5 Signs You Need to Start Using Kanban for Software Development

6 min readApr 10, 2018


With all the goodness of Agile, the sprint-based Scrum process at times it can prove to be rigid, and may cause a lot of burnout for the teams. Although Scrum assumes you’re good at estimation, it tries to drive productivity by imposing a time limit on work by estimating how much time will each task take. In order to release a product, the only way is to keep working hard as “we committed to it”, even though we hear of a crash soon after the launch. Additionally, on the flip side, though lengthening sprints may reduce the overall pressure, it also exposes the teams to a greater change management risk. A survey by AgileLion Institute highlights some of the issues with Scrum and confirms that Planning and Estimation weakness is the biggest source of complaints and frustration as confirmed by 40% of survey respondents.

Source: Survey by AgileLion

Kanban, Japanese for visual card, is a method by which the individual elements of large projects are broken down into bite-sized pieces and placed onto a board that features separate columns for the various stages each element must go through. Kanban is a continuous flow of process that is often visualized on a Kanban board where each step is represented by a column. Issues can further be organized in rows, called “swim lanes”. An important aspect of Kanban is Work-in-Progress (WIP) that controls the number of items that can be simultaneously worked on within a given stage of development. Workers can only move work onto the next stage if that column has an open WIP slot.

Kanban Board Design
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But, how do you know that you really need Kanban for software development? We have put together a list of 5 tell-tale signs that you need to start using Kanban for software development:

1. If you feel that your team is overloaded with work: A lot of times, software development teams have way too much on their plate than they can handle. The main reason usually is a miscommunication between project managers and their teams, or just an underestimation of the project scope. Kanban helps remove such bottlenecks by providing very specific data about how much work is in progress, how much is requested, and how much work is put on the back burner (commonly called the backlog). This helps prioritize tasks, and also ensures that everyone shares the workload equally.

Kanban Board

2. If the launched products have lot of bugs: Scrum teams usually stick to their old practice of sequential execution, that leads to lack of collaboration, too much work in progress, and thus, more bugs. Implementing the Kanban practice of ‘limiting work in progress’ can help here. It ensures that instead of working on all the six stories in the Sprint together, the team DOES NOT works on more than three stories at a given time. Additionally, work in progress (WIP) limit can also ensure that a team member is not allowed to work on more than one task at a given time. With the motto of ‘stop starting, start finishing’, WIP helps reduce the time required for a task to be completed with much better quality. This is also in tune with the agile world, where maximizing the ‘finished work coming out’ is a far more important objective than ‘maximizing the work going in’.

3. If you see deadlines being missed on a regular basis: If you realize that a lot of deadlines are being missed, it means you need to do something to streamline the processes in your organization. To avoid the nth hour rush and working overtime to meet a looming deadline, and to not to miss the delivery date, it is critical to have a system like Kanban in place. It will provide a clear indication as to where things are and where are you headed. With Kanban implemented properly, surprises become rare. This happens as you can both track, and control progress, more efficiently.

4. If you or others are looking for Project flexibility and want to Visualize the workflow through metrics: The inability to be able to easily track where you are in the SDLC, or what lies ahead, is a key indication that you need to invest in Kanban. If the concerned people are constantly asking the status of your project, it means that they don’t have the clear picture of the project as a whole. The Kanban board or system helps to visualize all projects and presents their status in real time. Some advanced Kanban software applications even generate reports for you.

Source: SwiftKanban

5. If you regularly experience scope creep: At times, the project requirements change/ increase during production that end up delaying the release of the product to the market. Scope creep usually happens if there’s no clear overview of the project. Kanban clearly shows the individual stages of each element and acts as gatekeeper to the project’s success. If a task isn’t on the board, it isn’t happening - simple. In a web-based Kanban software, everything is visible and accessible to whoever needs it for their project. Even more importantly, all files and information, if chronicled correctly, will be available through any computer with Internet. If you use an app-based Kanban board, everything relating to the project and the individual to-do items are contained within one location that can be accessed from virtually anywhere and on any device.

In Summary

Agile principles of management are now being implemented globally across industries. The principles are as simple as likable: “The empowered, learning team is the core. Involve customers and stakeholders in the process; do not wait until it is finished. The people doing the work should be the ones planning it.”

The software development, has adopted a lot of business-critical values, principles, and concepts from lean manufacturing and product development. Software developers across the globe are embracing lean principles, and these working methods are spreading organically to other teams and parts of organizations too.

If you see your company doing one (or more) of the above, you should definitely try Kanban. Kanban is not a ‘one-size-fit-all’ tool for software dev teams. However, the lessons it teaches are useful for all organizations. It isn’t for everyone, but if you find something that works for you, implement it.

A challenge with Kanban however, specifically related to software development teams that work remotely, is the difficulty in using physical Kanban boards. To overcome this challenge, SwiftKanban, Kanban software offers a simple but really effective way to manage work visually and to get things done. By looking at the Kanban boards, you can identify both the aspects - whether the flow is smooth, or if there are potential bottlenecks.

Please share your thoughts and if you know of more indications when a Software organization needs to start using the Kanban principles, let us know. Also, to learn more about Kanban feel free to visit: https://www.digite.com/kanban/what-is-kanban/

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