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How to Use a Kanban Board

03-Oct-2017 12:58:41 Kanban How-To
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Out of the various Agile frameworks and methods out there, today’s blog post focuses on Kanban. More specifically, on how to use one of the most popular techniques for the visual management of your workflow: the Kanban Board.

What is Kanban?

Let us start with what Kanban is not:

  • Kanban is not a project management methodology.
  • Kanban is not a product development lifecycle process.

So, what is Kanban?

Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, developed Kanban to improve manufacturing efficiency. Kanban is an approach for incrementally improving 
delivery of value by visualising the existing process and evolving it until it is ‘fit for purpose’. In Japanese the word Kan means visual, and ban means card.

What is the Kanban Method?

The Kanban Method, developed by David J. Anderson, applies Taiichi Ohno’s work to IT & Software Development. In 2010, Anderson published “Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business”, defining the Kanban Method.

The Kanban method consists of four foundational principles and six core practices. The aim is to manage and improve the flow of work.

The Foundational Principles of the Kanban Method are:

  1. Start with what you are doing now.
  2. Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change.
  3. Initially, respect current roles, responsibilities and job titles.
  4. Encourage acts of leadership at all levels.

The Core Practices of the Kanban Method are:

  1. Visualise the flow of work.
  2. Limit WIP (Work in Progress).
  3. Manage Flow.
  4. Make Process Policies Explicit.
  5. Implement Feedback Loops.
  6. Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally (using the scientific method).

What are the benefits of Kanban?

Kanban brings several benefits to your teams. Some of the areas where it helps you are:

  • It provides visibility.
  • It reduces overburdening, interruption, context switching and multitasking.
  • It improves communication by defining and agreeing commitment points.
  • Aims for shorter lead times.
  • Facilitates predictability.
  • Encourages better quality.

What is a Kanban Board?


A Kanban board is employed by any team that uses Kanban for visual management of their work and improving their delivery of products and services in terms of predictability, quality and time-to-market performance.

Most teams have a physical board or wall, consisting of multiple columns displaying where a task is within the process. A simple example of this would be To Do, Doing, Done.

Each card on the board depicts a task the team is working on. The card sometimes displays icons, initials or colours to indicate which member of the team is working on the card.

Often, teams may decide to also use an electronic Kanban board such as Trello. It works the same way as a physical board, however, it is ideal for dispersed teams working in a number of different locations.

Sometimes, teams will say they are using a Kanban board, and they might be. But are they really using a Kanban board?

Yes, visualising your flow on a Kanban board is the first core practice in the Kanban method.  However, you can not truly get flow to work if you do not use the second core practice - limiting your work in progress (WIP).

So look out for that. If a team says they are using Kanban, but they have not limited WIP, then chances are they are not using Kanban.


Kanban magnet mockup.pngGetting started with the Radtac Kanban Magnet

You can get started using Kanban by using our handy magnets. To begin, position a white board in an ideal location in your office, where your entire team can see it and gather around it.

Decide on your column titles - these will be the stages in your process

    • They could be the simple three columns To Do, Doing & Done.
    • Or, for those of you more adventurous / using multi-stage processes, title the columns to reflect each of your stages. For example Design, Build, Test

An important aspect of the Kanban Method is that the number of items in progress is limited. This results in no new item being started until existing items are completed. The decision to multi-task is that of the team or individual. If you decide not to multitask, then the WIP limit will be equal to the number of people in your team. If you decide to multitask, the WIP limit will be several items higher than the total of number of people in your team. Once you have calculated your WIP limit, write this on the WIP magnet piece, within the box

Under each WIP limit, within each column you should place an In progress and Done magnet.

    • For those of you using a simple board you won’t require this step! Just use To Do, Doing and Done.
    • For those of you using a multi-stage process board - under each column, for example Design, Build, Test, you will place an In progress and Done magnet.   

Cards are placed in each column to show items of work (remembering that work in progress should be kept to the WIP limits for each of the columns). The team members are responsible for selecting the items that are worked on, so cards placed should not be assigned to anyone, the team will pull the items into the process dependent on what they want to work on.

You should also ensure that a process is developed to prioritise and plan the team's work. You may decide to have a planning meeting or daily stand-up to ensure the team discusses and decides on the most important or valuable items to work on. This is essential if your team has a large backlog or important project date you are working towards.

Don’t forget: your Kanban Board will evolve with you. Starting off simple will allow you to begin visualising your work and may help you identify the multi-step process you want your items to pass through during your process. Don’t forget the basics in limiting your WIP and allowing the team to control the pull principle - and you will  see the benefits of the Kanban Method.  

Good luck in creating your Kanban Boards and we’d love for you to send us a picture of your magnets in action!


If you want to find out more about Kanban, check out one of our courses.


Jo Sharp

Jo Sharp

With a determination to succeed and great enthusiasm, Jo’s dynamic approach fits perfectly with her role as Training Manager in our busy Training Team. Jo joined the Team in 2013 when she began her own Agile journey learning, understanding and applying Agile principles and practises developing and adopting the company's Agile mindset. If you're new to Agile or considering undertaking additional training Jo would be happy to share her own experiences and support you in your Agile transformation. Read more