given time, planning ahead for anything from product launches to event promotions. Resource management can be a struggle if project managers don’t understand how involved assigned projects are at a given point in time where items worked on today may be needed six months out.
Creative workflows also tend to be more protracted when it comes to brainstorming and development. Instead of having a single “In progress” stage, project managers may prefer to create an “In progress” header and group multiple columns together to represent progress stages such as “Ideation” and “Concept refinement” with multiple reviews built in for team consideration and stakeholder approval. All of this may happen before a true “In development” status that reflects the actual work being done for copywriting, graphic design, editing, final delivery, and implementation.
Kanban boards for creative teams should encourage efficiency — for example, using a single column for reviews instead of seven different review columns — while also reflecting real-world workflows and realistic steps. Swimlanes are a great way to separate out sandbox, experimental, or nice-to-have items from essential projects. They can also be used to break out campaign deliverables with different task cards associated with each so it’s clear which tasks ladder up to which deliverable.
Kanban board example for customer support teams
For smaller customer support teams that don’t use a ticketing system for support inquiries, a Kanban board might just be the right solution for keeping tabs on task statuses. Statuses can be grouped under headings that give a clear picture of how many issues are in for review versus out for customer reply while tracking individual statuses such as “Requested,” “Working,” and “Escalated.”
Items may move back and forth between column statuses depending on the actions taken between support personnel and customers. A column for “Waiting on customer” can also reflect items that have been addressed but aren’t quite ready to be closed out. The benefit of having every interaction noted on the card also helps as items are picked up by various team members or reassigned depending on the level of support needed.
Swimlanes can further segment the cards in your Kanban board by grouping them based on service level agreement (SLA) statuses, time to complete, or criticality. They can also be used to reflect support tiers and issue escalation if other internal teams, such as development or sales, are needed in order to resolve an issue.
Kanban board example for marketing
Similar to creative teams, marketing departments often think in terms of campaigns and need complex organizational workflows to keep their projects on track. Kanban boards provide visuals not only for the development of campaign details but also include statuses that reflect when an asset is ready to publish, when it’s live (and where), and when it’s taken down.
Marketing managers can make great use of the organizational properties of a Kanban board by grouping columns depending on pre- and post-launch tasks. For example, an “In design” status header might encompass “Initial mock ups,” “Stakeholder review,” and “Revisions.” Swimlanes can be used in a number of different ways, from grouping similar items in a single campaign together or grouping similar types of tasks such as SEO, design, and copywriting to better view resource allocation by type. Teams can also use active campaign statuses once projects are completed to understand what’s currently in market.
Another way to structure a marketing Kanban is to reflect the overall marketing funnel and customer journey set up for an organization. The most complex boards can represent different header groupings for stages reflecting top-, middle-, and bottom-of-funnel activities, with swimlanes that further segment programs based on activity or campaign type.
Kanban board example for sales
Speaking of the customer journey, sales teams can also make use of Kanban boards. While sales leaders may use more complex systems to track commissions or financial goals, they need to have a clear understanding of how their pipeline looks from the top down. This can help them better picture how their team is performing against sales targets with respect to the customer journey and deal progression. Managers can also use this method to visualize individual sales representative performance and spotlight areas for coaching opportunities.
Kanban boards can use sales funnel stages to organize opportunities and tasks:
- Awareness. Prospects who know of the brand and have the attention of a sales representative but are not ready to make a purchase decision yet.
- Interest. Prospects who’ve demonstrated curiosity regarding specific products or services and could be nurtured to sales readiness by providing more information or follow-ups.
- Decision. Prospects who are primed to make a purchase selection and have narrowed down their options to the point of considering pricing.
- Action. Prospects who finally convert to customers by making a purchase, turning opportunities into closed-won deals.
Within each of these broader sales funnel stages, smaller teams may find it helpful to use statuses that reflect the in and out action of the sales team such as calls, emails, and collateral sent to further engage prospects. Swimlanes are also a great option to call attention to slower or stalled-out deals that might need further attention or to be removed from the pipeline moving forward.
Kanban board example for HR
Smaller human resources (HR) teams can also find great value in tracking their candidate pipelines through the use of a Kanban board. With stages or columns representing the different steps in the candidate sourcing and interviewing process, recruiters and HR managers can quickly visualize which requisitions need more attention. Swimlanes can help teams distinguish between different applicants by department or seniority level who may follow different recruiting stages.
This can also make the transition from pre-hire to post-hire more seamless as applicants transition through the stages of becoming a candidate to a new hire. Tasks like interviewing and onboarding are often handled by different parts of the HR team, and using a Kanban board helps managers make sure that every stage is covered as a candidate progresses.
Column statuses can also be used to track whether the internal team is responsible for the next action, such as reaching out to schedule an interview or waiting on a candidate for next steps, such as a resume submission or acceptance letter. Cards can also be used to track whether a candidate has undergone the necessary onboarding steps and submitted the required paperwork before their first day on the job.
Getting started with Kanban boards
Kanban boards can be a great way to visualize task progress and volume for a given team to ensure that everyone remains accountable as well as clear on what they need to do in order to keep projects on track.
While no two Kanban boards will ever look the same, most share the aspects of progressively demonstrating a workflow of steps or stages that every task must follow. The goal is to move each task card to the final completion status on time and in line with the requirements to meet company objectives. A Kanban can visually show leaders a project status in a matter of seconds while also identifying any roadblocks or issues with resource allocation that need to be addressed.
When you’re ready to get started, here are a few steps you can take to build your own Kanban and optimize your workflow as your team uses it to run projects.
- Evaluate the different steps or stages that the majority of your team’s tasks pass through to achieve approval, and use these to set up your status columns.
- Consider whether your tasks can be grouped by categories, such as teams, campaigns, or jobs, and create swimlanes to further segment your board.
- Define your own work-in-progress limits to ensure that no single status or contributor becomes overburdened and halts production.
- Create an environment where team members can offer feedback on what works and what doesn’t as you roll out your new Kanban board.
- Consider using digital tools that can help teams work from anywhere while being clear on their project deliverables. These can also streamline reporting for upper management.
When you’re ready to implement a platform designed specifically with project management in mind, turn to Adobe Workfront.
Workfront is enterprise work management software that connects work to strategy and drives better collaboration to deliver measurable business outcomes. It integrates people, data, processes, and technology across an organization so you can manage the entire lifecycle of projects from start to finish. By optimizing and centralizing digital projects, cross-functional teams can connect, collaborate, and execute from anywhere to help them do their best work.