Kanban Meaning: Do You Really Know What Kanban Is?

Published by Gavin Donnelly on

Kanban, or the Kanban board, is a project management methodology that is used to visualize the workflow process and the actual work flowing through that process. The most basic Kanban board consists of three columns: to-do, in progress, and done. Cards that represent different tasks and pieces of work are moved through the columns to show their progress. These columns can be adapted and expanded to suit the needs of different types of projects, but the main goal of kanban is always to identify bottlenecks and improve development processes.

Where Does Kanban Come From and Where Is It Today?

Kanban was developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, in the 1940s in order to improve manufacturing efficiency. The kanban system is named for the cards that track production in a factory manufacturing system. One of the main goals of the kanban system is to limit the amount of work in progress and identify inefficiencies in the manufacturing process and eliminate them to improve productivity and processes. Today, kanban is used by both tech and non-tech teams as a project management tool, and is a common project management software methodology.

Though it is not a new methodology, kanban has gained popularity over the last decade, especially in the technology sector. The kanban method is a common project management methodology that is especially popular among tech development teams that employ Lean and Agile software and product development principles. The kanban principles allow Lean and Agile teams to visualize work and deliver products to market faster and with greater efficiency. kanban helps development teams improve agility and ensure that the right things are getting worked on at the right times.

Kanban Meaning: Concept and Principles of the Kanban Method

The Kanban board methodology seeks to gradually improve the flow of work and project management within an organization. It is a methodology that can be applied immediately to any existing process within an organization. All kinds of teams, from human resources and marketing to software and product development, can use a Kanban board to visualize their workflow and improve it by reducing the amount of in-progress work gradually over time as inefficiencies are identified.

Kanban core principles emphasize that you should not make any drastic or sudden changes to the way a team or organization works. Instead, the Kanban board is to be used to identify areas of improvement, and then gradually increment changes to the workflow at a pace and time that is comfortable for everyone to avoid shocks to the current system.

Kanban also advocates that leadership can and should come from within all levels of an organization. In other words, not only project managers are responsible for identifying problems and implementing changes. All individuals involved in projects should constantly collaborate and contribute ideas to improve the delivery of products and services.

How to Improve Processes with Kanban

Kanban methodology is a type of evolutionary improvement process based on the scientific method. When an area for improvement is identified in the delivery process, then you should develop a hypothesis for how to improve it, test the hypothesis, then make changes to the process based on how the test goes. This goes hand-in-hand with Lean and Agile principles, wherein the main goal of the team is to constantly evaluate the workflow, adapt, and improve as much as possible.

Kanban boards allow teams to collect data about their work processes, either by hand if a physical Kanban board is used, or digitally if project management software is used. This data can then be used to evaluate performance and make changes to work processes to improve consistency and delivery. Kanban meaning can be broken down into some core practices:

Core Practices of Kanban

  • Visualize the flow of work.
  • Manage and improve flow of work.
  • Limit work in progress.
  • Define process rules and guidelines.
  • Improve collaboration and leadership at all levels.
  • Evolve and improve using the scientific method.
  • Observe and measure performance.

Kanban Meaning Summary

Kanban is a production-oriented project management methodology that was originally developed to improve factory-type manufacturing processes. Since its inception, it has evolved as a project management methodology that is employed by all types of organizations and teams, but is especially popular among software and tech development teams that use Lean and Agile principles. A Kanban board is a simple but powerful project management template that allows you to visualize your workflow, identify any issues in processes, and test out changes to improve the flow and evolve processes.

Categories: Project management


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