Jessica Barrett
Jessica Barrett

Kanban vs Task Lists: How to Determine What’s Best for Your Team

Your team’s communication and productivity depend largely on setting clear expectations about goals and keeping individual team members accountable. Over the last decade, the tech world has spawned a variety of project management tools to support teams in this regard. In response to the increasing demands of modern teams and processes, the market has seen the advent and continued development of tools based on both task lists and Kanban.

Task lists are fairly straightforward — some variation of an itemized list with due dates and items assigned to specific team members. Kanban-based tools, on the other hand, use a system of cards and “swimlane” categories to visualize work in progress.

When you set out to determine which kind of project management software is best for your team, it’s important to first understand your specific needs and team dynamics. Before you start comparing systems, decide which features will be of critical importance to your team based on their current workflows, team size, mobile needs, and industry.

While a task list tool offers teams a simple way to assign and track their work, Kanban tools help you easily see your project as it’s progressing. Let’s take a look at some of the major features both tools provide:

Task Management

Both Kanban and list-oriented and tools offer task management features. Task management helps you break projects down into specific deliverables and assign them to yourself or someone else.This is one of the most essential building blocks of a reliable project management system.

Collaboration Features

Kanban tools and task lists offer collaboration features that help you communicate with your coworkers and project stakeholders inside the tool itself, rather than having to switch to email or phone. This keeps communication and assets for a project in one place. It’s ideal for brainstorming and conversations that can’t wait until the next time you have a meeting.

In a list-based system, these features may be limited to task assignments and a basic newsfeed. Kanban systems usually include task assignments, commenting, @mentions, and in some cases, one-to-one messaging.

File Sharing

With both tools, you can usually attach and share files related to the task or project. Be careful to check which storage providers each tool is compatible with — for example, Dropbox and Google Drive — and what storage limits you will encounter.

Dashboards

A great way to get a snapshot of how a project is progressing and keep an eye on important metrics is through the use of dashboards. Both types of PM software may offer this feature, but you’ll need to check with vendors to verify specific capabilities.

Task Lists

When using a task-based tool, there is a clear owner of each task, and the work stays with that owner until they complete it. A task list tracks a project from start to finish, assigning clear responsibilities to individual owners, and normally has a lead or someone in charge of determining when the project is completed. Projects can be organized into shared lists that feed into a larger project workflow or template.

Kanban (Cards)

The major difference in using a Kanban tool is that there isn’t typically an owner, and work is much less likely to bottleneck, since the whole team is looking at the same board. Because it’s a visual system and the Kanban cards move (usually from left to right) as the project progresses, the whole team has a clear view of the big picture, and they can work to complete several tasks at once, rather than waiting on other team members to complete antecedent tasks.

Kanban Board

One of the most important things to note about the Kanban method is that it focuses on cycle time and doing things quickly and efficiently. If you cut some of the slack out of your project management workflows, that means more flexibility and tighter collaboration for everyone. It also keeps a team productive, because new work is constantly flowing into the cycle, so there’s little opportunity to waste time.

Perhaps one of the largest benefits of a Kanban tool is its ability to continuously deliver to the customer — in accordance with the principles of Agile PM. Thanks to shortened cycle times and increased focus on quality, the customer/stakeholder will reap the benefits of the best work your team is capable of producing.

Remember that the key to choosing the right project management tool for your team is to determine the end goal for the work that you do, as well as the unique dynamics that make up the way your team communicates and works together. Keep in mind, not every project management tool is either/or — some of the more modern platforms take a hybrid approach, offering task list and -Kanban features in the same system.

Jessica Barrett Halcom is a writer for TechnologyAdvice.com, with specializations in human resources, healthcare, and transportation. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and currently lives in Nashville, TN.

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