What is the Kanban method?

In the contemporary world of work, where efficiency and speed are valuable assets. Kanban stands out as an essential management tool. Adapted to various professional environments. From software development to project management and services. Kanban helps teams visualize their work, maximize efficiency and continuously improve their processes. In this article, we will explore in depth the Kanban method. How it works, its benefits, and how to implement it effectively in your organization.

What is the Kanban method?

Kanban is a Japanese term for a bulletin board or sign. This method of project management and production was developed by Taiichi Ohno. For Toyota in the 1940s. And has since spread widely across different industries. The method system is based on visualizing the entire workflow. Limiting work in progress (WIP) and continuous improvement—Kaizen.

The history of the Kanban method

The Kanban method, widely used today to optimize workflows in various fields. Has modest but ingenious origins in the post-war Japanese manufacturing industry. Here is a detailed overview of its history, from its creation to its contemporary application.

Origins of the Kanban Method

The system was developed in the 1940s and 1950s by Taiichi Ohno. Who is an industrial engineer at Toyota. The post-war context in Japan was marked by limited resources. And an urgent need for efficient and economic production processes. Ohno was inspired by the shelf replenishment system in American supermarkets during a visit to the United States. He observed that items were only replenished when the inventory visible on the shelf dropped to a certain point. A concept that allowed him to think of «just-in-time» production management.

Principle of Operation

The Kanban method focuses on reducing waste. And increasing efficiency by producing only what is needed. When it is needed, and in the necessary quantities. Kanban uses “maps” to signal the need to replenish or produce more units. Each card in a system represents an element of work through the production process. Moving maps from one step to the next helps visualize the workflow and identify bottlenecks.

Evolution and Expansion

Initially applied in Toyota plants to manage assembly lines. The kanban method system has proven its effectiveness in reducing unnecessary stocks and responding to demand more quickly. The success of this method at Toyota led to its adoption by other Japanese manufacturing companies before expanding internationally.

Kanban in Software Development and Beyond

In the 2000s, the Kanban method was adapted to the field of software development. In particular with the work of David J Anderson who formalized it in a framework for the management of development processes. This adaptation has changed some practices to better match intellectual work, which is less predictable than manufacturing production. The method software focuses on continuous delivery, workflow management, and continuous improvement.

The kanban method today

Today, the kanban method is used in a variety of industries beyond manufacturing and software development. Including services, education, health and more. The principles of work visualization, work in progress limitation, flow management and continuous improvement are universal. Digital tools like Trello, Jira, and Asana have integrated the method features. Facilitating its adoption in virtual and distributed teams around the world.

Kanban’s story is one of continuous adaptation and expansion to new fields. Proving that the fundamental principles of the method remain relevant and beneficial, regardless of the industry. Enabling teams to work more efficiently and reduce waste. Kanban continues to be a cornerstone in modern project and process management.

How does the Kanban method work?

Kanban’s operation is centered around a board. Which is divided into several columns representing the different stages of the work process. Each task or project is represented by a map that moves from one column to another. From start to finish, providing complete transparency on the progress of work. And highlighting bottlenecks.

The Key Principles of Kanban

  • View Work: Convert tasks and projects into visual maps. Provides an immediate understanding of progress and responsibilities.
  • Limit work in progress: Limit the number of tasks in progress. Focus on finishing tasks. While reducing cycle time and increasing quality.
  • Manage flow: Optimize workflow by identifying and resolving delays and bottlenecks.
  • Make processes explicit: Clearly define criteria for each step of the process to ensure consistency and understanding.
  • Continuous improvement: Use observations and data collected to continuously improve processes.

What are the 6 central practices of the Kanban method?

The Kanban method popularized in software development and other industries, is based on six core practices. These practices aim to optimize workflow, increase efficiency, and encourage continuous improvement.

The six core practices of the Kanban method are:

View the Kanban Workflow

The first step in applying the kanban method is to visualize the whole work process. This is usually done using a table, which represents each step of the process by columns. Each task is represented by a map that moves from column to column as the work progresses. This visualization helps to understand the current workflow and identify bottlenecks.

Limit Work-in-Progress (WIP)

Limiting work in progress is crucial to avoid overwork and bottlenecks in the process. Setting limits on the number of tasks in each step of the process. Kanban ensures that the team focuses on finishing tasks before starting new ones. This contributes to a smoother workflow and reduced delivery times.

Manage flow with kanban method

Flow management is centered on the movement of tasks through the board. The goal is to make the workflow as smooth and fast as possible. This may involve adjusting processes, allocating resources to eliminate bottlenecks. And constant monitoring of the flow to ensure that tasks progress efficiently.

Make the Rules Explicit

For Kanban to work effectively. All rules and processes must be clearly defined and understood by all team members. This includes the criteria for moving from one stage to another. Priority management policies, and WIP limitations. Having explicit rules helps maintain consistency and avoid confusion. This ensures that everyone works in sync.

