What is Kanban?

Unveiling Kanban: A Comprehensive Overview

In the realm of Agile methodologies and Lean principles, Kanban stands as a powerful approach for visualizing and managing work, improving workflow efficiency, and achieving a balance between demand and capacity. Originating from Toyota’s manufacturing system, Kanban has transcended its manufacturing roots to become a versatile framework applicable to various industries and workflows. 

What is Kanban?

Kanban, a Japanese term that translates to “visual card” or “visual signal,” is a visual management method designed to optimize workflow efficiency by providing real-time visibility into work processes. Originally developed by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota in the 1950s, Kanban was primarily used in manufacturing to control the flow of parts and materials in production lines. However, it has since evolved into a versatile framework applicable to knowledge work, software development, project management, and various other domains.

Key Concepts and Principles

Visualizing Work: Kanban relies on visual representations, typically using a Kanban board, to display work items and their status. This visual aspect makes it easier to understand work processes and identify bottlenecks.

Limiting Work in Progress (WIP): Kanban emphasizes setting explicit limits on the number of work items that can be in progress at any given time. This helps prevent overloading team members and promotes a steady flow of work.

Flow: The goal of Kanban is to optimize the flow of work through the system, ensuring that work items move smoothly from the “To-Do” column to “Done” with minimal delays.

Kanban board to manage workflow and increase effiency

Continuous Improvement: Kanban encourages teams to regularly inspect their processes and make incremental improvements to enhance efficiency and effectiveness.

Pull System: Kanban operates as a pull system, meaning that work is pulled into the system based on available capacity rather than pushed in based on a predetermined schedule.

Kanban Practices

Kanban practices include:

  1. Kanban Board: A visual representation of the workflow, typically divided into columns that represent different stages of work (e.g., “To-Do,” “In Progress,” “Done”). Work items, often represented as cards, move through these columns as they progress.
  2. Work-in-Progress (WIP): Explicit limits set on each column to control the number of items in progress at any given time. This prevents overburdening team members and ensures a steady flow.
  3. Pull System: Work is pulled into the system only when there is available capacity, preventing unnecessary work from entering the workflow.
  4. Continuous Delivery: Kanban promotes the idea of delivering work items as soon as they are completed, reducing lead times and increasing customer satisfaction.
  5. Regular Review: Teams hold regular meetings (e.g., Kanban cadences like daily stand-ups and service delivery reviews) to inspect the Kanban board, discuss impediments, and make process improvements.

Applications of Kanban

Kanban has several application areas, like:

Software development: It is widely used in software development to manage the flow.

Project Management: Project managers employ Kanban to plan and track project tasks, ensuring that work is completed in a timely manner.

Service delivery: In service-oriented industries, it helps manage customer requests, support tickets, and service delivery processes.

Personal Productivity: Individuals can use Kanban boards to manage their personal tasks and projects, enhancing organization and productivity.


Kanban is a versatile framework that empowers teams and organizations to optimize workflow efficiency, visualize work processes, and continuously improve their operations. Whether applied in manufacturing, software development, project management, or personal productivity, Kanban provides a practical and flexible approach to managing work and delivering value. Embracing Kanban principles and practices can lead to smoother workflows, reduced bottlenecks, and improved outcomes in an increasingly complex and dynamic world.

Further Reading:

Personal Kanban; Mapping Work, Navigating Life by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry
Essential Kanban Condensed by David J. Anderson and Andy Carmichael
Lean from the Trenches: Managing Large-Scale Projects with Kanban by Henrik Kniberg.
Kanban and Scrum Making the most of both by Henrik Kniberg and Mattias Skarin

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