How to Leverage Kanban for MSP to Visualize a Waterfall Project WBS in MSP Environments

How could a Kanban board fit into a Waterfall project management approach, especially in MSP environments where things tend to get a bit... structured? It might sound like a stretch at first—after all, Kanban is all about flexibility and ongoing adaptation, while Waterfall is pretty much the opposite. But hang on, what if I told you that blending these two could give your project management strategy the best of both worlds?

Let’s break it down a bit. Imagine you’re juggling multiple projects, each with its own complex set of tasks that need to be tackled in a very specific order. That’s your typical Waterfall project. Now, think about how you manage all that work. It’s not just about ticking tasks off a list; it’s about seeing how everything flows together, spotting bottlenecks, and understanding what will hit your team next. That’s where Kanban shines!

In this article, you will learn how to use the Kanban boards to visually map out the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) of your Waterfall project. We will also show you how to use TopLeft swimlanes to maintain a seamless flow of information and updates, ensuring that every change on the Kanban board is reflected in real time within your PSA system.


Understanding Kanban boards and work breakdown structure (WBS)

Kanban boards can visually map your Waterfall project’s Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a hierarchical decomposition of a project into manageable sections or tasks, helping teams better organize and define the total scope of the project.

Each phase of your project is laid out on a board, with columns representing different stages. Each card on the board is a piece of your project puzzle—maybe it’s 

       Gathering client requirements
       Completing a design phase
       Or passing off to project engineers or service teams.


Now, why would you want to do that? Simple! Visibility. When you can see your project laid out visually, it becomes a whole lot easier to:

     Grasp complex information
     Track progress in real time,
     Communicate with your team about what’s happening. 


Plus, who doesn’t love the satisfaction of moving a task from “In Progress” to “Done”? But wait, there’s more! Kanban enhances your workflow. In a Waterfall model, we know that tasks must be completed in a specific order, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve how work moves through these stages. What if you could identify bottlenecks faster or redistribute resources more efficiently to keep things moving? That’s the tactical advantage Kanban can add to your Waterfall project.

And let’s not forget about flexibility. Waterfall is known for being a bit rigid, but with a Kanban board, you can add a layer of adaptability. Need to adjust priorities based on new client feedback? No problem! Shift your cards around, update your team, and keep everyone in the loop with minimal fuss.


How to set up Kanban boards in waterfall projects

You don’t need anything fancy to start—just a clear picture of your project’s phases. These phases will become your horizontal swimlanes on the Kanban board. For example, you might have columns like 

   •  “Requirements” 
   •  “Design”
   •  “Network installations”
   •  “Server migrations”
   •  “Testing” 

Each of these represents a key stage in your Waterfall process. Now, within these columns, you’ll place cards. Each card represents a task or a sub-project that needs to be completed. Think of these as your actionable items. You move a card from left to right as the work progresses from one stage to the next. Simple, right? But here’s the cool part: you get a visual snapshot of everything happening. You can see which tasks are completed, which are in progress, and which haven’t been started yet.

But what about making sure things don’t get too chaotic? That’s where WIP limits come in—Work In Progress limits. These are super helpful in managing the workflow and ensuring your team isn’t overwhelmed. You might decide, for instance, that you can only have three tasks in the “Design” column at any one time. This helps prevent bottlenecks and keeps the work moving smoothly from one stage to the next.

When you update a task’s status on your Kanban board, that change can automatically sync back to your main project management tool, like HaloPSA or ConnectWise. This means everyone’s always on the same page, and you don’t have to worry about information slipping through the cracks.

Using a Kanban board also encourages regular team check-ins. Imagine starting your day with a quick team huddle around the board. Everyone sees what’s on deck for the day, discusses any blockers, and maybe even reshuffles some priorities. It’s a great way to ensure everyone’s focused and firing on all cylinders.



Visualizing your project workflow can transform your MSP team from overwhelmed to overachievers. 

Have you ever had that “aha!” moment when something complicated suddenly makes sense? That’s the feeling you get when you use Kanban boards to visualize your Waterfall project work breakdown structure (WBS).

Visual tools like Kanban boards help you see everything at a glance. No flipping through pages of project schedules or digging through emails. A Kanban board lays out all the phases of your Waterfall project as columns with cards representing tasks or milestones. You can see what’s done, what’s in progress, and what’s up next. This visual setup helps you and your team immediately understand the project’s flow without needing a detailed briefing.

Now, you might wonder, “Can a visual tool like this handle the rigid phases of a Waterfall project?” Absolutely! While Waterfall projects are linear and phase-based, integrating a Kanban board helps by providing a dynamic space to track each phase’s progress. Each card or task moves from one column to the next, aligning perfectly with Waterfall’s sequential nature but with added flexibility to adjust as new information or challenges arise.

One of the most excellent parts? Collaboration skyrockets. Team members can easily discuss, update, and delegate tasks when everyone can see the project’s status in real time—got a delay in the design phase? Set the ticket to an urgent priority! Suddenly, everyone’s on the same page, and resolving bottlenecks becomes a team effort rather than a project manager’s headache.

Your Kanbans aren’t just cookie-cutter templates. Customize them to reflect your project’s specific needs. Need to highlight critical risks or upcoming deadlines? Set your board to flag these items. You can make the board as simple or detailed as possible—whatever helps your team stay informed and responsive.


How TopLeft can help you visualize complex projects

Swimlanes in TopLeft take your Kanban board from a simple tracking tool to a sophisticated management instrument that mirrors the complexities of your projects. Imagine each phase of your Waterfall project as a separate lane in a swimming pool. Each lane (or phase) contains all the relevant tasks that need to be completed before moving on to the next phase. This visual segmentation helps clarify the steps and responsibilities, preventing tasks from spilling into the wrong phase and ensuring the progression is smooth and logical.

Why does this matter? Because visibility leads to accountability and efficiency. With swimlanes, you can:

   •  Visualize different project phases: Each swimlane can represent a different phase of your Waterfall project,         making it easy to see how tasks move from conception to completion.

   •  Enhance team collaboration: Teams no longer have to guess where a task is in the process or who is responsible for what. Everything is laid out clearly. If there’s a bottleneck in the design phase, it’s visually evident, and the team can gather to address it directly.

     Customize to fit your needs: Tailor your swimlanes to reflect the specific needs of your project or team. Whether by urgency, department, or any other criteria, TopLeft allows you to set up your board to match your project’s real-world complexity.


Using swimlanes makes project management more intuitive. For instance, during stand-up meetings, your team can quickly refer to the Kanban board to see which tasks are progressing and which are stalled. This immediate visual representation helps in making quick decisions: 

    •  What needs to shift? 
    •  Who has the capacity? 
    •  What’s the next critical task?

Swimlanes become even more powerful for teams using TopLeft with HaloPSA or AutoTask. They allow you to maintain a seamless flow of information and updates, ensuring that every change on the Kanban board is reflected in real time within your PSA system. This synchronization means that updates made by one team member are instantly visible to all, enhancing collaborative efforts and reducing the chances of miscommunication or duplicated work.


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