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What is Kanban?

Kanban is an agile work management method developed in the 1940’s by Toyota engineers, to streamline their manufacturing process. Kanban is based on a pull rather than a push system. In other words, team members start work when they have capacity, rather than accepting more than they can accomplish. A fundamental part of the Kanban method is limiting the amount of work in progress (WIP) at one time. Kanban aims to eliminate multi-tasking, a well-known productivity killer.

Kanban is a highly visual, collaborative method that encourages the use of a whiteboard, sticky notes and coloured pens. This is how it acquired its name. Roughly translated from Japanese, the word kanban means “visible record”.  Whether they are physical or digital, visual tools help display a workflow to an entire team. This urges the team to collaborate, communicate and easily spot disruptions in flow. Silo mentality is a common problem in the workplace. Kanban ensures that everyone stays informed about what everyone else is doing.

Kanban can be used for a variety of types of work. It is particularly useful for teams who need to deliver often. Kanban can even be used by teams who deliver daily. It has been used in a range of industries including automotive, marketing, software development and clothing. It can also be used for personal projects such as wedding planning and home improvements.

Why should I use Kanban?

Perhaps you feel that lengthy to-do lists are hindering your progress. Maybe your team are so absorbed in their own work that they are unaware of each-other’s. If you have too many tasks and feel pressured by priorities, Kanban might be the cure to your chaos.

Here are just some of the benefits you can experience while using Kanban:

  • You will become more focussed on a single task, rather than the list of tasks
  • You will have more control over your workload and priorities
  • The whole team will stay informed of each other’s progress
  • The team will experience greater satisfaction when getting things done
  • Collaboration and communication will improve between team members
  • Multi-tasking will be a thing of the past
  • Disruptions to workflow will decrease

Getting started with Kanban

Does this all sound like it is too good to be true? For a straightforward explanation of how to get started with Kanban, check out the graphic below designed by Knowledge Train.

Some teams like to use Kanban alongside the Scrum methodology, another agile development framework.

kanban infographic