Kanban, which means billboard or signboard in Japanese, is a work management system developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota. Kanban is executed with a board and a collection of cards that move across a series of columns, which indicate progress and state.
While kanban boards can be literal boards with cards on them, the tool has migrated to the digital realm where kanban software’s usefulness has grown exponentially in a range of industries. The project management world took note, and a number of kanban software tools were born.
But first, to place the tool in context, let’s explore kanban boards, what they are and how kanban software takes the tool to the next level.
Kanban in Practice
Kanban is a way to manage workflow. It helps to define, manage and improve how work is delivered. By visualizing the workflow, efficiencies are discovered and improvements can be made continuously throughout the production process.
The effectiveness of kanban boards is baked into its process: the ability to constantly be looking at how to improve the workflow. Kanban is ultimately about productivity. It seeks to eliminate waste and bottlenecks to keep the work flowing steadily.
Benefits of Using Kanban Software
Using kanban software visualizes your workflow clearly and offers transparency in an online setting. Teams can use it to manage their work, and managers get a window into that work. Depending on how robust the kanban software is, they can use this clarity to catch issues and reallocate resources to keep them from becoming problems.
There’s also a flexibility to using kanban software that allows it to quickly respond to changes. You can keep teams focused on the task at hand while adding to their backlog, so they can move from one task to the other without any costly downtime.
Many kanban software products are part of a larger suite of features that connect the boards to things like dashboards and reporting tools. When the kanban integrates into project management software seamlessly, it improves on its inherent productivity.
So, which is the best kanban software to use? That depends on what your needs are. Some provide a bare-bones electronic version of the kanban board and cards, while others integrate kanban into their full feature set to expand its benefits. To narrow down the field, we tested several of the more interesting kanban software on the market. Here’s our ranking of the best kanban software of 2021.
2021 Best Kanban Software Rankings
ProjectManager is a cloud-based software with intuitive kanban boards and a full suite of planning, tracking and reporting features. This dynamic software brings teams together to work more productively. It organizes everything in one place and provides transparency into the project.
Robust Kanban Board View
First, the kanban is but one of multiple project views that makes ProjectManager unique. The software is flexible enough that anyone can work how they want, and all the data is instantly updated across the tool to keep everyone on the same page. The drag-and-drop functionality of this kanban software easy to use, making the board view intuitive and fun to use.
Because the ProjectManager is online, the board gets live updates. Managers have transparency into the process, which allows them to anticipate bottlenecks and use the embedded resource management tools to clear anything that might block the team. Teams have the autonomy to manage their backlog and plan together before their sprints.
Each kanban card is not only a task but a communication hub, where comments and attachments are kept in one place. Teams get email alerts and in-app notifications as comments are added or tasks updated—anywhere, any time. Set priorities and customized tags make for easy sorting.
Interactive Gantt Charts to Complement the Kanban Boards
But what really makes ProjectManager great is how its kanban tool works hand-in-glove with the rest of the software. For example, one of the other project views is a Gantt chart, which is the workhorse of project management. Managers prefer to plan their projects on Gantt charts, which can link dependencies, set milestones and provide a visual timeline of the entire project. All that data is reflected on the kanban board view, which is more suited for teams executing those tasks.
Kanban Software with Live Tracking
Another feature that syncs with the kanban tool is the real-time project dashboard. With the dashboard, managers get a high-level view of the project: It’s like an instant status report. Other lightweight kanban software make you configure the dashboard (if they have one at all), but ProjectManager’s is embedded and ready to use. Track costs, tasks, your team’s workload, time and more.
Unlike the other options on this list, ProjectManager is a full-service project management software. It has resource management tools, planning and time tracking all integrated with kanban boards. ProjectManager is diverse enough to function in a waterfall, agile or hybrid environment. See how ProjectManager can improve your project management today with this free 30-day trial.
Trello is a flexible project management software that helps teams work collaboratively as they manage tasks with boards, lists and cards. This kanban software puts all of its eggs into one basket in order to better prioritize projects.
With Trello, productivity is enhanced with automation, which removes repetition from task management. Custom cards, board buttons, calendars, due date commands and rule-based triggers all lead to smoother workflows. Trello also syncs with all your devices, which is a boon for collaboration. Boards can be private or public and are easy to customize, so users have control over how they work.
However, Trello is not great for large-scale projects. Also, if you’re looking for a tool that helps you manage task dependencies, Trello is not what you’re looking for. Surprisingly, for a tool that prides itself on collaboration, communications could be better, as it’s easy to lose track of conversations. But Trello really excels at offering a straightforward kanban experience. If that’s what you need, give it a try.
