What is Kanban Board?
Definition: Kanban board is an agile project management tool that enables organizations to visualize workflow, assign tasks, and limit work in progress.
“Kanban” comes from Japanese, meaning “visual signal.”
IT and technology workflows are often intangible, so representing them with a Kanban board helps everyone to easily visualize the various stages of a project, understand task status, identify bottlenecks and improve processes.
Components of a Kanban board
The Kanban board consists of:
- Work-in-progress limits (WIP limits)
Cards are a visual representation of a task that needs to be done.
They include additional details such as the assignee, deadline, description, and priority. Those cards are moved across the board in a drag-and-drop way through each workflow stage as the task progresses.
Columns represent different stages in the workflow and are used to organize the cards into sections.
The most common types of columns include "To Do," "In Progress," and "Done."
There are additional columns for Backlog or Ready. The Backlog column contains tasks that have been identified but not yet scheduled. The Ready column contains tasks that have been scheduled but not yet started.
WIP limits place an upper cap on the number of cards allowed in each column at any given time. This ensures a smooth workflow and that no one is overburdened.
It also prevents the team from getting too far ahead and adding unnecessary complexity to the workflow.
Swimlanes are horizontal lines that divide space into distinct zones for specific groups or functions.
These lanes, allow teams to easily highlight and track related tasks that share a common process. This ensures organized project management for efficient workflow completion.
Swimlanes are used to:
- Show cross-team dependencies
- Distinguish products, services, clients, or sub-teams
- Highlight reoccurring tasks
History of the Kanban board
The Kanban board has its roots in Japanese manufacturing.
It was developed in the 1940s as a way to improve efficiency in the production line at Toyota.
The word "Kanban" means "visual sign" or "billboard" in Japanese, and it was literally just that — a board with cards that indicated what needed to be done and
The system was so successful that it quickly spread to other businesses and industries. In fact, the Kanban system was one of the first principles on which lean manufacturing was based.
In the early 2000s, David J Anderson popularized Kanban boards with his book 'Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business.
Since then, many businesses have been using Kanban boards for project management.
Advantages of using a Kanban board
Kanban boards don’t feature strict deadlines and phase durations. Rather, priorities are continuously reassessed based on the current project status and customers’ needs.
This freedom to switch priorities quickly is essential for successful growth, especially for early-stage companies in a constantly fluctuating market.
Visualizing tasks and action items allows teams to be more efficient, eliminate bottlenecks, and move through tasks easily. This increases overall productivity, which is tracked with cycle time and throughput metrics in Kanban.
Cycle time shows how quickly a task is completed, and throughput measures how many tasks are completed during a certain time frame.
WIP and pull systems are built into Kanban to prevent team burnout by limiting how many tasks can be taken at one time.
The pull system allows the team to “pull” tasks into ongoing workflow only when they have the capacity to do so.
Disadvantages of Kanban boards
Kanban boards aren’t suitable for projects with strict timelines.
For example, if a website must be released by a specific date, you can’t improve the process using Kanban. There is no timeline flexibility — other methods like Gantt chart or Mind map are better than Kanban in that case.
Kanab isn’t suitable for overly complex projects with numerous dependencies either.
The lack of explicit iteration poses a problem because once the card reaches “done” stage, there is no way to put it back into workflow unless additional columns such as “first pass,” “second pass,” or “QA” are created.
This clutters the Kanban and suggests that an iteration-based project management methodology should be implemented, like SCRUM.
In which context is the Kanban board the most appropriate management tool?
Kanban board is ideal for project management scenarios where tasks are often interdependent, and team collaboration is important.
Currently, they are most popular within agile software development teams, but individuals also use them for organizing their own tasks.
What are the 5 S of Kanban?
- Seiri (Sort) – Organize your workspace and remove unnecessary items.
- Seiton (Straighten) – Move every item (task) into its designated place.
- Seiso (Shine) – Keep the workspace clean.
- Seikutse (Standardize) – Use consistent methods and processes.
- Shitsuke (Sustain) – Continually follow the steps of the 5 S process.