What are Kanban Columns?

In the dynamic world of Managed Service Providers (MSPs), efficiency and clarity in operations are paramount. While countless tools and methodologies are designed to enhance productivity, the Kanban system has emerged as a game-changer. Kanban is transforming how MSPs handle their workflows by offering a visual and streamlined approach to task management. In this article, we will delve deep into Kanban columns specifically, exploring their essence, benefits, and how they can be best leveraged in MSP operations as they adopt the Kanban methodology. 

What are Kanban Columns?

Kanban columns are the vertical divisions you see on a Kanban board, and each represents a specific stage or status in a workflow process. Visually, they create swimlanes where tasks or work items (often represented as cards) move from one column to the next as they progress through different stages.

The columns act as a visual funnel through which tasks move, starting typically from a conceptual or initiation stage to a completion or delivery stage. By looking at a Kanban board, anyone—be it a team member, a manager, or a stakeholder—can quickly understand the distribution and status of tasks within a particular workflow or process.


The Purpose of Kanban Columns

Kanban columns, the vital segments of a Kanban board, epitomize the various stages within a task's lifecycle. At their core, these columns serve as a visual representation, enabling teams to track the journey of tasks, right from initiation to completion. By glancing at a Kanban board, teams can immediately discern where tasks are positioned in the workflow, thereby offering insights into their current status and revealing any potential bottlenecks that might hinder progress. Here’s a breakdown of the different purposes Kanban columns serve: 


1. Visualization of Workflow

One of the primary purposes of Kanban columns is to provide a visual representation of the workflow. By translating tasks into visual elements that move across the board, teams can instantly grasp the state of their projects, the stages each task is in, and how work is flowing.

2. Identification of Bottlenecks

Kanban columns help teams identify where work is getting stuck or piling up. For example, if many tasks are accumulating in the "In Progress" column without moving to the "Done" column, there might be a bottleneck or issue that needs addressing.

3. Enhanced Communication

Kanban columns foster open communication. Team members can discuss the status of tasks, share concerns about potential bottlenecks, and collaborate on solutions. It's a tool that prompts proactive dialogue rather than reactive problem-solving.

4. Task Prioritization

When combined with other Kanban practices like setting WIP limits, columns can assist teams in priority management. If a column reaches its limit, teams must focus on moving tasks out of that column before introducing new ones, ensuring that the most pressing tasks are attended to promptly.

5. Process Improvement

Over time, the movement of tasks through columns can provide insights into the efficiency of the existing workflow. Teams can refine and adjust their processes based on observations made from the Kanban board, driving continuous improvement.


How to Maximize the Use of Kanban Columns in MSP Operations

While the traditional Kanban columns encompass stages such as "To Do", "In Progress", and "Done", giving a transparent snapshot of task progression, MSPs often require a more nuanced approach. Recognizing the intricate nature of Managed Service Provider operations, it's advisable to incorporate additional columns, such as "Client Review", "Quality Assurance", and "Deployment". These not only cater to the unique demands of MSPs but also ensure a tailored perspective that mirrors their distinct operational nuances, ensuring workflow clarity and efficiency. Here are five other ways to effectively and efficiently utilize Kanban columns:

1. Customizing Columns for Your Operations

Every MSP has its rhythm, and the Kanban system should mirror that. Identifying key stages in your MSP workflow allows for a more aligned operational flow. By creating specialized columns for unique processes or operations, MSPs can ensure every task has a clear path to completion.

2. Limiting Work-in-Progress (WIP)

Overloading teams can lead to inefficiencies and burnout. The concept of WIP limits helps set a maximum number of tasks for each column. This ensures that tasks move smoothly through stages. In the MSP context, the benefits of setting WIP limits include better workload management, ensuring the quality of deliverables, and preventing team overload.

3. Regularly Reviewing & Refining you Boards

Change is constant in the MSP industry, and the Kanban board should evolve accordingly. The importance of retrospectives can't be overstated—they're opportunities to discuss what's working and what isn't. This process, combined with tweaking column definitions based on evolving needs, ensures that the board remains a relevant tool for MSPs.

4. Integrating with MSP Tools

MSP operations can be much smoother when your tools integrate effortlessly. That's where linking the Kanban board with trusted MSP tools such as AutoTask and Connectwise comes in handy. With TopLeft, making these links and ensuring everything flows seamlessly is a breeze.

5. Employee Training & On-boarding

The best tools are only as good as the people using them. For MSPs, ensuring everyone understands the Kanban system is crucial. This isn't a one-time effort. Regularly revisiting the board's purpose and utilization with the team guarantees that everyone is on the same page, driving consistency and effectiveness in operations.

How TopLeft can help

Using Kanban columns the right way can really help MSPs do better work. Tools, especially ones like TopLeft, can make using Kanban even easier by working well with other popular MSP tools. Integrating these tools streamlines tasks and ensures every step is clearly visualized, reducing chances of miscommunication and errors. As the tech landscape keeps evolving, it's vital to have solutions that grow and adapt with you. Want to make your MSP more efficient? Explore TopLeft features and discover how we can help.

Working the Kanban way with TopLeft

Do you feel stuck and overwhelmed? Or chaotic with how your work flows? Do you feel unaccomplished at the end of the day, and week? This teaching + demo video will show you a better way of working, by improving flow between Kanban columns.