What Is a Kanban Board? Definition & Examples


A kanban board is a visual workflow tool, where kanban cards represent tasks in a project or production cycle. Columns on the kanban board represent where that task is in the process. It helps production move more efficiently through all its phases by making sure that there is always just enough resources on hand.

In lean manufacturing, kanban helps save inventory space and overcapacity. Kanban strives for efficiency and is always looking for ways to eliminate waste from processes.

History of Kanban

Meaning billboard in Japanese, kanban was codified at the Toyota automotive company in the late 1940s. The concept, however, dates back a bit earlier to WWII. English factories that were manufacturing fighter planes called Spitfires used something called the “two bin system,” which was a precursor to kanban.

But it was Toyota that founded kanban as we know it. To do so, they studied supermarkets. They noticed that supplies matched demand, but didn’t exceed it. These stock techniques were applied to the factory floor, where workers required certain parts at specific times in production.

The idea of taking what you need only at the time you need it, no more and no less, was revolutionary for Toyota. Kanban as a process was used to keep inventory levels balanced with the consumption of that inventory. A signal would alert suppliers that more stock was needed.

Evolution of the Kanban Board

Since that time, kanban has matured and abstracted into a board and cards that represent workflow. This helps to increase efficiencies by highlighting points in the production cycle where waste can be eliminated. This has led to kanban being applied outside of the manufacturing of automobiles and into just about any industry you can think of that has a production cycle.

Kanban was embraced by software developers who used an agile approach to their projects, as it aligns with Scrum in many ways. Once the process was digitized, its use became even more widespread and now can be found in more progressive project management software.

Related: Best Kanban Board Software of 2020

Kanban Board Example

The kanban board is the project or production writ large. The board is then broken down into a series of columns, which indicate the process. At its simplest, those columns would be To Do, Work-in-Progress and Done. But they can be customized to speak to whatever the production cycle requires. There can be as many columns as you need, but for a practical understanding three will suffice.

Under the column on the kanban board is something called a card. The card is really just the task that is being done. The card describes that task and is usually assigned to a specific team member or members who are responsible for executing and completing it. This is the key component of the kanban process. These cards move from column to column as they complete another phase in the production cycle and move through the kanban workflow.

kanban board example

In the manufacturing space, you can also look at the kanban card as a message. As it moves, it indicates that there has been a depletion of a product, part or other inventory item. This in turn triggers replacing that item to keep consumption aligned with demand. This is how kanban works to keep only what is needed and not over or under stock for the project.

Related: Kanban Inventory Management: How to Run a Kanban System

Lean manufacturing likes kanban for this reason, in that the methodology believes that demand-driven systems like kanban create faster turnarounds in production and keeps inventory at the lowest level that is needed for demand. This leads to more competitive companies who can thrive in the marketplace.

Kanban Board Software

Kanban software has been adopted by software tools and, as noted, used by teams who implement lean and agile principles in their projects. But kanban is a flexible and visual workflow feature that is finding favor beyond tech-heavy projects.

Because it is visual, the kanban process is very comfortable for people who respond and learn best in a visual environment. But as a part of a larger project management program, kanban board software has become an integrated and complementary tool.

Kanban Boards in ProjectManager.com

ProjectManager.com has a kanban board that takes the rudimentary physical kanban method and supersizes it. While other software programs might have similar tools, few have the robust and dynamic platform that ProjectManager.com offers to serve all your project needs.

Each card can be assigned to one or more team members, who then can use that card to communicate through a comments window. When a comment is added, the assigned team members are notified by email and if they want to alert someone who isn’t assigned, they can simply @ them in the comments and they’ll get an email notification. This facilitates collaboration and keeps everyone on the same page.

kanban board software and task management
ProjectManager.com has kanban boards for task management—Try it free!

Furthermore, any supporting documents and images can be attached to the card. This keeps not only conversation about the task but all the various document about the subject collected in one, easy-to-find place. This makes the kanban process, one with the mandate of increased efficiencies, and makes it even more efficient.

ProjectManager.com also gives you the flexibility to adapt the kanban board to reflect your work. If the three-column template is too simple, add as many columns as necessary. If team members want to set up their own individual kanban board to track their tasks, they can do that.

Watch the video below to see our kanban boards in action:


Multiple Views for the Same Project

With ProjectManager.com, kanban boards are just one tool in a larger toolbox. Once a task list is uploaded into ProjectManager.com it creates a project that can now be viewed through many lenses. Project managers might prefer the online Gantt chart view, but team members can visualize that workflow at a glance on the kanban board view.

Teams have the option of also looking at the online Gantt chart, but can also see their individual tasks laid out in a task list on calendar view. However, the kanban board is more that simply a bird’s-eye view of the project. It is a collaborative platform that makes teams work together for greater efficiency.

gantt chart, kanban board and task lists in kanban software
ProjectManager.com lets you work in three different views: Gantt, kanban and task list

Because ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software, all the status updates are immediately represented in the software. There is no delay. Changes show up instantly, and updates can be done anywhere and at any time, which is a boon for remote or distributed teams. Now, teams can collaborate in different time zones, in real-time.

ProjectManager.com is more than just a kanban tool. It is a suite of powerful project management features that work together and seamlessly integrate with other software to give project managers and teams greater control over their projects. From planning, monitoring and reporting, no matter what stage of the project you’re in, ProjectManager.com has your back. See what it can do for you by taking this free 30-day trial.

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