What is Kanban and How Can it Benefit Your Business?

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.


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.

Kanban PrinciplesDescription

VisualizationMake all aspects of the project visible to all team members. Lack of visibility can slow down processes and hinder the system’s purpose.

Limiting Work in ProgressRestrict the number of tasks or work items in each stage of the workflow to prevent bottlenecks and maintain smooth progress.

Flow ManagementContinuously monitor and report the status of each stage in the workflow to ensure work items move smoothly and efficiently.

Making Policies ExplicitEnsure that everyone involved in the process has a clear understanding of the rules and policies, eliminating subjective interpretations that can slow things down.

Using Feedback LoopsImplement feedback loops to make adjustments based on comparisons between expected and actual outcomes. Utilize practices like standup meetings, service delivery reviews, operations reviews, and risk reviews for feedback.

Collaborative or Experimental EvolutionEmbrace a culture of continuous improvement, seeking small incremental enhancements that benefit the entire organization. Kanban’s clear process identification and documentation help track and understand inefficiencies.

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.

Benefits of Implementing Kanban

Kanban, a visual project management system rooted in lean principles, offers a range of benefits that can streamline workflows, enhance productivity, and improve overall project outcomes. Here’s a closer look at why implementing Kanban can be advantageous:

Enhanced Efficiency: Kanban provides real-time visibility into the status of tasks and projects. This transparency allows teams to identify bottlenecks and allocate resources more effectively.
Reduced Waste: By limiting work in progress and optimizing workflow, Kanban reduces wasted time and resources, ultimately leading to cost savings.
Improved Communication: Kanban boards make it easy for team members to see what their colleagues are working on. This transparency fosters better communication and collaboration.
Quick Problem Resolution: When issues arise, Kanban makes it easier to pinpoint the root causes and address them promptly. This proactive approach minimizes disruptions and project delays.
Quality Improvement: Kanban’s focus on process optimization helps improve the quality of work output. By visualizing each stage of a task or project, teams can identify and address quality issues early in the process.
Flexibility and Scalability: Kanban’s simplicity allows for easy adaptation to various projects and organizational structures. It can be scaled up or down as needed, making it suitable for both small businesses and large enterprises.
Continuous Improvement: Kanban encourages a culture of continuous improvement. Teams can regularly review processes and make incremental changes to enhance efficiency and productivity.
Digital Integration: Kanban can be seamlessly integrated with digital tools and platforms, offering added convenience and accessibility for remote or distributed teams.
User-Friendly: Kanban’s visual approach is user-friendly and easy to understand, making it accessible to team members with varying levels of technical expertise.
Wide Tool Selection: Numerous digital project management tools, such as Trello, Asana, Jira, and Zenkit, offer Kanban-based systems, providing flexibility in choosing the right tool for your specific needs.
Cost-Effective: Kanban can help organizations achieve their goals more efficiently, potentially reducing project costs and improving ROI.

Benefits of Implementing KanbanDescription

Enhanced EfficiencyKanban offers real-time visibility into task and project status, facilitating resource allocation.

Reduced WasteLimiting work in progress and optimizing workflow minimizes wasted time and resources, reducing costs.

Improved CommunicationKanban boards enhance team communication and collaboration by making everyone’s work visible.

Quick Problem ResolutionKanban helps identify and address issues promptly, reducing disruptions and project delays.

Quality ImprovementProcess optimization in Kanban enhances work quality by addressing quality issues early in the process.

Flexibility and ScalabilityKanban’s adaptability makes it suitable for various projects and organizations, scalable as needed.

Continuous ImprovementKanban fosters a culture of ongoing improvement, allowing teams to make incremental enhancements.

Digital IntegrationKanban seamlessly integrates with digital tools, enhancing accessibility and convenience for remote teams.

User-FriendlyKanban’s visual approach is easy to understand, making it accessible to team members with varying expertise.

Wide Tool SelectionVarious digital project management tools offer Kanban-based systems, providing flexibility in tool choice.

Cost-EffectiveKanban can improve efficiency, potentially reducing project costs and yielding a better return on investment.

Implementing Kanban can lead to a more streamlined, responsive, and effective project management process, benefiting businesses of all sizes and industries. Whether you opt for physical Kanban boards or digital solutions, the principles of Kanban can help you achieve better project outcomes and optimize your workflow.


Kanban represents a powerful paradigm shift in project management, offering a versatile and effective approach for organizations of all sizes and industries. Its historical roots in Toyota’s manufacturing processes have grown into a robust framework that embraces transparency, efficiency, and continuous improvement.

By visualizing work, limiting work in progress, managing workflow, making policies explicit, utilizing feedback loops, and fostering collaborative evolution, Kanban empowers teams to achieve higher levels of productivity, streamline processes, and deliver higher-quality results.

The benefits of Kanban are substantial, from enhanced efficiency and reduced waste to improved communication and quick problem resolution. Its flexibility, scalability, and user-friendly nature make it adaptable to a wide range of projects and accessible to teams with varying levels of technical expertise.

Moreover, Kanban’s digital integration and compatibility with a multitude of project management tools provide organizations with the flexibility to choose the right solution for their unique needs. This cost-effective approach can lead to better project outcomes and a higher return on investment.

As we continue to navigate the complexities of the digital age, Kanban remains a beacon of clarity and efficiency, offering a proven path to streamline workflows, foster collaboration, and drive continuous improvement. Whether you’re a small business, a global enterprise, or anything in between, Kanban is a tool worth considering to simplify your project management processes and achieve your goals. The possibilities it unlocks are limited only by your imagination and determination.

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

Image: Trello

This article, “What is Kanban and How Can it Benefit Your Business?” was first published on Small Business Trends