What is Kanban? A Comprehensive Guide for Project Managers

Kanban is the Japanese word for “visual signal”. It originated as a scheduling system used by Toyota in its manufacturing processes to improve efficiency and reduce waste[1]. In the context of work management, Kanban helps visualize work, making it tangible and easily understandable for everyone involved.

💡 Kanban is all about making work visible, keeping everyone on the same page, and enabling continuous improvement through small, incremental changes.

The core idea behind Kanban is to create a visual representation of your work using a Kanban board. This board consists of columns that represent the different stages of your workflow, such as “To Do”, “In Progress”, and “Done”. Work items, represented by cards, flow through these columns from left to right, providing a clear visual representation of the progress and status of each task.

A Kanban board is shown with three columns labeled "To Do's", "Doing", and "Done". Each column contains several gray rectangular cards representing tasks, with placeholder text inside the cards. The "To Do's" column has 7 cards, the "Doing" column has 6 cards, and the "Done" column has 4 cards, indicating the workflow progression of tasks from left to right across the board.
An example Kanban board visualizing the workflow of tasks from “To Do’s” to “Doing” to “Done”, enabling teams to track progress and manage their work effectively.

By visualizing work, Kanban helps teams:

  • Understand the current state of their work at a glance
  • Identify bottlenecks and potential areas for improvement
  • Collaborate more effectively by having a shared understanding of priorities
  • Limit work in progress (WIP) to prevent context-switching and increase focus

🔗 For more information on creating and using Kanban boards, check out the Kanban Boards section.

Benefits of Kanban

Kanban offers several benefits that can help teams streamline their workflow, increase efficiency, and improve overall productivity. Here are some key advantages of adopting a Kanban system:

🔑 The primary benefit of Kanban is its ability to visualize work, making it easier to identify bottlenecks, manage work in progress, and optimize the flow of tasks.

Increased Transparency

Kanban boards provide a clear and transparent view of the work being done, the current status of each task, and who is responsible for what. This visibility helps teams stay informed, aligned, and accountable, fostering better collaboration and communication.

Improved Workflow

By limiting work in progress (WIP), Kanban encourages teams to focus on completing tasks before starting new ones. This approach reduces context-switching and multitasking, leading to better concentration and higher-quality work.

Continuous Improvement

Kanban promotes a culture of continuous improvement through the use of metrics and feedback loops. Teams can identify areas for optimization by analyzing cycle times, lead times, and other performance indicators, and make adjustments accordingly.

  1. Step 1: Visualize Your Work Start by creating a Kanban board that represents your team’s workflow. This visual representation of tasks and their progress helps identify bottlenecks and potential areas for improvement.
  2. Step 2: Limit Work in Progress Implement WIP limits to prevent overloading team members and promote a smoother flow of work. This practice encourages teams to focus on completing tasks rather than starting new ones, reducing context-switching and increasing efficiency.

💡 One of the key benefits of Kanban is its flexibility. Teams can adapt the system to their specific needs, adjusting workflows, WIP limits, and other parameters as necessary.

Faster Delivery and Time-to-Market

By streamlining processes and reducing bottlenecks, Kanban enables teams to deliver work faster, resulting in shorter time-to-market for products or services. This can provide a competitive advantage and improve customer satisfaction.

Improved Team Morale

Kanban’s emphasis on visibility, collaboration, and continuous improvement can positively impact team morale. When team members can see their contributions and progress, and have a say in improving processes, they often feel more engaged and motivated.

Kanban offers numerous benefits that can help teams work more efficiently, deliver value faster, and foster a culture of continuous improvement. By visualizing work, limiting WIP, and promoting transparency and collaboration, Kanban can be a powerful tool for optimizing workflow and achieving better results.

Kanban Principles

Kanban is built on a set of principles that guide its implementation and use. These principles are:

Start with What You Do Now

Kanban is not a rigid methodology that requires you to change your existing processes and roles. Instead, it encourages you to start by applying Kanban to your current way of working, allowing for a smoother transition and adoption.

Respect Current Roles and Responsibilities

Kanban doesn’t impose new roles or responsibilities on your team. It respects the existing structure and allows you to continue with your current roles and responsibilities, while providing a framework to improve collaboration and visibility.

Encourage Acts of Leadership at All Levels

Kanban promotes a culture of continuous improvement and empowers team members at all levels to take leadership roles. It encourages everyone to identify and implement improvements to the workflow, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability.

By following these principles, you can gradually and seamlessly introduce Kanban into your existing processes, without disrupting your team’s structure or roles. This approach fosters a culture of continuous improvement, collaboration, and accountability, ultimately leading to increased efficiency and productivity.

In summary, Kanban is a visual management system that helps teams visualize their work, limit work in progress, and continuously improve their processes. By making work visible and tangible, Kanban promotes better collaboration, increased efficiency, and a smoother flow of work from start to finish.



  • [1] – Anderson, D. J. (2010). Kanban: Successful evolutionary change for your technology business. Blue Hole Press.
  • Klipp, R. (2015). Kanban in 30 days: A practical guide to implementing Kanban. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
  • Kniberg, H., & Skarin, M. (2010). Kanban and Scrum: Making the most of both. C4Media.
  • Ladas, C. (2008). Scrumban: Essays on Kanban Systems for Lean Software Development. Modus Cooperandi Press.