Set up Feedback Loops

Regular feedback loops are essential for continuous improvement, a key principle of Kanban. This can include daily meetings, sprint reviews. Or periodic retrospectives where the team looks at what is working well and identifies opportunities for improvement. These meetings encourage open communication and sharing of ideas to optimize processes.

Read also: Gantt Chart 

Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally

Kanban encourages continuous improvement through incremental adjustments and experiments based on data collected through previous practices. Rather than large revisions, this method prefers incremental improvements that can be tested and measured. This allows the team to adapt and refine processes in a controlled and evidence-based manner.

These six practices, when applied consistently, enable teams to become more agile, responsive and efficient in their projects. This method is not just a project management tool, but a work philosophy that values transparency, collaboration and continuous improvement.

What are the benefits of adopting the Kanban method?

  • Flexibility: Unlike other methodologies, Kanban allows changes along the way without disrupting the entire system.
  • Improved productivity: By reducing lost time in multitasking and expectations, productivity increases naturally.
  • Stress reduction: Limiting work in progress helps reduce team stress by eliminating the accumulation of excessive tasks.
  • Increased transparency: Each team member can see the status of the project at any time, which builds trust and collaboration.

How to implement the kanban method?

  • Analyze your current workflow: Identify the different stages of your projects and the teams involved.
  • Create a board: Use online tools like Trello, Jira, or a physical board to visualize tasks.
  • Set limits for current work: Choose a maximum number of tasks in each column.
  • Train your team: Make sure everyone understands Kanban’s principles and their role in its effectiveness.
  • Adapt and improve: Regularly review the system and make improvements based on team feedback and performance metrics.

Kanban vs Scrum: what are the differences?

Kanban and Scrum are two very popular project management methodologies in the field of agility, but they have distinct characteristics and approaches. Understanding their differences can help organizations choose the approach that best suits their specific needs. Here is a detailed comparison of the two systems.


Scrum: Scrum is a structured project management method that divides work into cycles called sprints, usually lasting two to four weeks. Each sprint starts with planning and ends with a review and retrospective to assess what has been achieved and how to improve processes.

Kanban: Less structured than Scrum and not based on sprints. Instead, the work progresses continuously through a Kanban board system. Where tasks are viewed and moved from “to do” to “in progress” and finally “completed”. The focus is on limiting work in progress to avoid bottlenecks.


Scrum: Scrum is relatively rigid in its structure. Sprints have a fixed duration and modifications are generally not encouraged in the middle of a sprint to maintain the stability and orientation of the cycle.

Kanban: Is very flexible and allows changes at any time in the development cycle. This makes it ideal for environments where priorities change frequently.

Roles and Responsibilities

Scrum: Scrum clearly defines roles within the team, including the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the development team. Each role has specific responsibilities that contribute to the agile management process.

Kanban: Kanban does not impose specific roles. While one person may be responsible for managing the Kanban board, all team members are generally encouraged to collaborate and participate in process improvement.

Performance Measurement

Scrum: Scrum measures progress by sprints and uses events like sprint reviews to evaluate achievements. Burndown charts are often used to track the remaining work in a sprint.

Kanban: Uses the concept of cycle time to measure the time it takes to complete a task from start to finish. Key indicators include cycle time, throughput (the number of tasks completed within a certain time), and current workload.

Continuous Improvement

Scrum: Continuous improvement is built into Scrum through regular sprint retrospectives, where the team reviews what worked well and what could be improved.

Kanban: By also encouraging continuous improvement through workflow visualization. Helps identify areas of inefficiency or bottleneck.


Choosing between Kanban and Scrum depends largely on the specific needs of your project and team. Scrum is ideal for projects that require a rigid structure and regular deliveries, while Kanban is preferable for projects where flexibility and continuous adjustments are needed. In some cases, teams combine elements of both methods to create a hybrid system that maximizes the benefits of each, often referred to as Scrumban.

Is the Kanban method Agile?

Yes, the Kanban method is considered an Agile approach. Originating from Toyota’s production system, it has been adapted to software development processes and other projects requiring agility and flexibility. This method shares with Agile the focus on continuous delivery, continuous improvement and the ability to respond to changes quickly.

Kanban uses a task visualization system that allows teams to see the progress of projects in real time. This table is divided into columns that represent different steps in the process, helps identify bottlenecks and optimize workflow. As a result, teams can proactively adjust their workloads, which is fully aligned with Agile principles of dynamic management and adaptation.

Unlike some Agile methods like Scrum, which use fixed sprints to structure work, Kanban is more flexible. It does not impose a fixed schedule of meetings or reviews, which allows teams to work at a pace adapted to their environment and specific needs. This flexibility makes Kanban an ideal choice for environments where requirements can change frequently and where continuous work flow is a priority.

In conclusion, although different in its implementation, Kanban embodies the Agile spirit through its commitment to operational efficiency, adaptability and customer focus.

How to set up the Kanban method?

