Kanban (development)

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This article is about the process-management and improvement method. For the lean-manufacturing process, see Kanban.
Software development process
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Kanban is a method for managing knowledge work which balances demands for work with the available capacity for new work. Work items are visualized to give participants a view of progress and process, from task definition to customer delivery. Team members "pull" work as capacity permits, rather than work being "pushed" into the process when requested.

In software development, for example, Kanban provides a visual process-management system which aids decision-making about what, when and how much to produce. Although the method (inspired by the Toyota Production System[1] and lean manufacturing)[2] originated in software development and IT, it may be applied to any professional service whose work outcome is intangible rather than physical.


David Anderson's 2010 book, Kanban,[3] describes the method's evolution from a 2004 project at Microsoft[4] using a theory of constraints approach and incorporating a kanban pull system, to a 2006-2007 project at Corbis in which the Kanban method was identified. Don Reinertsen's work on second-generation Lean product development[5] described the adoption of the kanban system and the use of data collection and an economic model for management decision-making. Another early contribution came from Corey Ladas, whose 2009 book Scrumban[6] suggested that Kanban could improve Scrum for software development. Ladas saw Scrumban as the transition from Scrum to Kanban. Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry published Personal Kanban,[7] applying Kanban to individuals and small teams, in 2011. In Kanban from the Inside,[8] Mike Burrows explained Kanban's principles, practices and underlying values and related them to earlier theories and models. Kanban Change Leadership, by Klaus Leopold and Siegfried Kaltenecker,[9] explained the method from the perspective of change management and provided guidance to change initiatives. A condensed guide to the method was published in 2016, incorporating improvements and extensions from the early Kanban projects.[10]


Kanban is an approach to process change for organizations which uses visualization with a kanban board, allowing a better understanding of work and workflow. It advises limiting work in progress, which reduces waste from multitasking and context switching, exposes operational problems and stimulates collaboration to improve the system.[11] Kanban is rooted in two sets of principles, for change management and service delivery, which emphasize evolutionary change and customer focus. The method does not prescribe a specific set of steps, but starts from existing context and stimulates continuous, incremental and evolutionary changes to the system. It aims to minimize resistance to change to facilitate it.

Kanban focuses on the customer and work which meets their needs, rather than individuals' activities. Kanban has six general practices: visualization, limiting work in progress, flow management, making policies explicit, using feedback loops, and collaborative or experimental evolution. They involve seeing the work and its process and improving the process, keeping and amplifying useful changes and learning from, reversing and dampening the ineffective.


Software development[edit]

The diagram below shows a kanban board for a software development workflow.[12] The boards, designed for the context in which they are used, vary considerably and may show work item types ("features" and "user stories" here), columns delineating workflow activities, explicit policies, and swimlanes (rows crossing several columns, used for grouping user stories by feature here). The aim is to make the general workflow and the progress of individual items clear to participants and stakeholders.

Sample Kanban Board.png

Other uses[edit]

Although it was developed for software development and software teams, the Kanban method has been applied to other aspects of knowledge work.[13] As a visualization and control mechanism, any repeatable and consistent workflow can be tracked regardless of complexity or subject area. Business functions which have used Kanban include:

  • Human resources[14] and recruitment[15]
  • Marketing
  • Organizational strategy and executive leadership[16]
  • Auditing
  • Contracts-to-project execution process
  • Accounts receivable and payable

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taiichi Ohno (1988). Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production. ISBN 978-0915299140. 
  2. ^ James P. Womack (2007). The Machine That Changed the World. ISBN 978-1847370556. 
  3. ^ Anderson, David J. (April 2010). Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business. Blue Hole Press. ISBN 0-9845214-0-2. 
  4. ^ Anderson, David J. and Dragos Dumitriu. "From Worst to Best in 9 Months: Implementing a Drum-Buffer-Rope Solution at Microsoft’s IT Department". TOC ICO World Conference November 2005. USA: Microsoft Corporation, 2005.
  5. ^ Reinertsen, Donald (May 2009). The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development. Celeritas Publishing. ISBN 978-1935401001. 
  6. ^ Ladas, Corey (January 2009). Scrumban: Essays on Kanban Systems for Lean Software Development. Modus Cooperandi Press. ISBN 978-0578002149. 
  7. ^ Benson, Jim; DeMaria Barry, Tonianne (January 2011). Personal Kanban: Mapping Work, Navigating Life. Modus Cooperandi Press. ISBN 978-1453802267. 
  8. ^ Burrows, Mike (2014). Kanban From The Inside. Seattle, WA: Blue Hole Press. ISBN 978-0-9853051-9-2. 
  9. ^ Leopold, Klaus; Siegfried, Kaltenecker (2015). Kanban Change Leadership. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-119-01970-1. 
  10. ^ Anderson, David J.; Carmichael, Andy (2016). Essential Kanban Condensed. Seattle, WA: Lean Kanban University Press. ISBN 978-0-9845214-2-5. 
  11. ^ Scotland, Karl. "Aspects of Kanban". Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  12. ^ Jasper Boeg (February 2012). "Priming Kanban". InfoQ. Retrieved 2014-02-17. 
  13. ^ Leybourn, E. (2013). Directing the Agile Organisation: A Lean Approach to Business Management. London: IT Governance Publishing: 160–66.
  14. ^ "Kanban for Short Intense Projects: How We Used Kanban to Visualize Our Hiring Process Workflow and Make Our Lives Easier". Personal Kanban. 2011-01-19. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  15. ^ "Kanban and Recruitment". The Social Tester. 2014-08-06. Retrieved 2015-06-08. 
  16. ^ "New Zealand Post Group - An Agile Executive!". Agile Business Management Consortium. 2013-12-02. Retrieved 2015-06-08. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business, David J. Anderson. (United States: Blue Hole Press, 2010). ISBN 0-9845214-0-2.
  • Essential Kanban Condensed, David J. Anderson and Andy Carmichael. (United States: Lean Kanban University Press, 2016). ISBN 978-0-9845214-2-5.
  • Personal Kanban; Mapping Work, Navigating Life, Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry. (Seattle, WA: Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011). ISBN 978-1453802267.
  • Agile Project Management with Kanban (Developer Best Practices), Eric Brechner. (United States: Microsoft Press, 2015). ISBN 978-0735698956.
  • Kanban from the Inside, Mike Burrows. (United States: Blue Hole Press, 2014). ISBN 978-0-9853051-9-2.
  • Kanban in Action, Marcus Hammarberg and Joakim Sunden. (Shelter Island, NY: Manning Publications, 2014). ISBN 978-1-617291-05-0.
  • Lean from the Trenches: Managing Large-Scale Projects with Kanban, Henrik Kniberg. (Dallas, TX: The Pragmatic Programmers, 2012). ISBN 978-1-93435-685-2.
  • Kanban Change Leadership: Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement, Klaus Leopold and Siegfried Kaltenecker. (United States: John Wiley & Sons, 2015). ISBN 978-1-119-01970-1.
  • Stop Starting, Start Finishing! Arne Roock and Claudia Leschik. (USA: Lean-Kanban University, 2012). ISBN 978-0985305161.
  • Real-World Kanban: Do Less, Accomplish More with Lean Thinking, Mattias Skarin. (United States: Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2015). ISBN 978-1680500776.

External links[edit]