Kanban Board

Photo of Sohrab Salimi
Sohrab Salimi

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The Kanban board is a key element of the Kanban method. The project management tool enables agile teams to visualize workflows, uncover weaknesses and make collaboration efficient and productive.

  • Mapping the workflow in multiple steps
  • Each task passes through each stage of the process
  • Limiting work-in-progress tasks

Definition: What is a Kanban board?

The Kanban board developed in the last years to the central instrument in Kanban projects. Although it maps all pending tasks in the project, it is much more than a simple to-do list.

On the Kanban board, team members note all steps of the process in columns, for example "Pending Tasks", "In Progress" and "Completed". The individual tasks are recorded in Kanban cards that go through each stage of the workflow.

The Kanban board helps teams visualize and optimize their processes, limit the tasks in progress and develop a more efficient way of working.


Kanban task board, Kanban board, Kanban wall, Kanban whiteboard, Big Visible Charts.

Use: How does a Kanban board work?

The biggest advantage of the Kanban board: It is possible to get started with the tool at any time and without much preparation.

Important elements of the board in the Kanban method

According to David Anderson, who is considered the founder of the Kanban system in software development, the following elements are distinguished in Kanban boards:

  • Visual signals: Whether sticky notes or digital cards in several colors, the tasks set visual stimuli in the Kanban system. They provide an overview of the entire board.
  • Columns: Each column represents a process step. They stand vertically next to each other and together map the process in the company. All cards go through each column.
  • Work-in-Progress Boundaries: The WIP boundary is a key feature of the Kanban system. It describes the maximum number of cards that can be in a particular phase at the same time. If too many cards reach a phase at once, the Kanban team must define measures. Only if these tasks are worked off, new cards may be pushed into the concerning phase.
  • Commitment Point (Commitment Point): Kanban teams often keep a backlog where ideas for future projects are collected. The commitment point is when the team starts working on an idea from the backlog.
  • Delivery Point: This point signals the end of work on a task.

According to the founder of Personal Kanban Jim Benson, visualizing the process and setting WIP limits can also be enough. Each company must decide for itself which system works individually.

Use cases for the Kanban board

Because the method is so easy to adapt to changing needs, the Kanban board can be used in a wide variety of environments, for example:

  • Manufacturing (Production Kanban)
  • human resources
  • IT and agile software development
  • Content and online marketing
  • Task distribution in traditional teams
  • Product development

Physical vs. digital: Types of Kanban boards

Originally, physical whiteboards developed primarily for Kanban control. These Kanban boards are divided into vertical columns under which tasks are arranged in the form of post-its. On physical boards, progress is always visible to all team members, stakeholders and management. They encourage communication and make the current status of the project transparent.

Much younger is the work with digital Kanban boards. For this, the team needs software to implement the Kanban system online. Here, too, the proven structure in vertical columns can be found. Instead of sticky notes, however, digital Kanban Cards are used here, which can be moved to the next phase of the process using drag-and-drop. If the team sets up its Kanban board online, it can collaborate across locations. This facilitates the organization of alternating forms of work in presence and remotely.

Introduction to the Kanban process

No lengthy preparation is required to use Kanban. Instead, the team simply transfers the current process to the board and records all upcoming tasks. Now follows a phase of continuous improvement: As soon as problems become visible, for example because too many tasks accumulate in one phase, the team revises the workflow.

Origin of the Kanban boards

While the method itself dates back to the Toyota Production System in the 1940s and Taiichi Ohno in the 1960s, the Kanban board is a more recent development. In the mid-2000s, Kanban principles spread to software development. To keep track of project progress, teams used whiteboards to record tasks in progress.

Frequently asked questions and answers about Kanban boards

Digital or physical Kanban boards - which is better?
Digital workflow management is best for remote teams, who can stay up to date from anywhere with online Kanban boards. If collaborative teams work together on the store floor, physical boards have advantages despite modern kanban systems. They are clear, show the progress of work in progress and facilitate communication.

**How can Kanban boards be used to detect bottlenecks in the workflow?
As soon as more cards come together in a phase than the work-in-progress limits allow, this is a warning signal for an existing work overload. It must then be clarified, for example, whether the work step must be further divided or whether the person responsible receives support.

Why should teams use a Kanban board?

  • Kanban boards have numerous advantages:
  • make weaknesses in the process visible
  • optimized teamwork
  • easy to implement
  • work together more productively and efficiently in a team
  • fully concentrate on a few tasks
  • save time (e.g. eliminate status-quo meetings)

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