Are you struggling to keep track of your different marketing campaigns, activities, and projects?
If so, you might benefit from using a kanban board, a tool to better manage your marketing pursuits.
A kanban board is a useful way to visualize workflow and manage tasks.
So, let’s talk about kanban boards and how they can help you manage marketing, whether you’re working alone or with a larger team.
Also, we’ll touch on how kanban boards compare to other methods so you can combine or tweak methods to come up with a process that’s perfect for your marketing team.
What is a Kanban Board?
Kanban started in Japan (the name means “signboard” or “billboard”). It’s a system that’s designed to help you visualize your workflow, keep your projects-in-progress numbers reasonable, and just get everything done. Sometimes, the word “flow” is used to describe these systems.
Kanban boards were first used by Toyota to control parts inventories. The method was inspired by “restock cards” that you sometimes see on store shelves hanging behind products, which give the store’s manager a visual cue when they are out of something.
In marketing, the kanban method is used by agile marketing teams. It is particularly useful if you have a lot of different projects and campaigns. Modern marketing is all about multiple channels and solid metrics. It’s about doing a lot of things at once, and sometimes too many things at once. Kanban boards can help manage this, and Welcome includes Kanban techniques to help you control your workflow, pace, and keep projects organized.
Central to the process is a kanban board. You can use a physical whiteboard or a digital kanban board. Kanban cards, which represent work items, might be index cards with pins, sticky notes, etc.
It doesn’t matter if you go digital or stick to old-school, pen-and-paper methods. Regardless, your kanban board will show a series of columns, and kanban cards are placed in each column. For example, on a marketing campaign kanban board, the columns might be:
- Perform research
- Set target persona
- Determine campaign goals
- Create content
This is, of course, simplified, but you can see how to make this work within your organization. Your workflow might vary depending on what marketing channels you use, your industry, etc. Even still, the method is the same. Each campaign gets a card that moves through the columns as tasks are completed.
Your board should also include a “backlog” column for work that needs to be done but has not been started. All new work for your marketing department is put here. Welcome uses a kanban-style process to help you optimize performance. We can help you set one up and learn exactly how it will help organize your workflow.
Pitfalls of Kanban Boards
The biggest pitfall when working with a kanban board is that you can end up with a bottleneck. To avoid this, it’s important to establish WIP limits.
This means that only a certain number of cards can be in a single column at any given time.
In other words, you can’t move a new card into a full column until you’ve moved another card out or off the board.
Other possible issues you might come across include:
Team members not updating project cards when they should. Everyone has to get into the habit of moving cards from column to column. A good team feels a sense of satisfaction every time they move a card, but it’s an easy step to forget.
Over-complicating the boards. It’s better to have multiple boards than try to squeeze everything onto one. That said, there are tools like “swimlanes” that can improve prioritization, or you can combine your kanban board with an editorial calendar to keep everything together.
Lack of timing. If you work well with deadlines, you might have to tweak this method. In its default form, kanban doesn’t have a timeframe associated with each phase. This can result in missed deadlines and under- or overestimated lead times. Welcome helps resolve this problem by tying kanban boards into editorial calendars and workflow over time.
None of these potential issues should put you off trying kanban, especially if you’re having issues with your workflow that are hard to isolate. As kanban is a continuous improvement process, it provides important feedback over the life of your projects. It will help you see which stage of the process things are often held up, for example.
How Do Kanban Boards Improve Flow?
Let’s go into how the kanban method improves flow and removes bottlenecks, real quick: Kanban cards show you immediately where the problems are.
When you can’t move a card because you’ve hit WIP limits, you need to do something about it. That “something” is called swarming. Team members shift their focus to resolving the specific task or issue that has caused the blockage.
While swarming, they can establish why the blockage occurred in the first place and improve processes going forward.
The simple visualization of the kanban method helps you spot flow patterns, areas that need extra attention and focus, or where you may need to bring in extra team members.
How does the Kanban System differ from Scrum?
Kanban and scrum are somewhat similar. In the scrum system, you have a scrum board that starts with a prioritized backlog and then establishes a series of sprints in which you focus on a project for some amount of time. It’s popular with software development teams.
Scrum teams work very intensely on a specific project for a short period of time. In the kanban system, every campaign, task, or project is on the board, and you might work on two or three projects from each section at the same time.
This makes it more suitable for multi-channel marketing. How often do you only have one campaign for a product? You don’t! You might run radio ads, Facebook ads, Google ads, and direct mail, all at the same time.
Kanban doesn’t limit you to just one channel. At the same time, it helps ensure that you don’t start three thousand things and finish none of them.
Some people find that scrum works better for them, and that’s absolutely fine. You can also combine the two methods. If that’s the case, use kanban to observe the process and scrum to push through sprints to get a project done quickly. This methodology can give you the best of both worlds! (Just don’t tell the project managers who think that they’re mutually exclusive. Shhh!) Welcome supports both kanban and scrum techniques to allow you to combine the two and come up with the workflow that’s best for you.
How Can You Adapt the Kanban Method Further?
The kanban system is great, but it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone the same way. Here are a few ways to get your personal kanban board working the way you want it to:
Swimlanes. Swimlanes allow you to split your original columns into parallel lanes that represent milestones unique to each project. This can further help you visualize tasks and timelines.
Know your WIP limits. There’s no hard or fast rule on WIP limits. They don’t even have to be the same for each column. For example, you might have a two-card limit for “Create content” if you have a lot of work to do. On the same board, you might have a three-card limit for “Determine campaign goals” if you find that takes less time.
Develop feedback loops. Because kanban is intended for continuous improvement, you should have specific feedback loops that help you learn from mistakes and continue to improve workflow.
Finally, remember that kanban is a project management tool, so it’s only as good as the people using it. It often works best as part of an integrated management tool like Welcome.
What Tools Can You Use to Implement Kanban?
For some teams, a physical board is perfectly acceptable. In fact, there are some uses of kanban that are entirely physical, such as the aforementioned retail inventory tracking cards.
In most cases, though, you’re going to want to use some kind of digital kanban tool. There are a number of kanban software programs out there, like Jira and Trello. These tools often provide templates that you can use to set up a kanban board quickly. Just don’t forget to personalize your board and continue tweaking it as you get used to the process.
When considering a tool, look at pricing and functionality (hint: Welcome is free). Digital boards usually offer better real-time responses than physical boards. They can also be integrated into your project management software to reduce the chances of cards not being moved when they should be.
Make sure to bring all stakeholders in on this and let team members see what the tools can do before finalizing your decision. You need to make sure everyone is on board with this method from the start.
The kanban method provides a roadmap for your marketing team to do their best work. It helps improve flow and throughput without forcing you to change your processes (which some other methods do).
Want to give it a try? Set up your free Welcome account today and see how we can help you with kanban boards and all kinds of project management tools to improve your work, so you can focus on the fun parts of marketing.