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cplace Glossary

What Is Kanban?

Kanban is a work management method. Its aim is to design processes flexibly and at the same time ensure a continuous, orderly workflow. Problems such as bottlenecks are quickly identified or avoided altogether.

Origin of Kanban

Kanban is Japanese and translates roughly as “signal card”. The car manufacturer Toyota developed the system for its production in 1947. In order to be able to produce according to demand, the engineer Taiichi Ohno invented the so-called pull principle, which replaced the previous push principle. With the pull principle, products are produced and delivered just in time according to customer demand. The pull principle, on the other hand, produces in advance based on calculations. Kanban thus streamlines the production process and reduces inventories.

Kanban in agile project management

Basic principles and practices of Kanban were taken up and adapted in software development. This resulted in a framework that can be used in agile project management. Here, the team members choose the task to be worked on – based on available capacities. These have the status “work-in-progress” during processing. To avoid overloading individual team members and creating bottlenecks in the team, there are so-called work-in-progress limits (WIP limits). This limits the number of tasks that a team member may work on in parallel at any one time. The core piece, the so-called Kanban Board, visualizes demands and existing performance strengths.


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Kanban principles

There are four principles in the application of Kanban:

Principle 1: Start now
No preparatory work is needed to introduce Kanban in a company. Kanban can be superimposed on any workflow and any project.

Principle 2: Tracking evolutionary change
The essential improvements that Kanban brings about happen in small steps.

Principle 3: Consider currently existing roles, processes & responsibilities
Kanban does not force change, keeping existing processes and responsibilities is possible. Kanban recognises the value of what is already in place.

Principle 4: Promoting leadership at all levels
Optimal performance only comes about when everyone believes in and participates in the improvement. Therefore, all employees are encouraged to make suggestions as an “act of leadership”.

Kanban practices

To use Kanban successfully, these 6 core practices should be implemented:

  1. Visualising workflow 
    This is where the Kanban Board comes into play: with the help of columns and cards, the entire value chain is mapped in its individual milestones. The cards are assigned to corresponding work requests and can be moved according to progress, e.g., from “to do” to “done”.
  2. Limit work in progress
    The number of cards that may be processed simultaneously is limited. This creates a pull principle, because a card can only be moved on when a corresponding capacity becomes free.
  3. Control workflow
    The goal of Kanban is a regular, fast flow of production steps that increases value creation and causes as few problems as possible. To achieves this, relevant variables in the workflow must be measured and checked again and again.
  4. Formulate guidelines for the process
    Only when everyone understands the rules and goals of a process can, they work on it efficiently. Therefore, clear definitions of, for example, individual requirements or states such as “done” must be established for everyone.
  5. Feedback loops
    Short and regular meetings within the team in the form of mutual feedback serve the exchange and transfer of knowledge and thus continuous improvement.
  6. Improving cooperation with models
    Models illustrate processes and help employees to develop a better understanding.

When can Kanban be used?

Kanban can be used wherever workflows and processes are repeated. Whenever a project can be divided into “to do”, “in progress” and “done”, Kanban is applicable.

Practical application areas of Kanban

Kanban is simple, open and at the same time very helpful principle that can be integrated into any team structure. Kanban is often used in IT, marketing, sales and human resource management.

Kanban – advantages and disadvantages

The Kanban method offers many advantages and a few disadvantages.

Advantages of Kanban are:

  • easy to apply
  • very descriptive
  • well comprehensible
  • time saving
  • shorter processing time of work units
  • flexible planning of steps/ processes
  • few bottlenecks
  • increasing the level of productivity
  • strengthening the team feeling, motivation and satisfaction of the employees
  • continuous improvement of processes

Disadvantages of Kanban are:

  • Kanban is particularly suitable for short-term planning
  • Cards can get lost on non-digital Kanban boards
  • Kanban is not suitable for very large projects and/ or extensive teams

The cplace Premium Application Enterprise Board supports the Kanban methodology and can be flexibly adapted to the individual design of the method.

Related terms: Agile Method, BoardScrum