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Last modified date

Mar 5, 2024

What is Kanban? Definition, principles, and examples

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Alexandra Martin

Blog average read time

10 min

Last modified date

March 5, 2024

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a management method or approach for operational teams focused on continuous delivery with changing priorities. It offers an overview of activities and tasks moving through different stages from initiation to completion

Brief history of Kanban

Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, developed the Kanban in the 1940s as a scheduling system for the manufacturing sector. He inspired himself by the self-stocking techniques used by supermarkets, where consumption was based on customer demand. Hence, the pull character of the system.

The system was first used at Toyota factories to balance material supplies with actual production. Factory workers would communicate the inventory levels of specific materials through a card called “Kanban” (which means “signboard” in Japanese). Every card would be carried all the way to the warehouse, indicating the requirements for the demanded material.

Later, David J. Anderson pioneered the Kanban method in software development in 2010 as a tool for agile teams. Since then, Kanban has been a key component of project management software.

What is a Kanban board?

A Kanban board is a physical or digital board used to implement the Kanban method to manage work at an organizational or personal level.

Is Kanban a method, methodology, or framework?

Oftentimes, Kanban is mistakenly called a “methodology” or “framework.”

Kanban is a management method, not a methodology or framework. It’s applied to existing processes to improve work management and service delivery, complementing existing methodologies or frameworks.

Check this article to learn more about the differences between project management methods, methodologies, or frameworks.

How does Kanban work?

Kanban is a very easy-to-use method with few rules and can be broken down into five components: work item, columns (workflow), WIP limits, starting point, and delivery point.

  • A work item can be a task or an activity, and it’s represented by a card.
  • The columns (or the workflow) represent a work item’s stages from initiation to completion.
  • The WIP (Work In Progress) limit is the maximum number of cards simultaneously on the same column, meaning that no new work item can be moved here until an existing item moves to the next stage.
  • The starting point (or commitment point) is when you start working on a task, while the delivery point represents when the work on that task is finished.

After a task is created, it will go through a predefined workflow until the work is completed.

Both physical and digital Kanban boards can be found in Kanban software or project management software. While a physical Kanban can be suited for more straightforward projects, a digital Kanban board is easier to set up and share with others and is much better suited for more complex projects.

Principles and benefits of Kanban

The Kanban Method offers transparency, allowing prompt resolution, ensuring smooth workflow progression by identifying blockers, encouraging team communication and accountability, and reducing multitasking by setting WIP limits. Ultimately, the purpose is to maximize Kanban flow, leading to higher efficiency and increased work productivity.

Physical vs. digital Kanban

While a physical Kanban board – usually a whiteboard filled with sticky notes – is more visible, fun, and interactive, a digital Kanban board is far superior in usability, customization, and efficiency. A digital card can carry more information, allowing you to change elements easily. For example, if you want to reassign a task to a different person, you just change a label, while in the case of a physical card, you need to erase the name first and then write the name of the new assignee. Also, you don’t have to worry that the cards will drop from the board.

Kanban board examples

While Kanban is more prevalent in certain industries, it can be used in almost any domain or knowledge work setting where work arrives unpredictably or when you want to deploy work as soon as it is ready.

  1. Define the workflow
  2. Decide if you’ll use a physical or digital Kanban board
  3. Set the WIP limits
  4. Create a list of work items/tasks
  5. Assign tasks

The first thing you need to do when implementing the Kanban method is defining the workflow. It can be something as simple as:

TO DO > IN PROGRESS > COMPLETE (personal Kanban)

Or more complex:


In each column, you then define the WIP limits. After creating the list of work items or tasks and adding any additional info (like due date, budget hours, files, etc.), you assign them to team members, and the work can start!

Below are some Kanban boards that individuals and teams can use according to their purpose and industry.

For the following Kanban board examples, I used Paymo’s Kanban. You can create a free account here if you want to follow along.

Have you ever thought of Kanban as an HR solution?

During the hiring process, Kanban can serve as a technique for organizing your candidates’ status, documents, and interviews.

In my Kanban example, I’ve divided the board using the following workflow:

I assigned a recruiter to each person who was being interviewed. Candidates who pass the interview are later contacted, while those who fail it are placed in the Rejected column. However, this doesn’t mean they’ll be deleted from the system. You can always go back and contact these people for future job openings.

Attach resumes and comment on the candidate’s performance to keep everything in one place. This is handy when you’re part of a recruiting team, and others have a say in choosing a candidate.

