Project Management & Planning Articles

LeanKit Kanban Let’s You Visualize Your Projects via Sticky Notes

by Michele Nachum
Published on 31 May 2012

I've reviewed at least two dozen project management tools and will say LeanKit Kanban is the first one where "sticky" notes were encouraged. Most project management tools encourage just the opposite - the tossing of all sticky notes and instead, ask you to list out your projects and create tasks and delegate - all online so you can see the results of your projects in real time.

Kanban is very different in some ways and not so different in other ways.

In order to understand LeanKit Kanban, a project management application, you need to understand the Kanban method. Kanban is a Japanese concept that allows you to "visualize" your work. In some cases, businesses that employ this method will actually create a whiteboard full of columns. In each column, colorful sticky notes represent the individual tasks. You can watch your project progress as your sticky notes move from column to column. For example, for a product launch, you may have a column for "testing," another column for "development" and a final one for "launch." As the colorful sticky notes slide through the columns, this visually gives you an idea of where you are in your project life cycle.

Of course this is a cloud-based service, so in LeanKit you will work with "virtual" sticky notes.

LeanKit Kanban Puts The "Sticky" In Sticky Notes

According to Jon Terry, COO of LeanKit, other project management solutions - those where you create tasks and delegate - are resource dependent. These applications, says Jon, don't really give you the whole picture, and people who are updating their status are sometimes lying or making it up to look good.

To illustrate the main differences between LeanKit and traditional project management apps, Jon explains that " it will come down to a preference of visual management vs list management. Another key distinction is the idea of the project plan as something controlled by the project manager vs something the team collaborates on together. And, finally, the idea of managing the team as an ongoing process that you work to improve across many projects. The projects flow through the team versus the team being put on a project."

I have personally used traditional project management methods and it has worked. But after chatting with Jon about his unique application, I will admit that the Kanban method has its perks as well. And if you like sticky notes, you are going LOVE this application.

According to Jon, LeanKit Kanban is about managing priorities and allows your teams to "self manage" their work in a work-flow system. For instance, you will create columns such as "to dos", "in progress" and "done" and as the the sticky notes move from one column to the next, you can actually begin to understand how your project is doing. Since LeanKit is online, you create your columns and sticky notes while in the program and then drag them to the next column as the projects move toward completion. On each "virtual" sticky note, there are places to enter in what the project is, and you can add more detail and notes as well as attachments.

LeanKit Kanban Is For Everyone

LeanKit Kanban scales so you can be a project team of two or two hundred and even 2,000 if you so choose and use the application successfully. There is a 30-day trial so you can practice and even contact the LeanKit team to learn more about organizing and creating your columns. (There are also videos that showcase different ways of organizing your columns.) Jon says that his customers include teachers, small businesses and big business (one of his customers has 450 people).

The Kanban method is also often used by teams adopting Agile methodologies, including Scrum and XP.

Why LeanKit Kanban?

LeanKit is a different way to manage your projects. To be honest, I'm not sure it is the "best" way to do it. I think it might depend on how you manage. Are you visual and like colors? Then Kanban is right for you. But if you like "to do" lists, you may want to try a more traditional project management solution. That said, Kanban leaves the lists behind and expertly helps you visualize your project from the "50,000-foot" level letting the colors tell the work-flow story. Jon says you can build visual models of any process in just minutes and use this model to identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

What Does LeanKit Look Like?

LeanKit has a fairly easy user interface. There is an API for developers and if you are "technically" challenged, like me, LeanKit does a nice job of taking you through the steps to create your chart, columns and those pretty sticky notes. If you are not sure how to organize your chart and what action items to input, there are several videos on the LeanKit website to show you different scenarios. Jon also recommends that you contact the LeanKit team to discuss your plan and they can help offer some sage advice.

Creating Sticky Notes:

The feature that you will be using most is the creation of your sticky notes. As you see in the image below, LeanKit allows you to create a title, identify the task and even attach files.

Creating and making changes to your process and work-flow is fairly intuitive, using the edit buttons. You can define new lanes, change colors (oh fun!) re-size them, drag them around, and divide them into sub-lanes. You can also prioritize your sticky notes by creating "urgent" ones that need immediate attention. By the way, you can localize your charts and sticky notes by using multiple languages. Cool.

Creating Your Project Team:

You can invite people to have access to the chart so they can look at what their tasks are and move the colorful sticky notes down the chart as appropriate. Like other traditional solutions, LeanKit allows you to invite your colleagues to view the project. You can even tier out who views what. For instance, management might get to see a top-line view while your colleagues might have a more detailed view of each column and sticky note.


What is nice about LeanKit that you really couldn't get in the "real world" using real sticky notes, are analytics. According to the LeanKit website, you can measure and find out how your project is doing by asking these questions and printing out the related reports that will help you answer the following:

  • What is slowing us down? Where should we concentrate our improvement efforts?
  • How long will it take to release this critical item?
  • What is the estimated release date for this feature?
  • Who is overloaded?
  • How effective is our process?
  • What forward-looking warning indicators are telling us that we have trouble on the horizon?

Work-Flow Chart:

Work-flow charts are pretty cool as they show bottlenecks and backups as wide spots in the diagram. Batches of work that hit all at once show up as "stair-steps." Work that is stalled shows up as a horizontal line. Overall Jon says that it is a revealing look at just how smoothly things are running, and where you should focus your improvement efforts.

The Verdict - Kanban Or Not?

Overall, LeanKit provides a good alternative to the "delegating task" style of project management applications. That said, I'm still not sure how creating sticky notes are any different than creating tasks in the more traditional project management solutions. I find the main benefit is the overall visual view you get to determine how your project is progressing. The solution is affordable and I recommend to at least give it a try if you are not happy with your current project management product and or are angling for a different way of managing tasks.

LeanKit Is Affordable For Every Size Of Business

LeanKit has the distinction of being affordable with subscription costs starting at $5 per month. As I mentioned previously there is a 30-day free trial to give you a sense of how to work the solution so I would take advantage of that.

Is It For You?

I do believe LeanKit Kanban has a lot to offer, but I also believe that other project management solutions are pretty nifty too. So that said, I think it comes down to management styles and preferences. Some people LOVE working with colors and charts while others like the old-fashioned workbook or "to do" list. Either way, LeanKit has an excellent user interface, it's easy to manage, its analytics are excellent if not a bit too much at times and it scales for any sized user-base and industry.

Ratings: ease of use 4/5, features 5/5, value 5/5 and ease of deployment 5/5


Apps mentioned in this article