What is Kanban and How Can it Benefit Your Business?

What is Kanban?

Although digital technology has simplified many of the ways we work, it has also introduced complexities in the workflow of day to day operations. Managing these complexities effectively was one of the many reasons software developers first started using Kanban.

Today Kanban is used by everyone from freelancers to small businesses and global enterprises around the world.

What is Kanban?

The History

Kanban was developed by a Toyota industrial engineer named Taiichi Ohno in the 1940s to remove the bottlenecks in the manufacturing process. He was in part inspired by the way supermarkets handled their inventory on their shelves.

Ohno translated what supermarkets did to move inventory by making the manufacturing process at Toyota match the consumption of raw materials and the output or inventory levels.

Kanban, which means sign/bill-board in Japanese was applied by using cards to show the manufacturing process on the factory floor. By simply looking at the cards, the warehouse was able to replenish raw materials before it ran out so the manufacturing could keep going.

The warehouse also used the system to ensure they didn’t run out of materials, which translated to an overall more productive company.

Simply put Kanban uses visual cues to indicate the stage of any process. It can be anything from your personal agenda for the month to a project with teams of hundreds of people scattered around the world.

Using Kanban

Kanban has a simple structure of three columns tagged with To-Do, Doing, and Done. But don’t let the simplicity fool you because it is highly flexible and it can be adapted to address any size project.


What is Kanban?

You can create more columns and assign different tags for them to suit your organization or a particular project. However, it is important to keep in mind the six principles of Kanban.

They are:

  • Visualization – Make every aspect of the project visible. Hiding slows down the process and defeats the purpose of using the system.
  • Limiting work in progress – Limit the workflow in each stage of the work-in-progress to avoid bottlenecks.
  • Flow management – Monitor and report each state in the workflow to keep things moving smoothly.
  • Making policies explicit – Make sure everyone involved has an explicit understanding of the policies. This means no subjective rationalizations, which can slow down processes.
  • Using feedback loops – Kanban uses feedback loops to make adjustments by comparing expected outcomes with actual outcomes. It uses the standup meeting; the service delivery review; the operations review; and the risk review practices for feedback.
  • Collaborative or experimental evolution – Kanban is always looking to make small incremental improvements which can impact the organization as a whole and scale. The system allows you to track and understand your inefficiencies because each process is clearly identified and documented.

Understanding and implementing these principles will ensure your Kanban system will work as intended.

Benefits of Kanban

Kanban introduces a new level of efficiency into a project because it lets you see where your project is at any given time. You can drill down further and see who is doing what, what each team member should be doing, and what they need to move forward.

The Kanban system is easy to implement, reduces waste, improves communication, solves problems quicker, and improves the quality of the output.

Implementing Kanban

Kanban can be implemented with a physical board or using digital technology, which is more efficient.

Trello is one of the more popular web-based project management application using the Kanban system. The company provides a free tier along with business and enterprise editions with more features. But at its core, the Kanban system is used across the board to manage your projects.

Some other providers using Kanban based systems include Asana, Jira, Kanbanachi, Zenkit, and others.

This is an example of a Kanban board created for writing this article using Trello.

What is Kanban?

Try Kanban today and see how it can improve your workflow.

Image: Trello 3 Comments ▼

Michael Guta Michael Guta is the Assistant Editor at Small Business Trends and currently manages its East African editorial team. Michael brings with him many years of content experience in the digital ecosystem covering a wide range of industries. He holds a B.S. in Information Communication Technology, with an emphasis in Technology Management.

3 Reactions
  1. Michael: It took me some time to understand Trello’s Kanban system, but I am now an avid fan. I read the book on personal Kanban, and I worked at a manufacturing company that used this visual way of displaying a production process.

  2. Hi Martin,
    I am a fan too.
    It is simple but highly effective.

  3. Kanban is pretty interesting. It can help you see all your tasks in one visual template and it can help you organize tasks that needs immediate attention.