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Kanban is one of the methods you can use as a project manager to organize tasks and track progress, as well as continually improve the way that you lead your teams on any size project.

What exactly is the Kanban methodology, and what are the real benefits of implementing this tool into your workflow?



A method for managing knowledge work that balances the demand for work to be done with the available capacity to start new work.
Kanban uses visualization and pull-based work management via a Kanban board of intangible work items. Intangible work items are visualized to present all participants with a view of the progress of individual items, and the process from task definition to customer delivery. Team members "pull" work as they have the capacity, rather than work being "pushed" into the process when requested



‘Kanban’ as a concept was popularized by Taiichi Ohno (former Toyota vice president) who took inspiration from how supermarkets stock their shelves and promoted the idea of Just-in-Time manufacturing in Japanese manufacturer Toyota – using kanban cards as a signal between two dependent processes to facilitate smoother – and just in time – flow of parts between them.

The word ‘kanban’ has its origin in both hiragana (Japanese language) and Kanji (Chinese language). In hiragana, it means a ‘signal card’ while in kanji it means a ‘sign’ or ‘large visual board’.


Kanban board

The Kanban board is an important aspect of Kanban since it allows a greater understanding of both the work and the workflow. It also advocates limiting work in progress, which as well as reducing waste due to multitasking and context switching, exposes operational problems and stimulates collaboration to continuously improve the system.

It is used to visualize the flow of work. It moves work items in the process as they move around the board. Its movement corresponds with a knowledge work or manufacturing process.

The most common way to visualize your workflow is to use card walls with cards and columns. Each column on the wall represents steps in your workflow. The board has at least three sections: "backlog", "work in progress" and "completed work". More complex Kanban boards can be created, changing the sections to "in progress", "tested", "accepted", "blocking" and so on according to the needs of users of the organization.

The Kanban board

Kanban Method

The definition of Kanban has undergone its own evolution and elaboration over the last few years.

‘Kanban Method’ is a term first adopted in 2005 by David J Anderson who evolved the kanban concept into a management method to improve service delivery and evolve the business to be ‘fit for purpose’. He combined elements of the work of W Edwards Deming, Eli Goldratt, Peter Drucker, and Taiichi Ohno. David Anderson published a post called The Principles & General Practices of The Kanban Method.

Today, Kanban is considered an agile management method for managing and improving service delivery (in both software/ IT and non-IT contexts) in a gradual, evolutionary manner, kanban is a tool.

Over several years, Anderson distilled the method into a set of principles and practices. These were evolved in collaboration with the wider Kanban community to create the Kanban Method as we know it today.



Start with what you do now

Kanban recognizes the value of your existing processes and practices. At the start of any project, change management professionals will conduct a discovery phase to highlight any issues hindering processes and outcomes. 

Using Kanban in this way enables you to review your workflow, roles, responsibilities, titles, communications, and more. This allows you to maximize efficiencies and cost savings and to focus on where improvements need to be made.

Because Kanban improves transparency, you can quantify ROI over time and estimate the impact of any process improvements. The transparency and ability to improve quality also make it easier to collaborate with other managers and teams because they can easily understand the need for change. 


Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change

The concept of continuous improvement is critical to Kanban and is a quality it shares with Agile and Scrum methodologies. Delivering change in small, steady increments is also shared by these project management approaches. Doing so helps minimize disruption and make the change process more manageable. 

Significant changes are more challenging to implement and likely to meet internal resistance. Senior management may be concerned about costs, while project teams may feel that changes to working practices may impede their productivity. Kanban recognizes this, emphasizing small, continuous, incremental change.


Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities, titles

Being respectful helps reinforce the idea that Kanban will not be overly disruptive or completely change established operating models. This is particularly important if those models are effective. This approach positions Kanban as a compromising and collaborative means of improving legacy processes without fundamentally disrupting an organization’s operations. 

This whole approach helps to gain support for Kanban in an environment where various teams are attached to established practices. It is beneficial in larger organizations where change is slower, and there are more people to convince. 


Encourage acts of leadership at all levels in your organization

As part of Kanban’s emphasis on collaboration, anyone can take ownership of and address an issue. With the transparency Kanban provides, any team member should be able to take action and justify it with solid data to back them up. This encouraging culture helps to empower team members to take the lead, take risks, and grow professionally and personally. 



The six key practices outlined in the Kanban Method include


Visualize the workflow

Break down the flow of work from the moment you start it to when it's finished into distinctive steps and draw a column for each. The most common way to visualize your workflow is to use the Kanban board. Each task will move from left to right until it's done and leaves the workflow.
By creating a visual model of your work and workflow, you can observe the flow of work moving through your Kanban system. Making the work visible—along with blockers, bottlenecks, and queues—instantly leads to increased communication and collaboration.


Limit work-in-progress (WIP)

Limiting WIP is the cornerstone of Kanban. Limiting work-in-progress implies that a pull system is implemented. Put limits on columns in which work is being performed. The critical elements are that work-in-progress at each state in the workflow is limited and that new work is “pulled” into the next step when there is available capacity within the local WIP limit.
By limiting how much-unfinished work is in process, you can reduce the time it takes an item to travel through the Kanban system. You can also avoid problems caused by task switching and reduce the need to constantly re-prioritize items.