Kanban board for sales team example

Small and medium businesses can use Kanban boards to organize their customers and move them throughout the entire pipeline, from the first contact point to the final purchase and onboarding stage. This will help you visually identify bottlenecks and appoint the right SDR or Account Executive to step in. You’ll also avoid sending the same emails twice since you’ll get an overview of the whole customer journey and where each customer is in the sales funnel.

I built the following example to show you how companies move through a sales funnel from Qualification through Proposal and onto the final Closure stage. On the card, I add companies and contact details.

You can use Kanban’s workflow to create sales pipelines. Here’s the one I chose for this example:

This is a simple Kanban board for sales workflow you can make to get started.

Of course, a sales workflow can become more advanced in time, covering multiple steps, like this one:


Support team Kanban board example

You can create a board for support even if you don’t have a particular person in charge of customer support or QA.

In this Kanban board template, anyone can see the tasks that need to be solved and find a solution even if they haven’t been assigned. Kanban supports team transparency as everyone can participate in a task and bring their knowledge to solve the tickets as quickly as possible.

Any team member can add a ticket with details and attach multiple files, such as client emails or screenshots of the problem. They’ll also be able to communicate in the comments section with the person in charge of fixing the issue until the matter is solved.

Take this scenario of a support task flow through the board:

Your recruiter notices an error on your app’s interface. They create a task in the Kanban board dedicated to support, which assigns your front-end developer to fix this problem. The front-end developer receives a notification, analyses the situation, and solves the issue, moving it into the fixed-tasks column.

Likewise, any customer inquiry or complaint can be converted into a Kanban card and moved from one process stage to another until it’s solved. To distinguish between the importance of each task, you can set a predefined rule with your team to indicate the priority (for example, the order in the column – the first being the most important) or use priority labels (in Paymo, there are four: critical, high, normal, and low.)

UX design team Kanban board template

Designers and UX teams, in general, love visuals. This means they might love using Kanban boards, too. In my example, I divided the main board into design-related tasks (draft building, design reviews, user research, etc.) and administrative tasks (meeting the client, signing a contract, finding collaborators, and so on).

Depending on your project type, you can divide the typical workflow into stages such as DRAFT > WIREFRAMES > MOCKUPS > PROTOTYPES. You can move each task from its ideation phase to the final product. Test these workflows and see which one fits your organization better.

Remember, keep your UX tasks connected to your overall product development process by involving all team members in the Kanban board. Nothing is more frustrating than a developer not knowing what is going on with the product’s design.

Digital marketing team Kanban

The examples below highlights the usage of Kanban by an entire digital marketing team during preparations for a general Spring social media and website campaign. The chosen activities cover everything from article writing and publishing to social media monitoring, SEO, and reporting.

Similarly, you can use a Kanban board for a single project or one that contains all marketing-related activities. Think about your usual number of tasks and projects, and separate the boards you create according to quarter or year for better organization.

You can use Kanban in as many creative ways as possible. Marketers can even create their content calendar and mark a task as complete only after they’ve published the post:

Use this method as a content management system and plan your entire content strategy with the help of a Kanban board; assign the writer responsible for your next post, attach article drafts, and leave your feedback to suggest improvements.

Software development team Kanban

The Kanban method is more effective for software developers in smaller projects. A single board might make task management a bit too complicated if you’re working on a long-term product. You’ll have too many tasks on a single board, and essential activities will get lost.

In the Kanban board example above, the team uses a single Kanban board for an entire short-term project. Notice how their activities progress from initial client meetings to development-related tasks like updating features, designing the homepage, and QA. This is an example of what a Kaban board could be at a well-known web development agency like Orbit Media. They use Kanban boards in their workflow to streamline processes and boost productivity.

Business consultant Kanban method example

If you’re managing different types of projects, you might also want to create separate workflows. In the example below, you have a business consultancy firm using the typical Kanban workflow to handle their work and clients:

Of course, this is the most straightforward starting workflow available. You can then create separate boards for each client or project to help you better manage your workload, provide accurate client updates, monitor urgent tasks, and identify roadblocks.

Consulting firms often need to track each employee’s billable time to invoice the correct sum of money or to keep track of their project profitability. Pair your Kanban method with a time tracker and an invoicing module to create a quick and more fluid project delivery process.

If you want you and your staff to reap the benefits of time efficiency, check out this list of best time-tracking software.

