What is Kanban?



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Kanban is a tool for optimising the flow of value through a process that uses a visual, work in-progress limited pull system.

Kanban is most often used with Scrum or Lean.


There are a number of interpretations of how Kanban is defined and used. It was originally developed by Taiichi Ohno, an engineer at Toyota, to improve manufacturing efficiency and monitor inventory levels to remove waste.

In 2004, David Anderson published the book “Agile Management for Software Engineering: Applying the Theory of Constraints for Business Results”, which covered concepts such as flow, bottleneck, visual control and cumulative flow diagram, all of which he later incorporated into the Kanban method in 2010.

In 2007, Daniel Vacanti helped to develop the Kanban Method for knowledge work and managed the world’s first project implementation of Kanban. Together with Yuval Yeret, he developed the Professional Scrum with Kanban course.

Kanban Myths

Just visualising work?

While Kanban requires teams to visualise their work, visualisation alone isn’t Kanban.

Scrum vs Kanban

Scrum is a framework for agile product development whereas Kanban is a tool. They are both complementary. Most advanced agile teams use both. 

Kanban Teams

Kanban is often chosen by teams who feel Scrum isn’t suited to their work. As Kanban is a tool, however, there is no such thing as a “Kanban Team”. Many teams who don’t wish to change the way they work opt to simply visualise their work and call it “Kanban”. Kanban, however, is much more than just visualising work.

Kanban is used by teams to optimise the flow of their work. Teams, therefore, need another framework such as Scrum or Lean, to assist with work structure that Kanban can then be applied to.

What is Kanban?

Limit work in-progress

  • Manage work items from the time they’re an idea through to the time they’re finished and in the hands of customers. 
  • Don’t overload the system of work.
  • Actively reduce context switching.
  • Leave some capacity to jump on unexpected work.

Visualise your team’s workflow

  • Visualise all the work the team is doing.
  • Don’t visualise each of the team’s projects – you won’t get a good picture of the volume of work the team is trying to do, or the impact of context switching.
  • It’s easier to manage work when you can see all of it in one place.

Actively manage work item age

  • Respond quickly to blocked items.
  • Pull work at the same rate as it gets to Done.
  • Ensure work items aren’t left to age unnecessarily.

Inspect and adapt the definition of workflow

  • Document the team’s rules for how it progresses work from one step to another. The Definition of Done is an example of a set of rules for allowing work to pass from in-progress to Done.
  • Make the rules for the workflow transparent to all team members.
  • When work “goes backwards”, this is an example of rework and waste. Refine the workflow rules so it doesn’t happen again.

Metrics – Measure the flow of work 

The four basic metrics of flow that teams using Kanban need to track are:

  • Work in Progress (WIP): The number of work items started but not finished. The team can use the WIP metric to provide transparency about their progress towards reducing their WIP and improving their flow. Note that there is a difference between the WIP metric and the policies a Scrum Team uses to limit WIP.
  • Cycle Time: The amount of elapsed time between when a work item starts and when a work item finishes.
  • Work Item Age: The amount of time between when a work item started and the current time. This applies only to items that are still in progress.
  • Throughput: The number of work items finished per unit of time.


Kanban is a strategy for optimising flow. The practices in the Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams help enhance and complement the Scrum framework and its implementation.


  1. Vancanti, D. and Yeret, Y. (2021) The Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams. Scrum.org
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