Kanban Framework In A Nutshell

Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.

CompanyIndustryKanban Application
ToyotaManufacturingOriginator of Kanban; uses it for just-in-time manufacturing, optimizing processes, and inventory control.
MicrosoftTechnologyUtilizes Kanban boards for software development workflows, managing tasks, and visualizing project progress.
SpotifyMusic StreamingApplies Kanban to software development and project management, including feature development and bug fixes.
ZaraFashion RetailUses Kanban in supply chain management to optimize inventory, reduce lead times, and improve production efficiency.
SalesforceCRM SoftwareImplements Kanban for managing sales pipelines, customer relationships, and marketing workflows.
StarbucksRetailUtilizes Kanban in inventory management for coffee beans and supplies, ensuring just-in-time replenishment.
Siemens HealthineersHealthcareApplies Kanban to manage complex medical device development processes, ensuring efficient workflows and quality control.
BoeingAerospaceUses Kanban in aircraft manufacturing for parts production, assembly, and logistics, reducing waste and delays.
AtlassianSoftwareProvides Kanban tools for project management, software development, and workflow visualization in various industries.
AmazonE-commerceImplements Kanban in its fulfillment centers to manage inventory and streamline order processing.
IntelSemiconductorUses Kanban to control the flow of materials, equipment, and production tasks, optimizing production efficiency.
General ElectricConglomerateUtilizes Kanban for maintenance and repair operations, ensuring spare parts are available when needed to minimize downtime.
Toyota TsushoTradingToyota’s trading arm utilizes Kanban in trading and supply chain management to enhance logistics and reduce lead times.
AdobeTechnologyEmploys Kanban for project management and software development, helping teams visualize tasks and track progress.
Trello (Atlassian)SoftwareOffers Kanban-style project management tools that are widely used across various industries for task tracking and collaboration.
Kaiser PermanenteHealthcareApplies Kanban in patient care, pharmacy operations, and supply chain management to improve efficiency and patient outcomes.
PinterestSocial MediaUses Kanban boards to manage content development, software engineering, and other projects, facilitating team collaboration.
Hilton WorldwideHospitalityHilton employs Kanban in hotel operations and housekeeping to optimize room turnover, maintenance, and guest services.
SiemensTechnologySiemens applies Kanban in software development and industrial manufacturing to streamline processes and improve product quality.

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Understanding the Kanban framework

Like many lean manufacturing processes, the kanban framework was first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. 

Through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing, Toyota began to optimize its engineering processes based on a model supermarkets were using to control inventory levels.

Using this model, supermarkets stock just enough product to meet consumer demand.

As inventory levels respond to consumption patterns, the supermarket avoids holding excess stock and the inefficiencies that result. 

Removing these process inefficiencies – or project bottlenecks – is central to the kanban framework.

To identify these bottlenecks and increase transparency and collaboration, the entire project is illustrated on a kanban board.

Kanban boards visually depict:

  • Tasks that are completed
  • Tasks that are currently being performed.
  • Future tasks.

This simple approach to defining projects means that external stakeholders or new team members can quickly get up to speed.

Many businesses utilize physical kanban boards while those in software development use virtual boards.

This facilities better collaboration and increases accessibility from multiple locations.

Four core principles of the kanban framework

Kanban principles are based on:

  1. An emphasis on small and gradual changes to the existing workflow.
  2. Limiting existing tasks. Here, the team must not take on too much work such that the project is negatively affected.
  3. Respect for existing roles and responsibilities. The kanban framework improves efficiency in established systems. It does not require that businesses change their operations or culture.
  4. Leadership. Traditional project management practices stipulate that a project manager must sign off on every task, no matter how menial. However, the kanban framework affords whoever is working on a task the freedom to make their own decisions. This creates a culture of iterative improvement and creates the next generation of leaders.

Implementing the Kanban framework

To apply kanban principles to almost any scenario, kanban management consultant David J. Anderson identified six core practices:

Visualize the workflow

This begins by creating a kanban board with columns for the three types of tasks mentioned in the introduction.

For each type, kanban cards representing specific work items should be assigned.

Cards should be moved from column to column as work on them progresses.

Limit tasks that are currently being performed by setting constraints

This helps avoid multitasking and subsequent process inefficiencies. 

Manage flow

Or the movement of work items through each step of the process.

Many businesses make the mistake of micro-managing staff to keep them constantly busy.

But the kanban framework simply focuses on moving the work through the process as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Make management policies explicit

Members of the project team must understand what they are trying to achieve.

Collect feedback

Kanban boards should have a column assigned for daily feedback – whether that be from staff or customers.

This creates agile feedback loops that encourage knowledge transfer between key stakeholders.

Collaborative improvement

With a deeper understanding of the project and potential bottlenecks, organizations using the kanban framework have a collective understanding of problems that need addressing.

Working toward the same goal, they also share a collective vision of future success.

Kanban framework examples

In truth, kanban frameworks take many forms depending on the particular business, industry, or project at hand.

Below we will list some of the most common applications.


Kanban is a favorite of IT operations teams because of the enormous amount of tasks their departments need to deal with.

Boards are used to visualize workflows with columns used to better differentiate flow stages.