Kanban for law teams

The following Kanban board example for lawyers focuses on the daily schedule of a law firm. Pay attention to how their client work is mixed with promotional and administrative duties. I chose to assign numbers for each client to keep their identities private. Customer data protection is essential for law services, so think about how to keep your clients’ details secured even when using a Kanban board.

You can also separate the boards with client-related tasks from those intended for meta-work and other activities.

Kanban for architecture teams

With the example below, an entire team can get a visual overview of all the tasks that have been completed, are being looked at, or still need attention. Notice how each task is more complex than the other and how the team deals with administrative duties such as reviewing contracts besides their typical client-related activities.

You can use Kanban boards together with people from outside your company. In this case, the team also seeks to involve external collaborators such as Mechanical or Electrical Engineers. If you need their active participation in the project, you can get them an account and assign them to a project.

The Kanban board can become the place where you gather all essential emails, requests, meeting details, and important data. Take the information from its source and place it on a Kanban board with all its details, including deadlines.

Depending on your work, you can create separate boards for each client and project or use a single board to oversee all duties. This method might make your days less stressful and help you keep client-related information stored in a single place while doing that.

Kanban for education

Kanban doesn’t have to be all about organization and rules. You can use this method even as a game to engage students in a fun way. Use colorful cards, fun text, attractive visuals, and even songs to keep them entertained. For educational purposes, teachers currently use physical boards. But, as technology evolves, we might soon see a switch of similar classroom activities to their virtual versions.

Take a look at this online Kanban board created to track student’s literature essay status:

Teachers can leave comments and even grade a student’s work. Using a cloud-based Kanban tool is also a great way to keep photos of their work and forget about paperwork securely.

Alternatively, you can use Kanban to organize parent meetings or for lesson planning, research projects, rewards, group rotations, brainstorming sessions, as classroom job charts, to showcase fun facts and ideas, and in many more creative ways.

Time-driven Kanban

Try a time-driven workflow if you’d rather plan your time based on the days of the week. This lets you divide your board into tasks you should complete Today, Tomorrow, This Week, This Month, and even This Year.

This type of Kanban gives you a complete view of your year. However, the risk is that it might get too cluttered if you place too many tasks on it. This is why it’s best to keep a board limited to your current month’s activities.

Personal Kanban

You can use the Kanban method for personal purposes, too. A person can make sure they don’t forget about their daily activities with a simple Kanban board.

Basic workflows are suitable for individuals or freelancers. This type of Kanban doesn’t require collaboration. However, you can do this if you want to keep a board together with your entire family so they can organize their daily chores and activities.

Even if you start using Kanban for personal matters, you never know when you might start your own business, try a new career path, and delve into project management. If this interests you, look at this guide on how to become a project manager—it’ll jumpstart your training.

How do you use these Kanban examples?

Keep in mind that each team and project has different requirements. The examples I created should only serve as a guideline, which might not work in your case.

Besides these examples, any Kanban software, tool, or solution—you name it—is highly flexible, so be sure to customize it to meet your needs, whatever stickies on the whiteboard you would set up. To make it easier to understand how a Kanban workflow is used, we made these examples using only three classic columns.

Try Kanban for a week, talk to your team, and get their feedback before moving on with Kanban as part of your daily project development. You can test different types of workflows or keep the default To Do > In progress > Complete sequence for your tasks.

Remember that your first Kanban board might not be as successful as your next one. It takes a bit of practice and testing to know exactly how to organize your work.

Simple boards are acceptable initially, but you must personalize them to see actual results. Ultimately, you’ll be able to create your workflow and find the best structure. Yet, remember always to improve your boards for more efficient work management.

If you want to take your Kanban boards to the next level, try the Meta Kanban board. These boards allow you to visualize and manage all of your company-wide workflows, tasks, and projects from a single board as they go through different project stages.

The bottom line

As you might have already noticed, Kanban is a powerful system for workflow management. Whether you want to create simple or complex structures, this method can ensure you complete all task items on time and according to standards.

Use these Kanban board examples to see how you can improve your workflow with Kanban. If your department or team is not on our list, don’t worry. You can apply Kanban in most cases, not just the ones we analyzed.

Alexandra Martin


Drawing from a background in cognitive linguistics and armed with 10+ years of content writing experience, Alexandra Martin combines her expertise with a newfound interest in productivity and project management. In her spare time, she dabbles in all things creative.

Laurențiu Bancu


Laurențiu started his marketing journey over 18 years ago and now leads a marketing team. He has extensive experience in work and project management, and content strategy. When not working, he’s probably playing board games or binge-watching mini-series.

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