What is a kanban board?

What is a kanban board?

A kanban  board is a tool designed for mapping and visualizing the workflow. The board helps to visualize the work and identify bottlenecks, limit W-I-P and increase efficiency. It is one of the key components of the Kanban method.

Origin of the Kanban Board

Kanban has come a long way from its origins in the Toyota production system. Kanban which translates to “signboard” started as a visual scheduling system, part of the Toyota production system. In 2007, David Anderson formulated the Kanban method and introduced the Kanban board. The kanban board was born when David’s  colleague Darren Davis suggested that the workflow should be visualized on a whiteboard.  Since then, Kanban has been widely used in the software and service space and has become one of the most useful agile project management tools.

Components of the board

According to David Anderson, kanban boards consist of 5 major components. Kanban cards, columns, work-in-progress limits, a commitment point, and a delivery point. Let’s have a look at what each means.

  1. Kanban cards– One of the first things easily noticeable in a kanban board are the kanban cards. These cards are a visual representation of the tasks.Kanban teams write details about the tasks and descriptions onto these cards,usually one per card. In the case of agile teams, one card represents one user story. Once these cards go on board, these visual signals helps kanban teams and other stakeholders to quickly understand what the team is working on.
  2. Columns– Another significantly important component in the kanban boards are the columns. The columns represent different stages of the workflow. Each column is a representation of a specific activity and all these columns put together comprises the workflow.The kanban cards flow through the workflow until their completion.

  3. Work In Progress (WIP) Limits — WIP limits refers to the maximum number of kanban cards that can be in one column at any given time. A column whose WIP limit is four, cannot have more than four cards in it. Limiting W-I-P is crucial in identifying bottlenecks and resolving them to increase efficiency.  The limit also allows  teams to complete tasks faster by focusing only on the current tasks.

4. Commitment points– The commitment point refers to the moment when a project idea is picked up by a kanban team and the work starts on that particular project.The project ideas can be put on board by customers and teammates.
5. Delivery point– The main aim of kanban teams is to take the cards from the commitment point to delivery point as fast as possible to maximize the flow. Delivery point refers to the moment where the workflow ends and the product or service is handed over to the customer. The time taken from the commitment point to the delivery point is called the lead time and the main aim of kanban teams is to reduce this lead time.
6. Kanban swimlanes- These are horizontal lines on a kanban board that can be used to separate products, teams, personnel, activities and so on.

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