Kanban is a method for managing knowledge work with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery while not overloading the team members. In this approach, the process, from definition of a task to its delivery to the customer, is displayed for participants to see. Team members pull work from a queue.
The name 'Kanban' originates from Japanese[看板], and translates roughly as "signboard" or "billboard". It was formulated by David J. Anderson as an approach to incremental, evolutionary process and systems change for organizations. It uses a work-in-progress limited pull system as the core mechanism to expose system operation (or process) problems and stimulate collaboration to continuously improve the system. Visualisation is an important aspect of Kanban as it allows understanding of the work and the workflow.
Kanban is rooted in four basic principles:
Start with existing process
The Kanban method does not prescribe a specific set of roles or process steps. The Kanban method starts with existing roles and processes and stimulates continuous, incremental and evolutionary changes to the system. The Kanban method is a change management method.
Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change
The organization (or team) must agree that continuous, incremental and evolutionary change is the way to make system improvements and make them stick. Sweeping changes may seem more effective but have a higher failure rate due to resistance and fear in the organization. The Kanban method encourages continuous small incremental and evolutionary changes to your current system.
Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities and titles
It is likely that the organization currently has some elements that work acceptably and are worth preserving. The Kanban method seeks to drive out fear in order to facilitate future change. It attempts to eliminate initial fears by agreeing to respect current roles, responsibilities and job titles with the goal of gaining broader support.
Leadership at all levels
Acts of leadership at all levels in the organization, from individual contributors to senior management, are encouraged.
While developed for software development and software teams, the Kanban method (as distinct from Kanban) has been applied in other areas of knowledge work. As a visualization and control mechanism, any repeatable and consistent workflow can be tracked, regardless of complexity or subject area. Business functions that have applied Kanban include: