Support refugee children to access and thrive in education

Home  >>  Blog  >>  Kanban for educational psychology

Kanban for educational psychology

Project management has much to offer Educational Psychology, particularly in supporting service delivery and research projects. 

Educational Psychology is applied psychology. Educational Psychology draws upon diverse areas and disciplines of the field of psychology such as aspects of organisational psychology and systems theory.  EPs might use Soft Systems Methodology, Forcefield Analysis, or Appreciative Inquiry to explore systems in organisations. They might use PATHs to support organisational change. But what can be used when these options don’t seem to help with the understanding of systems or with planning and managing change or processes?

Kanban (English: signboard)

A Kanban board is a large board divided into columns (lanes) signifying each stage of workflow. Cards carrying information about each task or part-task related to an aspect of work are moved across each lane signifying their position in relation to the workflow. As the task progresses through each stage of workflow, cards move towards the lane marked ‘completed’. 

Kanban comes from the business practice of project management, specifically from practices involving the examination of systems within business. The purpose is to make production efficient and cost effective.  Kanban seeks to identify areas of difficulty to rectify problems in business processes and systems to save time and money. 

Kanban originated in Japan where the Toyota motor company discovered that money and time were being lost when parts of the production line had slowed down or stopped. By representing the flow – or system – of production visually on a board and identifying where the pinch points might occur, these could be anticipated and addressed, thereby maintaining the flow of production and preventing delays. Being able to refer to a Kanban board and see exactly where the issues could arise, or noting how they could be addressed, was an advantage, thereby encouraging critical thinking and problem solving about the process. Also helpful was the fact that the Kanban board was visual, clear to read, and accessible to everyone. Everyone had responsibility to ensure the flow of the production line and to address any challenges; everyone was accountable, thus ensuring team working. The ‘just in time’ system of production and logistics was born.  

Increasingly diverse EP work needs flexible project management tools

Educational Psychologists work in increasingly diverse ways – in services, companies, independently, or in multi-academy trusts for example. Work is often varied, plentiful, and time bound with many competing demands and pressures. EPs work in and across multiple systems. Finding an efficient way of managing and tracking work streams and identifying pressure points can be challenging. It can also be hard to keep track of research projects, especially in real world settings, and to anticipate where pressures might arise. Kanban methodology may provide a solution to these challenges faced by EPs. 

Using Kanban for research projects

We were lucky enough to receive funding from Public Health for four research projects this academic year. This work was in addition to the usual daily work for all four members of our team. We needed a way to visually represent each stage and task of our projects and to know what each person was doing, along with identifying where the pinch points were, problem solving to reduce the impact, and knowing when key tasks had been completed. Kanban appeared to meet each of these requirements. 

An example of a Kansan board the team are using

Reflections on using Kanban for research projects


Having a board, a visual in the office has made it easier for us to keep on track with multiple projects running at different times. Without this, things could get lost. Colour coding the task cards for each phase of the project is helpful, as we can see, as we move the cards across the Kanban lanes, which stage a task has entered. It provides instant satisfaction when I can move tasks along the board.

The board gives further clarity with the colour coded stickers. I have been able to focus my attention quickly on the tasks for which I am responsible. When things are not moving along or a deadline has been missed, it’s been helpful to be able to identify what tasks are causing the delay. 


Kanban has provided clarity to our roles, showing what our personal responsibilities are within each task. It’s helpful to see the flow of projects and the natural cycles of work because you can see how to plan your day or week. Colour coding is a big help. This includes the task cards and having stickers to signify each person. We all know what we need to do at any given time.

The Kanban board means you have a visual sense of achievement and productivity, which feeds into momentum. You don’t lose sight of the bigger picture because you’ve got an overview. It’s good to have a natural celebration of achievement as the card works its way across the lanes of the board to completion. 


It sometimes feels that you haven’t got control of a project if there isn’t a clear plan. Kanban helps with this because you know exactly where you are at any point in time. 

Kanban has supported our transition from a team of two to a team of four. Previously, when there were just two of us, we could decide who did what and have ongoing conversations. With multiple people working on numerous projects, there’s a lot more to coordinate. Without a visual representation of the work, it would be difficult to keep track of who was doing what and when. Kanban is a useful planning tool with a clear structure and process. 

Kanban needs an investment of time in the first instance, to allow for detailed planning of the project and the specific tasks which comprise the project. The time taken to plan each stage and task, to colour code, and to decide who is doing what pays dividends later on. The details have already been worked out, meaning that project meetings are easier because they are focused, time effective, and concentrate on project content rather than logistics.


The use of a Kanban board and the methodology allows for transparency. This is really important, especially for projects where funding is involved. It demonstrates accountability, both within the team and to managers. The fact that the board is on the wall and highly visible is often a point of discussion from visitors but also sends a wider message about the types of work EPs are involved in. You can see the impact of completed tasks and the bigger picture of where they fit into organisational goals or planning. 

Key learning from using Kanban – a visual, collaborative, focused process

  • The first version of the board was not the final product and still isn’t. We have been able to make changes as we have gone along to make it more meaningful.   
  • Being able to go back and adapt, change or add tasks has been helpful when tasks have appeared too big. Some tasks have needed to be broken down further to make them more manageable.     
  • Further tweaking of project tasks has increased satisfaction as, when they’re completed, we have been able to move more tasks across the board. This has been a more accurate representation of completed tasks.   
  • It has helped us to have a clear focus for discussion within our weekly meetings.     
  • Other stakeholders have been able to see exactly what we have been doing and where each project is at any given point in time.     
  • The Kanban board translates easily into a PowerPoint or report for stakeholders. 

How else could Kanban be used in EP work? 

Kanban could be used for multiple purposes because it is a visual methodology. It can be adapted and personalised as needed. Examples include:

  • Thesis or dissertation research, planning, and writing
  • Research projects, especially where there are groups of people or multiple elements or stages to the research
  • Planning work streams within a psychology service, to ensure the delivery of key aspects
  • Planning and carrying out work for the year within a school or setting, particularly where a longer-term view is needed
  • Mapping the Special Educational Needs Assessment process for LA SEND teams
  • Supporting school leaders to map and carry out key tasks and objectives for the year related to their school’s development plan

Final thoughts 

Kanban has provided us with an effective way of planning and representing each task in our current projects. It has assisted the communication of tasks and identification of pinch points, leading to focused problem solving. We have found it to be time efficient and motivating and will certainly be using it again in the future. 

Kanban University has a range of resources and an Official Guide to the Kanban Method.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.