Kanban: A Comprehensive Management Method

Definition and Etymology

Kanban, derived from Japanese, signifies “sign” or “large visual board” in Kanji (Chinese characters) and “signal card(s)” in Hiragana (the Japanese alphabet).

Key Facts

  1. Meaning of “Kanban”:
    • In Kanji (Chinese characters), kanban means “sign” or “large visual board”.
    • In Hiragana (the Japanese alphabet), kanban means “signal card(s)”.
  2. Kanban as a method:
    • Kanban is a method that helps manage all types of professional services with a focus on improving them from the customers’ perspective.
    • It is not a methodology or a process framework, but a management method or approach that should be applied to an existing process or way of working.
  3. Kanban Method application:
    • The first comprehensive application of the Kanban Method happened in 2004 when it was implemented in the XIT business unit, a part of Microsoft’s IT organization.
    • The implementation resulted in significant improvements, including tripled productivity, reduced delivery time, and improved on-time delivery.
  4. Importance of WIP limit:
    • Work in Progress (WIP) limits are key to establishing a pull system in Kanban.
    • Limiting WIP helps balance utilization, ensure the flow of work, and focus on finishing items.
  5. Flexibility of ticket movement:
    • Tickets in Kanban can move backward if there are defects or issues related to a previous stage of development.
    • However, moving tickets backward is generally undesirable as it can disrupt the flow, break WIP limits, and affect metrics.

Kanban as a Management Method

Kanban is a management method that enhances professional services by prioritizing customer perspectives. It is not a methodology or process framework but rather a management approach that can be applied to existing processes or work systems.

Historical Application

The Kanban Method was first widely implemented in 2004 by Microsoft’s XIT business unit. This implementation led to significant improvements, including:

  • Tripled productivity
  • Reduced delivery time
  • Enhanced on-time delivery

Key Principles

Visualize Workflows

Kanban emphasizes the visual representation of processes using boards, lists, and cards. This transparency enhances understanding and collaboration.

Limit Work in Progress (WIP)

WIP limits establish a pull system in Kanban. By limiting WIP, teams can focus on completing tasks, balancing utilization, and ensuring work flow.

Manage Workflows

Kanban encourages the continuous monitoring and improvement of workflows. Teams identify and address bottlenecks to optimize efficiency.

Clearly Define Policies

Well-defined policies ensure that team members understand their responsibilities, task requirements, and transition criteria.

Implement Feedback Loops

Kanban incorporates feedback loops to gather insights, analyze processes, and make incremental improvements.

Importance of WIP Limit

WIP limits are crucial for establishing a pull system in Kanban. They:

  • Balance utilization
  • Ensure work flow
  • Encourage task completion

Flexibility of Ticket Movement

Tickets in Kanban can move backward if defects or issues arise in previous development stages. However, backward movement is generally undesirable as it can disrupt flow, break WIP limits, and impact metrics.



What is a Kanban system?

A Kanban system is a visual management method that helps teams visualize their workflow, limit work in progress, and improve efficiency.

How does a Kanban system work?

Kanban systems use boards, lists, and cards to represent the workflow. Teams can track the progress of tasks, identify bottlenecks, and make adjustments as needed.

What are the benefits of using a Kanban system?

Kanban systems can help teams improve their productivity, reduce lead times, and increase customer satisfaction.

How can I implement a Kanban system in my organization?

There are many different ways to implement a Kanban system. The best approach will vary depending on the size and complexity of your organization.

What are some common challenges of using a Kanban system?

One common challenge of using a Kanban system is keeping the system up to date. It is important to ensure that the boards, lists, and cards accurately reflect the current state of the workflow.

How can I measure the success of my Kanban system?

There are many different ways to measure the success of a Kanban system. Some common metrics include cycle time, lead time, and customer satisfaction.

What are some tips for using a Kanban system effectively?

Here are a few tips for using a Kanban system effectively:

  • Start small and scale up as needed.
  • Involve your team in the implementation process.
  • Be flexible and adapt the system to your specific needs.

What are some examples of organizations that use Kanban systems?

Many organizations use Kanban systems, including Toyota, Microsoft, and Spotify.