Kanban: Definition, Examples


Kanban is an inventory management and scheduling methodology that improves process efficiency. Originally from Japanese manufacturing systems, it features visual signals or cards (kanbans) to indicate when more supplies are needed, helping to avoid overstocking and wastage. In software development and other industries, Kanban has evolved into a project management tool designed to visualize work, limit work-in-progress, and maximize efficiency.


The phonetic pronunciation of the word “Kanban” is: ‘kahn-bahn’.

Key Takeaways


  1. Kanban is a visual system for managing work as it moves through a process. It visualizes both the process and the actual work passing through that process, effectively communicating information to create a better understanding of the work and how to manage it.
  2. Kanban encourages small, incremental changes to your current system. Rather than enforcing a drastic system overhaul, Kanban proposes making smaller changes over time. The method allows organizations to adapt to change slowly, resulting in increased productivity and quality.
  3. Kanban relies on workflow limits. By setting a maximum amount of work that can be in process at the same time, you can help your team focus, collaborate more effectively, and complete work faster. It helps in identifying bottlenecks in the process, leading to continuous improvement in workflow.



Kanban is an important term in technology, particularly in project management and software development, due to its role in enabling efficient workflow management. Originating from Japanese manufacturing systems, Kanban uses visualization to manage work as it moves through various processes. This assists teams to understand bottlenecks, work in progress (WIP) limits and dependencies, leading to better efficiency, communication, and productivity. Its extreme flexibility allows it to be adapted to the needs of any team or project. In a rapidly changing technological environment, the ability to manage work processes effectively is invaluable, and Kanban provides a simple yet powerful tool for optimizing workflow and promoting continuous improvement.


Kanban is primarily a visual system for managing work as it moves through a process. Its purpose is to balance the amount of work in progress with the team’s capacity, thereby improving the delivery of value. It achieves this by visualizing both the process and the actual work passing through that process. The goal of the Kanban system is to identify potential bottlenecks in your process and fix them so work can flow through it cost-effectively at an optimal speed or throughput.Used in various fields including manufacturing, logistics, and software development, the use of Kanban provides a clear and trickling pipeline of tasks, allowing teams to focus their time towards the most immediate and important tasks. This system supports the delivery process by ensuring that at any given time, a team isn’t overwhelmed with too much work and only begins new tasks when they have the capacity. By pulling work through the system when they are ready to begin, it helps in promoting continuous, streamlined workflow, reducing the time taken from initiation to completion and enhancing overall productivity and efficiency.


1. Toyota Production System: The most notable example of Kanban technology implementation is the Toyota production system. In the late 1940s, Toyota developed Kanban to improve manufacturing efficiency. Kanban became the tool that supported and helped implement a just in time (JIT) production system, aiming to minimize inventory and improve product flow.2. Starbucks Order System: Whether you’ve noticed it or not, a simple version of Kanban is used in every Starbucks. When you order a coffee, the barista places a cup with an order sticker on a space on the counter. Each cup moving from space to space (from order to delivery) is essentially a Kanban card, the movement is an example of how Kanban organizes work.3. Software Development: Companies like Microsoft and Pixar use a Kanban system for managing their software development projects. The Kanban board, which visualizes the workflow, helps to track the progress of each task and identifies bottlenecks early enough to minimize downtime. This increases productivity and ensures smooth process flow.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

**Q: What is Kanban?**A: Kanban is a workflow management tool designed to help you visualize your work, maximize efficiency, and improve continuously. It originated from manufacturing, but now used in various industries including technology.**Q: Who invented Kanban?**A: Kanban was developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, to improve manufacturing efficiency.**Q: What does ‘Kanban’ mean?**A: Kanban is a Japanese term that translates to “billboard” or “signboard.”**Q: How does a Kanban system work?**A: A Kanban system visualizes the process of work by using cards to represent work items and columns to represent each stage of the process. The movement of cards across columns represents the flow of work.**Q: What are three basic principles of Kanban?**A: The three basic principles of Kanban include visualizing the workflow, limiting work in progress, and enhancing flow.**Q: What is a Kanban card?**A: A Kanban card represents a task within the overall project or process. It commonly includes the task’s title, description, and the person responsible.**Q: When should I use Kanban?**A: Kanban is best suited for projects with ongoing, steady output, rather than projects with tight deadlines and fixed outputs. It is perfect for situations where priorities can change frequently.**Q: What’s the difference between Kanban and Scrum?**A: While both belong to the Agile methodology, they are uniquely different. Scrum is more structured and defines specific roles and ceremonies. It works best for teams with stable priorities that are less likely to change. On the other hand, Kanban is more flexible and focuses on completing an entire project of work, which fits teams with changing priorities.**Q: How can Kanban improve productivity?**A: By visualizing tasks and limiting work-in-progress items, teams can more easily identify bottlenecks, balance workload, and reduce waste, thereby increasing productivity and efficiency.**Q: Can I use Kanban for personal task management?**A: Yes, as it’s a flexible and straightforward method, you can adapt it to manage your personal tasks.

Related Tech Terms

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  • Kanban Board
  • Work In Progress (WIP)
  • Just-In-Time (JIT)
  • Backlog
  • Lead Time


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