You Kan Do It With Kanban!

April 6, 2015
Katie Sexton

Why I Use Agile In My Hiring Process, and You Should Too


What is This Alien Term?

Kanban [kahn-bahn] is likely a word you haven’t used unless you’re familiar with technology or manufacturing. It’s the “just in time” process introduced by Toyota, and later adopted into the Lean Software Development methodologies during the early 2000’s.

Kanban is Japanese for “visual signal” or “card” and it pretty much perfectly describes its premier goal: to improve communication through visual management. At its most basic level, Kanban allows team members and stakeholders alike to view their process as a whole, and see how their “tasks” flow through.

Who? Yes, You!

Who should use this Agile Methodology? In short, everyone – as business leaders have stressed a higher value on creating Human Resource partnerships, a great deal of us have embraced Lean methodologies and adopted them into our practice. We use them to build systematic approaches, such as agile hiring process, which can significantly improve our productivity and lower costs.

Whether one or fifty individuals are running your hiring process, this tool is ideal for teams that use a holistic approach to candidate selection.

What Kanban Kan Do For You

One of the best benefits Kanban can offer your team is that of ultimate flexibility. There is no need to change your current workflow to adopt this process of visualization. You may, however, find ways to improve your process over time – but we’ll get to that later.

I slightly modified the four traditional principles of Kanban to apply them to your hiring process:

  1. Visualize Your Candidates

By creating a visual representation of your workflow, you and your team can easily see bottlenecking, blockers, and additional resource needs. Assuming you have a multi-step interview process, it’s easy to let candidates get lost in the system. Kanban boards show your team immediately when and where there are problems.

  1. Limit Candidates in Process

Understanding what resources you have on hand (technical interviewers, peer interviewers, human resources personnel or behavioral interviewers), prevents any candidates from entering into the process that your team can’t handle.

If you discover a long line of candidates waiting to start interview rounds (called a “backlog”), you are flagged to either slow down recruiting efforts or add additional resources to your team to process the overflow.

  1. Focus on Flow

One of the goals of any developed recruitment process is decreasing the length of time an applicant is in your workflow. As we well know, good talent doesn’t stay available for long, and applicants can become frustrated with prolonged periods without communication from potential employers.

By focusing on the flow of your hiring process, you can spot issues before they arise and hopefully improve communication and applicant aging (days they are in the workflow) over time.

  1. Practice Continuous Improvement

Schedule time in after each position is filled for your team to review, reflect, and make suggestions for further improvement. Analyze team feedback and make tweaks as necessary!

Let’s Get It Started

To start your Kanban board, map out your current workflow, noting points where decisions (pass or reject) are made and determine the criteria at which an applicant is qualified to enter the process.


If you are recruiting for multiple positions, don’t fret – I prefer to color code my sticky notes based on department or function. As applicants move through your process, physically move their sticky note on the Kanban Board until they reach the end (move to hire) or are disqualified and sent notice.

Work for a software company? Customize a Kanban board in JIRA – using custom labels, you can even add in unique swim lanes for each position.

Why Kanban Rocks

Increased Productivity:

  • You know what’s coming down the line, and you’re ready for it.
  • Don’t let your candidates get “lost in the system.”
  • You can accelerate promising applicants through the workflow by creating swim lanes.

Increased Visibility:

  • You can see the problems before they happen and pivot.
  • Always be aware of where candidates are within the hiring process.
  • You know what individual team members are working on and if they need help.

Increased Communication:

  • You can have your team on the same page, communicating with the same candidates.
  • Help teammates work together through the process.
  • Build and foster a collaborative environment.


Bring Kanban to your team to simplify a complicated recruiting process.

Posted by Katie Sexton, Creative Lead

About the Author

Katie graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and later studied Interaction Design at UC San Diego.

She is our in house UI/UX guru with experience in user research, information architecture, and interaction design. Katie averages 1-2 work related wardrobe malfunctions per month and sneezes like a dying hyena.

1 Comment. Leave new

Dr Jacqueline Hudak
April 6, 2015 7:34 pm

Thanks for this. We stuffy academics could use a process like this.


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