Implementing the Kanban method in your organization or project can transform the way teams manage their work, improving visibility, efficiency and flexibility. Here is a step-by-step approach to implementing the Kanban method:

Step 1: Assess the Current Situation

Before implementing Kanban, it is crucial to understand the current processes. Identify workflows, recurring tasks, and bottlenecks. This will help you to adapt the Kanban method effectively to your specific context.

Step 2: Design the Kanban Board

Create a Kanban board that reflects your team’s workflow. Use columns to represent each step of the process, from start to completion. Typical columns include “To Do”, “In Progress”, and “Completed”, but can be adapted to better suit your specific needs.

Step 3: Define the Rules

Clarify workflow rules, including definitions for each step of the process, transition criteria from column to column, and work-in-progress (WIP) limits. These limits are essential to prevent work overloads and bottlenecks.

Step 4: View Work

Start using the table by placing cards for each task in the appropriate column. Each card must contain enough information so that anyone can understand what it is. This may include details about the task, the person responsible, deadlines, and any other relevant indicators.

Step 5: Operate and Manage the Flow

With the board in place, start actively managing the workflow. Move the cards across the board as the work progresses. Keep an eye on bottlenecks and adjust WIP limits if necessary to maintain a constant flow.

Step 6: Hold Regular Meetings

Organize daily stand-ups or weekly meetings to discuss the status of tasks on the Kanban board. Use these meetings to address bottlenecks, reassess priorities, and redistribute resources as needed.

Step 7: Continuously Adapt and Improve

Kanban is a dynamic method; it should evolve with your team and projects. Use your team’s feedback and collected data (such as cycle times) to make iterative adjustments and continuously improve your processes.

Step 8: Using Technology Tools

Consider using online tools such as Trello, Jira, Asana, or other software that supports the Kanban methodology. These tools offer advanced features that facilitate visualization, collaboration and reporting.

By following these steps, you will be able to implement the Kanban method effectively, which will help improve productivity, reduce delivery times, and increase overall team satisfaction.

How to organize a Kanban?

To organize a Kanban board effectively, start by identifying the different steps in your workflow. Then create a table with columns that reflect these steps, typically “To do”, “In progress”, and “Done”. Add cards for each task, placing them in the appropriate column. Set limits for work in progress to avoid overloading. Make sure that each card contains detailed information needed to complete the task.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the kanban board?

Work Visualization

Kanban boards provide a clear and immediate view of the progress of tasks and projects. This allows team members to quickly understand where things stand and what the next steps are.


Unlike more rigid methods like Scrum, Kanban allows for continuous workflow changes, making it ideal for environments where priorities can change frequently.

Limitation of Work in Progress (WIP)

By limiting the number of tasks in progress, Kanban helps reduce multitasking and focus effort on finishing tasks, which increases the quality of work and decreases cycle time.

Continuous Improvement

The Kanban approach encourages continuous process evaluation and improvement. Teams can adjust workflows based on analytics and feedback to optimize productivity.

Improving Collaboration and Communication

Kanban boards encourage open and regular communication among team members, helping to resolve problems quickly and share responsibilities fairly.

Disadvantages of Kanban Boards

Dependence on the Team Discipline

Kanban requires team discipline to regularly update the board and follow established rules. Without it, the board can quickly become obsolete and useless.

Less Structured for the Complexities

For particularly complex projects involving many teams or departments, the Kanban method may be less effective if it is not properly structured to handle multiple interdependencies.

Resistance to Change

The introduction of any new system, including a Kanban board, may encounter resistance from employees accustomed to more traditional project management methods.

Lack of Precision in Deadlines

Kanban focuses less on strict deadlines than other methods like Scrum. This can be a disadvantage for projects where timeliness is critical.

Oversimplification Risk

There may be a tendency to oversimplify tasks to fit the Kanban board, which can cause problems if the tasks actually require more detailed planning.

In conclusion, Kanban boards offer a series of significant benefits that can significantly improve a team’s efficiency and productivity. However, it is crucial to consider the potential disadvantages and ensure that the method is well adapted to the specific needs of your project or organization before implementing it. With the right approach and commitment from the team, Kanban can be a powerful tool to manage work more smoothly and transparently.

Which company uses Kanban?

Many companies around the world, from various sectors, use the Kanban method to improve their operational efficiency and project management. Among them, Spotify is famous for its agile adaptation of Kanban, enabling rapid and effective innovation in the development of its music streaming services. Microsoft also uses Kanban to manage some of its software development processes, optimizing the production and delivery of software updates.

In the automotive sector, Toyota remains the emblematic example of the successful use of Kanban, a system that was originally developed in its factories to support efficient and just-in-time production. These companies illustrate how Kanban can be scaled up to support flexibility and continuous improvement in dynamic environments.


Kanban is more than just a project management method. It is a work philosophy that emphasizes productivity, efficiency and continuous improvement. By integrating Kanban into your daily work, you can not only improve delivery times and project quality, but also strengthen communication and collaboration within your team. Explore Kanban to transform your work environment and realize projects with maximum efficiency.

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