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The Ultimate Guide to Kanban

The Ultimate Guide to Kanban

6 minutes

January 24, 2023

Today, almost every organization and team uses some kind of digital workflow to organize their work. The demand for practical ways to manage digital work has led to the emergence of many new tools that aim to streamline processes while also making them more visible.

Among these tools is a collaborative workflow management system called Kanban. Kanban is a process management approach that focuses on visualizing work, limiting WIP (work in progress), and identifying and addressing bottlenecks to improve workflow. In this article, we will review the main principles of Kanban and how it can be used in your organization or team.

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a methodology used to visualize and manage workflow. It was originally invented to visualize Toyota’s production line. This approach encourages using a visual system that makes work visible, limits WIP (work in progress), and identifies and addresses bottlenecks to improve workflow. Kanban is a Japanese word that translates to “signboard” or “billboard.”

The Kanban approach is often considered a form of hybrid workflow management (WFM) that incorporates elements from Lean, Six Sigma, and other systems and methodologies. Kanban is often used in conjunction with other systems and process improvements, including Agile and DevOps.

Kanban core principles

Visualize workflow - Visualizing workflow is essential to Kanban. In Kanban, you will see that work is visualized as cards, which move from left to right as it progresses through a workflow. This allows teams to see what is in progress, what’s been completed, and what is yet to be done. Integrated tool - Kanban is integrated into a digital tool, which means that its functionality is built into the application.

The tool is usually web-based, so you can access it wherever you are. You can also collaborate with other users through the tool. Integrated board - The Kanban board is also integrated into the Kanban tool. Since Kanban is designed to be an integrated workflow management system, in many cases, the board is a core part of the workflow.

This allows team members to move work items around the Kanban board at any time. Work in progress (WIP) - One of the core principles of Kanban is that it focuses on keeping WIP low. The recommended WIP for any Kanban workflow is one, but most Kanban systems allow less than one. This means that you should have only one work item in progress at a time.

Kanban Best Practices

Visualization - Visualization is a key element of Kanban. Visualizing your workflow through a Kanban board is a great way to see where your bottlenecks are and where you could optimize your work. Limiting WIP - Limiting WIP is another important principle of Kanban. This means having no more than one item in progress at a time.

It is important to stick to this rule because it helps avoid creating bottlenecks and overall workflow stalling. Standardized work - Standardized work is a key to success with Kanban. It means that work items have consistent descriptions, that work quantities are well-defined, and that time estimates are accurate. This helps you visualize work from beginning to end and helps avoid work being put into the wrong columns on your board.

Kanban for digital teams

Traditional Kanban has been focused on visualizing workflows in manufacturing and other process-driven industries. But Kanban can also be applied to digital projects, such as software development. This approach is often referred to as digital Kanban and has some specific characteristics that distinguish it from traditional Kanban.

You can use digital Kanban for software development, product design, content marketing, and other projects where there is an emphasis on continuous improvement. Digital Kanban has several core principles and best practices that are different from traditional Kanban. These principles and best practices are created to work well with digital work.


Kanban is a visual approach to workflow management that has been used by many organizations and teams to improve how they plan, prioritize, and execute their work. It is the practice of limiting work in progress, visualizing the progress of that work on a board, and improving your process by addressing bottlenecks.

Kanban is a great approach to apply to your work to help you focus, prioritize, and stay ahead of deadlines.

Learn more about Kanban views in SmartSuite here.