What is a Kanban Board? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Kanban Defined
  • 0:32 Inspirations
  • 1:23 Principles of Kanban
  • 2:41 The Kanban Board
  • 3:54 Progress of Work Items
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Meyer

Stephen has worked as a Project Manager and is PMP certified, as well as certified by the Scrum Alliance.

One of the most significant aspects of Kanban is the visual display of project work. This is centered on the use of a Kanban board. In this lesson, learn the definition and understand examples of a Kanban board.

Kanban Defined

The development team at Dan's software company is extremely productive. However, they would be more productive without the disruption that comes when moving between project phases. They have decided to use Kanban, an agile development method that focuses on the continuous flow of work. As they make their transition, Dan looks to help his team understand the origin of Kanban and the principles behind it, as well as the importance of a Kanban board to bring it all together.


The concepts of Kanban have two sources of inspiration. The first involves the just-in-time approach that grocery stores use for inventory. They focus on keeping items on the shelves and restocking them only as they are purchased, since it is inefficient and costly to stockpile inventory. The concept is that actions occur as they are triggered by other actions. Specifically, the purchase action triggers the action of restocking, which triggers additional inventory being purchased.

The second inspiration is the way Toyota managed their factories based on the just-in-time method. Their goal was for actions to occur only in response to the applicable triggering actions. The contribution to software development involves the way that these actions were relayed. A kanban, which is Japanese for card, was passed between teams as a signal for new actions.

Principles of Kanban

The principles of Kanban are based on the concepts of just-in-time inventory and kanban cards. These principles include a visual display, a continuous flow, and limits that ensure efficiency. They form the basis of Kanban and are integral to a Kanban board.

The first principle of Kanban involves a visual display. This is directly derived from Toyota's use of cards in its factories. From project work to various states of progress, Kanban is a visual methodology. The purpose is to keep everyone on the same page and focused by making everything visual.

Another principle of Kanban is maintaining a continuous flow. This comes from the just-in-time approach to inventory based on completed actions triggering other actions. In contrast, most other methodologies think of processes as sequences with set start and endpoints.

The last principle involves using limits to ensure efficiency. Specifically, Kanban uses a work in process (WIP) limit, which limits the number of items allowed at each point of progress. Items are not allowed to advance if too many are at the next progress point. The goal is to prevent items from piling up at any point. This is another element of the continuous flow.

The Kanban Board

Once Dan and his team have an understanding of Kanban, they look to implement it by using a Kanban board, which provides a visual display of the project work and the various points of progress leading to completion. The Kanban board is the main component of Kanban because it enables the various principles to be accomplished.

The design of the Kanban board focuses on the primary concerns of the project, the project work and its status. These two elements are relevant to everyone involved in a project, from stakeholders to development team members. The project work and its status are also the main identifiers of project success.

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