What is Kanban and how does it optimize early drug discovery projects?

Posted by
on 27 09 2023

What is Kanban?

Kanban is Japanese for ‘billboard’ or ‘signboard’ and was first used in the 1950’s by car manufacturer Toyota, aiming to improve the efficiency and quality of production. It is the visual representation of workflow management, a methodology which is commonly used in agile environments, hence Kanban is sometimes referenced as “agile task board”

Today, Kanban serves a vital role in modern project management. By visualizing work items on a Kanban board, project teams can easily manage their workflow, identify bottlenecks, and optimize their processes resulting in more efficient work, increased productivity and collaboration with other teams.

What are the practices of Kanban?

The visual representation of work typically takes the form of a board divided into columns, each representing a stage in the workflow. Setting Work-In-Progress (WIP) limits allows teams to optimize performance and ensure a steady workflow. In Kanban, process policies are straightforward, which determines if an item in your Kanban system can move from a column to another. The methodology places a strong focus on managing the flow of work items, reducing bottlenecks, and minimizing delays.

What are the benefits of using Kanban?

Using Kanban makes task prioritization simple, as teams can see on the board which tasks are in progress, which are waiting, and which need attention. The visible status of the tasks helps identify dependencies and improves the decision-making on what to work on next, this aids better collaboration and communication within teams.

Regardless of the company’s or project team’s field, Kanban's adaptability allows for quick adjustments to changing situations, whether that means shifting priorities or reallocating resources on the fly. It encourages a culture of continuous improvement, with teams regularly reviewing their processes, identifying areas for improvement, and making adjustments to achieve ongoing productivity goals.

With a clearer picture on project timelines and completion dates, it is easier to meet deadlines as well. This promotes a more controlled and manageable workflow. Better resource allocation and a focus on each task's completion before moving to the next also contribute to higher-quality output.

Kanban in Drug Discovery

Lead identification and optimization are multi-dimensional missions in drug discovery, as the number of promising compounds that can be theoretically identified or created are magnitudes greater than those that can be practically synthesized and tested. The project leader also needs to prioritize all ongoing activities in the team, such as compound design and synthesis, assay data requests, and results of analysis to efficiently manage costs and project teams towards achieving a clinical candidate. By working in the same, shared platform, these cross-functional teams, which can comprise experts from diverse fields such as chemists, biologists, and other specialized domains can communicate seamlessly.

Due to the nature of research there are many uncertainties, making the distribution of work within the team sometimes unbalanced. Often it is difficult to estimate the time it takes to synthesize a novel compound or how long until a certain starting material arrives from another country. Research project teams can utilize Kanban to keep track of information on several levels (Hypotheses, Design sets, and Compounds). This can help the project team to get a comprehensive overview of the ongoing activities which facilitates distribution and prioritization of work in the whole DMTA cycle

Dive into more detail about the practical implementation of a Kanban board in the the DMTA cycle.