What is a Kanban Board?

Kanban boards are a foundational component of the Kanban methodology, providing a visual representation of your team’s workflow. They categorize the various stages that a work item goes through, from inception to completion, with each stage represented by a separate column.

📝 A Kanban board’s primary purpose is to make your team’s work visible, transparent, and easy to understand for everyone involved.

The structure of a Kanban board is straightforward:

  • Columns: Each column represents a specific stage in your workflow, such as “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.”
  • Cards: Work items are represented as cards that move through the columns as they progress through the workflow.
  • Work in Progress (WIP) Limits: To prevent bottlenecks and maintain a smooth flow of work, Kanban boards often have WIP limits, which restrict the number of cards allowed in a particular column at any given time.
A visual representation of a Kanban board with three columns labeled "To Do", "In Progress", and "Done". Each column contains cards representing tasks at different stages of the workflow, with placeholder text inside the cards.
An example of a Kanban board showcasing the flow of work through various stages, from “To Do” to “In Progress” to “Done”, enabling teams to visualize and manage their tasks effectively.

By visualizing your work on a Kanban board, you can quickly identify:

  • Where work is currently located in the workflow
  • Potential bottlenecks or blockers
  • Areas where work is piling up or stagnating
  • The team’s overall capacity and throughput

💡 Kanban boards can be physical (using sticky notes on a whiteboard or wall) or digital (using tools like Jira, Trello, or dedicated Kanban software).

The beauty of Kanban boards lies in their simplicity and flexibility. They can be adapted to various types of work, from software development and project management to marketing and operations. Additionally, Kanban boards can be customized to fit your team’s specific needs and processes, with columns added or removed as necessary.

One of the key benefits of using a Kanban board is that it fosters transparency and collaboration within your team. By having a shared, visual representation of the work in progress, team members can easily communicate, coordinate, and understand the current state of projects or tasks.

⚠️ It’s important to note that the effectiveness of a Kanban board heavily relies on the team’s commitment to regularly updating and maintaining it. Neglecting to move cards or accurately reflect the current state of work can quickly render the board obsolete and undermine its value.

Kanban Workflow

The workflow on a Kanban board represents the stages of work that a work item, or Kanban card, flows through, from the moment it’s started until it’s completed. Each stage in the workflow is represented by a column on the Kanban board.

The workflow should be designed to reflect the actual steps your team follows in their work process, without any unnecessary or redundant stages.

A typical workflow might look something like this:

  • Backlog: This column holds all the work items or cards that haven’t been started yet.
  • In Progress: Cards move to this column when they are actively being worked on.
  • Review: Once the work is completed, cards move to this column for review and approval.
  • Done: After review, cards are moved to this final column, indicating that the work is completed and delivered.

Keep your workflow as simple as possible initially. You can always add more columns later as needed.

  1. Step 1: Identify the stages Work with your team to identify the actual stages that your work goes through, from start to finish. Don’t overcomplicate this step – keep it simple and straightforward.
  2. Step 2: Create columns Create a column for each stage in your workflow, ordered from left to right in the sequence that work flows through them.
  3. Step 3: Define column policies Establish clear policies for each column, such as:
    • Entry criteria: What conditions must be met for a card to move into this column?
    • Exit criteria: What conditions must be met for a card to move out of this column?
    • Who is responsible for moving cards in and out of this column?
  4. Step 4: Implement Work In Progress (WIP) limits To prevent bottlenecks and promote flow, set WIP limits for each column, limiting the number of cards that can be in that stage at any given time.

As your team begins using the Kanban board and following the workflow, you may identify opportunities for improvement. Don’t be afraid to adjust the workflow by adding, removing, or reordering columns as needed. The goal is to create a smooth, efficient flow that accurately reflects how your team works and helps them visualize and optimize their process.

Creating a Kanban Board

Building a Kanban board is a crucial first step in implementing the Kanban methodology. It serves as a visual representation of your team’s workflow and helps organize tasks in a transparent and efficient manner. Here’s how you can create a Kanban board:

  1. Step 1 Identify the stages of your workflow. This typically includes columns like “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” However, you can customize the columns to fit your team’s specific needs. Start with a simple workflow and add more columns as needed. For example, a software development team might have columns like:
    • Backlog
    • To Do
    • In Progress
    • In Review
    • Done
  2. Step 2 Set up your physical or digital Kanban board. You can use:
    • A whiteboard or a wall with sticky notes
    • Digital tools like Trello, Jira, or dedicated Kanban software
    Choosing a digital tool can provide additional benefits like easier collaboration, automation, and reporting capabilities.
  3. Step 3 Create columns for each stage of your workflow on the board. You can label these columns with their respective stage names.
  4. Step 4 Determine your team’s Work in Progress (WIP) limits for each column. These limits help prevent overloading any particular stage of the workflow and promote better flow. For example, you might set a WIP limit of 3 for the “In Progress” column, meaning your team can only have a maximum of 3 tasks in progress at any given time.
  5. Step 5 Start adding tasks or work items to your Kanban board as cards. Each card should represent a single, actionable item with a clear description, assignee, and any other relevant details.

Once your Kanban board is set up, you can start moving cards through the various stages of your workflow. Remember, the goal is to maintain a smooth flow of work while adhering to the WIP limits and continuously improving your processes based on the insights gained from the board.

Kanban boards are meant to be dynamic and evolving. Don’t hesitate to adjust your workflow, WIP limits, or card details as your team’s needs change over time.


References :

  • Anderson, D. J. (2010). Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business. Blue Hole Press.
  • Kniberg, H., & Skarin, M. (2010). Kanban and Scrum – making the most of both. C4Media.
  • Trello. (n.d.). Kanban Boards. Retrieved from https://trello.com/en-US/kanban
  • Atlassian. (n.d.). What is a Kanban board? Retrieved from https://www.atlassian.com/agile/kanban/boards
  • Ladas, C. (2008). Scrumban – Essays on Kanban Systems for Lean Software Development. Modus Cooperandi Press.