Kanban, which is the Japanese word for billboard/card, is a popular agile framework used by project teams for developing software. Kanban uses visual boards or cards to display the status of work so that teams can quickly and easily see the work that needs to be done, the work in progress, and completed work. When work is visually displayed, it simplifies the workload and the progress for software development teams. These cards serve as a trigger for the next step.

When it comes to software development, the visual board may display columns showing the work to do, in development, being tested, and complete. The number of status columns, as well as the contents, will vary greatly depending on the industry, project type, or nature of the deliverables.

SEE: IT leader’s guide to Agile development (Tech Pro Research ebook)

The history of the Kanban framework

It was first discovered back in the 1940s by an industrial engineer at Toyota named Taiichi Ohno who was looking for ways to improve efficiency in the manufacturing process.

Kanban was originally modeled after a supermarket inventory replacement system that would monitor inventory levels and match it to consumer purchasing patterns, and only order once levels were low. This was done to reduce excess inventory and is known as just-in-time (JIT) inventory. Today this is used by many retail businesses and manufacturers including Walmart.

Kanban’s basic guiding principles

  • The work to be done and the workflow is displayed visually.
  • The remaining work in process should be limited.
  • There should be a focus on the workflow.
  • There should be a focus on continuous improvement.
  • All deliverables should be 100% defect free.

The benefits of Kanban

  • Because it focuses on continuous improvement, it’s likely that teams will continually yield high-quality results.
  • Due to the focus on continuous improvement, productivity and efficiency are likely to increase while reducing unnecessary waste, whether that’s time or resources.
  • Teams are more likely to accomplish goals much easier due to the visual nature of Kanban boards or cards.
  • The ultimate benefit of Kanban is passed on to the customer through a higher-quality product or service at a cost-effective price due to the decrease in waste.

Who uses Kanban?

Kanban is highly versatile in its application and is used within various industries, including the following and more:

  • IT
  • Software and video game development
  • Lean manufacturing
  • Media
  • As-a-service providers
  • Financial
  • Real estate

The future of Kanban

This framework for continuous improvement with a simplified model makes it a favorite within many industries. Since it offers many benefits without a rigid process or formal team guidelines, Kanban may outlast many other frameworks. Kanban is a tried-and-true tested approach in the Agile PM world and shows that sometimes simple really is best.