Project Management: Kanban Methodology vs. Gantt chart

[fa icon="calendar"] September 6/2018 / by Diego Avendaño

8_23 Kanban vs Gantt Chart@3x

Effective and smart project management is a prerequisite to the success of a project. Project managers have diverse tools at their disposal and knowing which tools to use when is an important aspect in ensuring a successful project management process. Over the years, these tools have undergone transformation in line with technological advancement and changing needs in the management of projects.


Kanban methodology, an approach emerging out of the need to improve efficiency and Gantt Chart, a tool which helps in tracking the progress of a project, are some of the tools that project management teams have utilized to run their projects. These tools have proved effective for their ease of use and flexibility.


This article attempts to explain what Kanban methodology is, exploring its history, principles and use while also looking at Gantt chart and its importance in project management. The article also explains how Gantt Chart can be integrated within Kanban Methodology.


Kanban Methodology

Kanban methodology has gained prominence just recently. Having originated from the manufacturing sector, precisely the Toyota Production System (TPS)in the 1940s, software developers have come to claim it as their territory and soon has been recognized in several business units.


Kanban methodology is based on the manufacturing concept of “just in time” where a production is mainly based on a pull system where the demand dictates the amount to be produced rather than relying on the push system. Push system involves producing a certain amount of goods and pushing them to the customers.


This unique production method gave rise to lean manufacturing, where the main purpose was to increase efficiency and minimize wastage without compromising the productivity of a firm. The main aim of this adoption was to create more value without necessarily spending more in terms of production costs.


What is Kanban?

Kanban is a Japanese term which can be loosely translated as visual signal or sign board. A simple Kanban board contains three columns, namely: Requested, In progress and Done. When the board is constructed, managed and working well, it plays the role of a real-time data store pointing the challenges within the process as well as anything else which might interfere with smooth working.


Early in the 21st century, players in the software industry borrowed the concept from the automotive industry and used it to enhance efficiency and advancement in the computing technology. This is the period when the concept moved from the motor industry and became widely used in complex environments of industrial and commercial sectors.


Principles of Kanban methodology

D.J. Anderson, one of the pioneers in the field of Kanban, formulated this methodology as a process for incremental systems change and evolutionary approach for knowledge among work organizations. The approach was broken down into four main principles and six practices. They are:

  1. Starting with what yo do now. It can be overlain with already existing systems ans processes without interfering with work already done. It naturally points out what need to be adressed, assesing and planning changes such that their implementation does not disrupt as much as possible.
  2. Agreeing to follow incremental and evolutionary change. The method is made in such a manner that it meets minimal resistance, encouraging continuous incremental and evolutionary changes to the existing processes. Basically what is done here is to discourage sweeping changes as there is a likelihood of encountering resistance mainly due to fear of unknown.
  3. The approach recognizes and preserves the current processes, titles, responsabilities and roles. It does not prevent change, but it is designed to promote it, encouraging incremental change without interfering with processes in a manner that can bring fear and resistance.
  4. Encouraging acts of leadership. It recognizes that leadership is not only for employees at management level and should be encouraged at all levels.

For the successful implementation of Kanban methodology, David Anderson asserts that these six practices need to be at the core of the process. The core practices are:

  1. Visualizing workflow. It starts with understanding what is needed to move an item to a deliverable output, understand the current workflow and then make the needed adjustment. One will be required to have a board with cards and columns each presenting a step in the workflow. Each of the cards will be representing the work item. As the production process continues, the card is moved across the column, namely “to do”, “done” etc. In such a manner it becomes easy to monitor progress as well as to spot the challenges.
  2. Limiting the Work in Progress (WIP). Where there are no limits, you are not practicing Kanban. The approach involved includes limiting WIP, ensuring that a card is only moved to the next step when capacity is available, such a move ensures problems are identified quickly and resolved instantly.
  3. Managing workflow. The focus is to avoid micromanaging, focusing on work processes and how to get work through the system quickly. It involves reducing cycle time and avoiding delays.
  4. Making sure that the process is well defined and familiar to all. This ensures ownership and making it easy to manage change
  5. Holding regular meetings, carrying out reviews and giving feedback.
  6. Ensuring that there is a shared understanding and target to improve collaboratively.

Kanban Today

Technological advancement has made it possible to come up with a digital Kanban board where issues of remote working and teams have been overcome. Kanban software also permits sophisticated analytical processes to assist in tracking detailed performance, discovering challenges and implementation of necessary changes. It is also easy to integrate with other systems such as Gantt chart.


Gantt chart

This a tool used in project management, mainly for tracking tasks and events. It is normally presented in the form of a chart, where on the left-hand side, we have the list of activities and at the top header, a suitable time scale is shown. Each project activity is represented by a bar, where the length of the bar shows the duration of the activity, reflecting the start and end time.


With such details, it is easy for the project management team to visualize the whole project. A well presented Gantt chart gives a lot of details about the project, including the tasks, when they should be started, the progress and when they should end. It also tells which project team member is responsible for a given task as well as showing when there is an overlap between tasks.


In a nutshell, Gant chart tells you what activities need to be done and when. It basically attempts to answer the following questions:

  • What is the start and end date of the project?
  • What are the project activities and tasks?
  • When does each activity begin and end?
  • How long is each activity supposed to take?
  • Are there any activity overlaps and by how much?

There are a number of benefits to be derived from using Gantt chart in project management:

  • Gantt chart allows the project management team to track the project, see the project progress, determine areas that are lagging and where more attention is required.
  • The tool promotes efficiency in the project, as time will be managed effectively and resources will be utilized well.
  • Its flexibility makes it easy to manage changes even when the project is running.


Integrating Gantt chart with Kanban methodology

There have been arguments that Kanban methodology has killed Gantt chart, but this is far from the truth given that each of the approaches when there is integration can supplement the other leading to more benefits for the project management team. In his article where he is comparing the two methods, Andrew Stepanov argues that both tools are good choices for a number of projects and can be easily combined to give great visualization and show clear status of the tasks in projects.


The use of Kanban allows the project team to see where they are at any given time. This is especially beneficial where scope and resources are at a limited scale. However, with complexity and increased scale or desire to have a more formal approach and achieving an efficient process, a more detailed view is required, and this is provided by a Gantt chart.


Integrating Gantt chart with Kanban methodology is a great way of achieving actual worker especially where high level overviews are required. While Kanban gives a detailed overview of where the project is at a given time, Gantt charts provide the best way through which a project team can get a high-level overview. They are appropriate for demonstrating to business leaders where the project is at and comes well with a management reporting tool.


With this integration, the deficiencies of each tool are addressed. For instance, Gantt charts are relevant in keeping track of activities and elements in the project. There are some details which are not essentially included in the Kanban board but with the incorporation of the scheduling tool, these elements are clearly shown providing a better project management platform.


In agile software environment, some details including processes around contracts, agreements may not be important in the Kanban board, but they are details which need to be captured. The Gantt chart provides a perfect platform where such details can be included.


The beauty of integration is that it allows the users to get different levels of details. For example, when Kanban falls short in terms of the level of details required, users can turn the task list milestones into Gantt chart and therefore access the required information.


Project managers can benefit from integrating project management tools as such a move leads to supplementation. It also allows the manager to get details which might have been omitted if only one method had been employed. Kanban methodology and Gantt chart, though similar in approach, can supplement each other through taking advantage of the level of details provided by each.


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Topics: Project management