Related: 5 Best Trello Alternatives in 2021
3. Kanban Tool
Kanban Tool is another project management software that focuses solely on kanban boards for real-time collaboration, so teams and clients can work closely together by sharing tasks, comments and more. Most users have found the interface relatively intuitive and easy to use. It does offer some flexibility, and its swimlanes are nice for group-related tasks.
On top of the kanban functionality, there are helpful analytics and metrics that help teams avoid bottlenecks. A cumulative flow diagram and cycle time reports improve project performance. Plus, it allows for task tracking.
On the downside, the boards can get unmanageable if they’re holding too much data. Even if there’s not much information to manage, the search function is not great: it’s not quick nor in-depth. Kanban Tool is really a task management tool at heart, which leaves many other aspects of project management behind, such as resource management or long-term planning. But, its kanban boards are pretty dynamic and can make up for the absence of other features.
Kanbanize defines itself as an agile project management software. Like other kanban software, it’s a kanban tool that is simple and easy, so users can onboard quickly. However, one of it’s unique benefits is that it helps you see the big picture, breaking down key initiatives into multiple levels of hierarchical work items.
It has collaborative features and helps teams to assess their progress. Automated triggers help you manage dependencies and track status, which keeps projects moving. It also offers a time tracking feature that keeps tabs on the hours spent on a single task or even the entire project, which can help with team management.
Unfortunately, there is no traditional resource management feature: there is no easy way to display all the tasks that are assigned to a team member or properly prioritize their daily workload. Additionally, there have been complaints about the reporting feature not being dynamic enough, so users may have to report using external software. Therefore, smaller companies may love Kanbanize, but larger companies may need something more substantial.
MeisterTask is a tool that is customizable for various workflows. It can be used in an agile framework by scrum teams for sprints, but it also serves other industries, such as marketing and publications.
The essence of this tool is a collaborative, simple-to-use software that doesn’t sacrifice reporting features. It collects feedback, prioritizes and even has milestone tracking and product roadmapping. A great selling point is that if you’ve been using other tools, such as Trello, Asana or Wunderlist, you can directly import that work into MeisterTask.
Although it’s great at importing, it’s not so great with integrations, where your options are limited. It’s not easy to set reminders that aren’t deadlines either. However, kanban needs to be collaborative, and this software delivers on that promise. The fact that you can customize it is neat, too.
Blossom is trying to corner the market on distributed teams that work within an agile framework. For example, it was designed with stand-up meetings in mind, whether your team is in the same room or phoning in from a remote location.
Performance analytics offer insights necessary for continuous delivery. It was designed with software developers in mind, so its features tend to skew towards what those teams want. However, as a kanban software tool it has benefits for teams working in other industries. It has a very clean and simple interface and includes such features as progress tracking, performance analysis and more.
Like many similar tools, it doesn’t have a lot of other project management features, such as budget management, Gantt charts and time and expense tracking. While it could be used for more traditional methodologies, the software is more concerned with teams working with lean or agile frameworks. But if you’re heavily into agile, and compatibility with that style is solely what you’re looking for, then Blossom is a great choice.
ZenHub is a team collaboration software that uses kanban boards in tandem with plan roadmaps, task boards and the ability to create automatic reports. It has been created to work with GitHub, so it is ideal for teams that are working in that environment.
Once you define a work space, you can automate your workflow to sync pull requests with corresponding issues. It can identify what’s blocking you and help you prioritize what matters. It is a good fit for developers, who are likely already familiar with GitHub. Reporting functions help eliminate bottlenecks, and the connection to GitHub helps with burndown charts, velocity tracking and other reports.
Of course, if your team is not using GitHub a lot of the advantages of the software are not going to benefit you. It’s also limited to kanban and even so, you can’t have different boards for different teams. Everyone is working off the same board. If there is a way to do this, it’s not evident and can frustrate users. Customizing boards for, say, sprints isn’t easy. However, for teams that are tethered to GitHub this is better than enlightenment.
Now It’s Up to You: Which is the Best Kanban Software?
The top kanban tools out there have been put to the test. You’ve read what they can and cannot do. There are some that only give you a board and cards, while others sweeten the deal by adding other project management features.
Which one is right for you? Probably one that is cloud-based, in order to keep your team connected and your data up-to-date. If you’re working on almost any project, you’ll also want to have a tool that gives you the power to plan, monitor and report on your progress. Don’t subscribe to dozens of tools when one can do the job.
ProjectManager is the ultimate kanban board tool. It has everything a project manager and their team will want in kanban software and adds all the other features key to managing a successful project. ProjectManager has one-click reporting, a real-time dashboard, a collaborative platform for teams, resource management, planning, scheduling and so much more. Try our kanban tool now by taking this free 30-day trial today.