What is a Kanban?

Jim BensonPrimers19 Comments

A kanban is a tool to visualize, organize, and complete work. The first official use of kanban can be traced to Taiichi Ohno’s work at Toyota. He needed a way to quickly communicate to all workers how much work was being done, in what state it was, and how the work was being done. His goal was to make work processes transparent – meaning he wanted everyone, not just managers to know what was “really” going on.  The goal was to empower line workers to improve how Toyota worked. Everyone had a hand in making Toyota better.

Work moves across a kanban

Work moves across a kanban

In the image to the right we see two work flows with work flowing through them.  The top part of the board shows three states: Backlog, Doing, and Done.  Tasks move across this simple workflow.

In a subtle way, this is doing three main things:

  1. Showing us the work we have in progress
  2. Showing us all the work we haven’t gotten to yet
  3. Showing us how efficiently we work

That’s it! That’s all there is to a kanban physically.

For personal kanban, we take the simplicity of this system and use it to help us understand how we do what we do and how long it takes to do it. Simply having clarity around our workload is a tremendous psychological gift.

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Jim BensonWhat is a Kanban?

19 Comments on “What is a Kanban?”

  1. greta

    I’m reserving my place in line for the book.
    Just what I’ve been looking for to implement at work, and in my personal quest for FLOW.
    Blessings to you,

    1. Elester Lockhart

      A kanban is a schedule of your daily or weekly activities so that you can stay on track of things you have going on and to help you learn to visualise what time you need to do your next task to help you with time management.

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  4. Ole

    In my company we use Kanban to manage various production workflows and I really love the simplicity and effectiveness of Kanban. I don’t have much experience with a more personal approach to using Kanban for task management so I will have to look into that.

  5. Daly de Gagne

    This is the first time I have come across Kanban. I am impressed with the essential simplicity it offers.

    I can see it would be ideal for people (like me) who lose track of what they need to do if there isn’t a strong visual focus point.

    Many thanks.


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  16. Helen Dannick

    Daly, you are right – it is amazing that something can be so helpful and so simply at the same time! I apply Kanban method by Kanban Tool that allows me to manage my work in a smart and easy way. Increase of efficiency – 100%

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