Measure and Manage flow

It is done by looking at how value is currently flowing through the system, getting leading indicators of future problems by analyzing problem areas in which value flow is stalled, and defining and then implementing changes.
One of the best tools to measure Kanban performance is the Cumulative Flow Chart. Each day, for each column, mark how many tasks are in it or somewhere further down the workflow. This will produce a mountain-like looking chart, which gives insight into the process, shows past performance, and allows us to predict future results.


Make process policies explicit

The process needs to be defined, published, and socialized.


Implement feedback loops

This practice was added in the Sep 2014 update to the list on The Principles & General Practices of The Kanban Method. In scrum, for example, Feedback loops can be implemented as daily standup, improvement kata (daily improvement activity, removing impediments), operational review (using analysis of data), or other techniques.


Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally

Once the Kanban system is in place, it becomes the cornerstone for a culture of continuous improvement. Teams measure their effectiveness by tracking flow, quality, throughput, lead times, and more. A scientific approach is used to implement continuous, incremental, and evolutionary changes.



Kanban is straightforward and it’s really easy to start using it whenever you’re ready.

Put simply, you use Kanban boards (they could be physical or electronic boards) that feature cards, which describe tasks that need to be completed. The cards are placed in columns depicting your movement through a project from start to finish. When you complete a task, you move the corresponding card to the next column so you and your team can see exactly where work still needs to be done.

So, when you look at your Kanban board, you’ll be able to immediately see what tasks need to be completed, which ones are in progress, and which ones are already done. You can also determine who is working on each task, and who will take over later on as the task moves through the phases of the project.

A typical board might consist of a column for the backlog, a column for new tasks that you need to do, another column for tasks that are in progress, and a final column for those tasks that are finished. But there’s flexibility here, so do what works for you.

One thing to remember, though, is to set a limit on the number of work tasks in progress, or WIP, tasks that are allowed (for example, no more than 5 work-in-progress tasks at a time). This can help ensure your team members won’t take on more than they can handle at any given point. And it can help the work move from one stage to another at a steady pace because team members won’t be able to take on new tasks until they complete what’s in progress first.

What happens if your team is unable to move items from “in progress” to the next phase? Well, you’ll be able to quickly realize that there’s a problem because the flow of work will be slowed as a result of this bottleneck. See how it can keep things moving along nicely?



Increased Visibility of the Flow 

The basic idea of Kanban is visualizing every piece of work. This way, the Kanban board turns into a central informational hub, and everyone is on the same page. All tasks are visible, and they never get lost, which brings transparency to the whole work process. Every team member can have a quick update on the status of every project or task.


Improved Delivery Speed

Kanban offers multiple ways for project managers to closely monitor and make informed analyses of the distribution of work. With a clear view of the work items completed for a certain period of time, the stages where tasks spend the longest, and bottlenecks are easy to identify. Teams are enabled to tackle these challenges to improve their workflow and, ultimately, their delivery rate.


Alignment between Business Goals and Execution

Promoting transparency, encouraging feedback, and regular review meetings, Kanban practices enable aligning the company’s strategic goals with teams' day-to-day work. This alignment between the business direction and execution enhances the agility of an organization. It allows teams to adapt to changing priorities and reorganizations due to changes in the market or customers’ requirements.


Improved Predictability

Once you create a Kanban board and start accumulating work items on it, you’ll be able to understand your process in depth with flow metrics. Analyzing the time tasks spend in your workflow (cycle time) will enable you to improve your predictions on how much work you can deliver in the future. Understanding your delivery rate consistency (throughput) will make your forecasts more accurate and your decisions based on historical data.


Improved Ability to Manage Scale and Dependencies

The intrinsic Kanban practice of visualization is also applied when it comes to mapping and managing dependencies. Starting with what you do now means visualizing the present dependencies and managing the flow between them. Managing dependencies provides insights into the present state of a workflow and ideas for improvement. On the other hand, it also enables full transparency for strategic management over the workflow and the existing links between teams.


Increased Customer Satisfaction

The origin of the Kanban method - the pull system it is based on implies that work is done when there’s a demand. In other words, Kanban navigates you to reduce waste by working solely on tasks that are needed at present. Furthermore, by applying visualization techniques and introducing work-in-progress limits to the process, you will ensure that the end result is fine-tuned to your customer’s expectations.



Kanban works on the target process, whether a software or IT process or a general business process and helps to smooth the flow of work to maximize “throughput” and achieve high product quality. Kanban helps to make changes and improve a process (Kaizen). As such, Kanban often results in a new process that is worked out by the team or the organization itself in a collaborative and gradual manner. In the context of software and IT, Kanban helps teams to deliver software and services more smoothly, more frequently, and at optimized flow and throughput levels. A team that is currently using the Scrum method will be able to change its process to potentially move away from a batch/ time-boxed delivery method to a more continuous delivery model.