What Is Kanban Project Management?


Kanban is all the rage in project management. Kanban is a Japanese word that translates to “billboard” in English. Formed as a methodology to improve manufacturing efficiency, kanban project management has its origins in the Toyota corporation. Now, however, not only has it been widely used as a scheduling system for lean manufacturing, but it’s also used in agile projects as a way to prioritize the backlog of tasks.

In fact, kanban has grown so much in popularity, there are now countless project management tools to help people plan and prioritize tasks on boards. Usually online, kanban boards are like visual panels with virtual sticky notes which can be moved around by the user to arrange orders of tasks or to-do items.

Kanban [kahn-bahn]

Kanban, also referred to as “just-in-time” (JIT), is a popular framework used often by teams in agile software development. The process matches the amount of work-in-progress (WIP) to a team’s capacity, allowing more flexible planning options, faster output, clearer focus and transparency throughout the project’s lifecycle.

When implemented at Toyota, the company created a set of six rules for applying kanban to a manufacturing process. Today, kanban project management is used by people in all industries to plan and manage tasks in a prioritized way. For some teams, kanban is a structured process of prioritization.

Are your projects always running behind? Prioritize your tasks and move your projects forward with kanban boards by ProjectManager.com.

For other teams or individuals, they might use kanban more loosely to order tasks in interesting new ways to help the team story-board new features, ideate on products, define new categories for priorities, or arrange items by theme or color.

With kanban project management, the trend has eclipsed the original intent, now that kanban boards are online and easy enough for anyone to use. 

What is a Kanban Board?

A kanban board is a field on which kanban cards represent the individual tasks that are being progressed according to priority and delivery. Today, kanban boards are primarily online tools, either stand-alone tools like Trello or integrated into project management software as a key feature.

kanban board for kanban project management
A kanban board in ProjectManager.com—Click to learn more!


The kanban board is one way to keep track of a team’s workflow. It is especially used in agile or lean software development teams to define user stories, prioritization of tasks on the backlog, or as collaboration tools to provoke innovation. At its most basic (and most structured), the kanban board can be broken down into three sections:

  • waiting
  • work in progress
  • completed work

Of course, the complexity of the board is only limited to the scope of your project. Teams then take the kanban cards and move them across the sections on the board as they move through finishing their tasks.

Some of the main principles of the kanban board include:

  • Visualizing workflow
  • Limiting the number of tasks in progress
  • Pulling work from column to column
  • Monitoring, adapting and improving

As indicated above, however, this is only one way to use kanban. Today, kanban boards are used by teams and individuals in all sorts of ways to share ideas, manage tasks according to projects or mini-projects, manage team workflow, manage personal kanban projects, and more.

Related: Kanban vs. Scrum: Which is Better?

What Are Kanban Cards?

Think of kanban as a system of knowledge and the cards are a way of representing each of the individual work items or tasks. These tasks used to be displayed with sticky notes on a whiteboard divided into lanes to show its progress. Today’s cards, however, are online.

Each of the kanban cards collects the critical data for that task. When the card is placed on the board in a visual way to shows the task’s current status and other critical information. The cards are color-coded to indicate what type of task they are or some other distinction.

Some of the ways a kanban card helps teams is by

  • Quickly understanding task details
  • Facilitates team hand-offs
  • Documents info
  • Records attributes and metrics to help future workflow

How to Use Kanban in Project Management

Different projects require different methodologies to manage them efficiently and productively. But kanban, though more often aligned with agile and lean, is designed to work with many different types of projects.

Kanban is a great tool for planning your project and prioritizing the tasks therein. It can increase your team’s efficiency, maximize your time and allow for an easier managed project. They are great to help with resource allocation, workflow management and reducing waste.

Resource Allocation

First create the tasks and then assign them to a team members. Be sure to collaborate with your team to make certain that the right people are doing the right job. This will help prioritize the work, so it’s done without blocking any other team member and delaying the production.

The kanban cards are your tasks and the board is the steps needed to take that task from start to finish. Each time a new project task is introduced to the workflow the right resource can be easily and quickly assigned to it.

Workflow Management

Kanban is an ideal tool to visualize the workflow of any project. Your workflow is a sequential series of tasks, and the visual representation of a kanban board of this work makes it clearer to understand. By seeing how tasks relate to one another will foster team collaboration and produce more efficiencies and better productivity.

Less Waste

Reducing wasteful procedures isn’t only the purvey of lean methodologies. Any project manager is going to be concerned about reducing cost. Kanban boards help you identify where there is a likely wasteful process, whether something is not working as expected, overproducing or team members who are blocking workflow, before it becomes a problem.

You can see the cards as they stack up on one column of your board. This bottleneck can then be addressed by allocating more resources to quickly resolve it before it impacts other tasks around it. Other problems that are preventing progress in a project are also easy to see and take care of with this tool.

Project management terms are changing. Keep on top of the changing trends with our deep dives into these methods and practices, and you can find them all in our Project Management 101 category.

Kanban boards are very useful when it comes to project management, but sometimes you need a little extra firepower to get the job done. With features like online Gantt charts, dashboards and real-time collaboration tools, ProjectManager.com can provide that extra help you need on your projects. Try it today with this free 30-day trial. 

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