Some also use swimlanes to acquire a deeper understanding of the work’s importance and avoid priority conflicts. 

In truth, many IT departments seek to process more work than their capacity allows.

The result is invisible work which causes longer lead and cycle times and causes unhappiness among customers and managers alike.

Effective structuring of the kanban board to provide a holistic overview of operation is key.

Software development

Kanban boards designed for development teams display workflows comprised of many functional steps and their associated columns.

Swimlanes can also be effective in software development as a way to visually represent the different classes of work.

For example, some tasks will involve work on defects, while others will be related to product features.

Small teams or those that are new to kanban may choose a simple workflow that consists of basic steps such as design, development, code review, testing, and deployment.

More advanced teams may want to combine their workflows with quality assurance or customer support.


Small to medium-sized businesses can use kanban boards to move customers through an entire pipeline – whether that be one related to sales or marketing.

This is an easy way to spot bottlenecks and call upon an Account Executive or SDR to intervene.

Since kanban boards provide a complete overview of the entire customer journey and sales funnel, teams can also avoid sending the same emails twice.

On that note, kanban workflows can illustrate simple sales pipelines with a Qualification, Proposal, and Sale step.

As these workflows become more complex over time, additional steps such as Presentation, Evaluation, Negotiation, and Closing can be added.

Portfolio level

Teams who are focused on day-to-day tasks can sometimes become overwhelmed and lose sight of the bigger, strategic-level picture.

Portfolio kanban frameworks help these teams plan long-term activities and strategies and are an ideal way to appreciate the strategic evolution of the team, department, or company itself.

Portfolio boards vary according to the size of the team or the focus of the work.

Product development teams use two swimlanes to prioritize their initiatives, while project management teams break initiatives down into smaller pieces that are represented by small colored squares.

UX teams and designers

Some UX teams and designers use kanban boards that are divided into:

  • Design-related tasks – user research, design reviews, etc.
  • Administrative tasks – meeting the client, signing a contract, and so forth.

Workflows can also be divided into phases such as Draft, Wireframes, Mockups, and Prototypes.

This allows teams to move individual tasks from the ideation phase through to the final product.

Kanban vs. Scrum

Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.

Kanban and Scrum are agile project management methodologies enabling quick iterations, short development cycles, and team productivity.

Thus, both tools are extremely useful and essential in the agile development framework.

Kanban vs. Kaizen

Kaizen is a process developed by the auto industry. Its roots are found in the Toyota Production System, which was heavily influenced by Henry Ford’s assembly line system. The word Kaizen is a hybridization of two Japanese words, “kai” meaning “change” and “zen” meaning “good.” Two of the basic tenets of Kaizen involve making small incremental changes – or 1% improvement every day – and the full participation of everyone. 

Similarly to Kanban, Kaizen also focussed on removing defects from production.

Though Kanban has found a much wider application also in the software development industry, where it has become a popular tool for project management.

Kaizen moves along a few key principles:

Key takeaways

  • The kanban framework is an illustrative approach to project or product development with a focus on removing bottlenecks.
  • The kanban framework analyses project tasks according to whether they are completed, currently being performed, or assigned to a future date. This enables project team members to visualize the workflow and minimize multitasking to prevent bottlenecks.
  • The kanban framework is suitable for most industries and does not require that a business change its culture or management practices. The framework also empowers those carrying out the tasks to make important strategic decisions.

Key Highlights of the Kanban Framework:

  • Definition and Origin: Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework initially developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. It visualizes work, identifies bottlenecks, and optimizes processes through just-in-time manufacturing.
  • Visualizing Work: Kanban uses boards to depict completed, ongoing, and future tasks, aiding transparency, collaboration, and swift onboarding for new team members.
  • Four Core Principles:
    • Gradual workflow changes.
    • Limiting tasks to avoid negative impacts.
    • Respecting existing roles and practices.
    • Encouraging leadership and decision-making at all levels.
  • Implementation Practices: Kanban consultant David J. Anderson identified six practices:
    • Visualize the workflow.
    • Limit ongoing tasks.
    • Manage flow efficiently.
    • Make management policies explicit.
    • Collect feedback through agile loops.
    • Collaborative improvement for problem-solving.
  • Examples of Kanban Application:
    • IT Operations: For managing tasks and avoiding invisible work.
    • Software Development: For complex workflows, including defect fixing and feature development.
    • Sales and Marketing: To manage customer pipelines, sales funnels, and identify bottlenecks.
    • Portfolio Level: Planning long-term strategies and appreciating strategic evolution.
    • UX Teams and Designers: Managing design-related and administrative tasks.
  • Kanban vs. Scrum: Kanban and Scrum are both agile methodologies, suitable for quick iterations and team productivity, often used together in the agile development framework.
  • Kanban vs. Kaizen: While both focus on process improvement, Kaizen originated from the auto industry, emphasizing small incremental changes and employee participation, whereas Kanban has wider application, particularly in software development and project management.

What are the 6 rules of Kanban?

Connected Agile & Lean Frameworks


AIOps is the application of artificial intelligence to IT operations. It has become particularly useful for modern IT management in hybridized, distributed, and dynamic environments. AIOps has become a key operational component of modern digital-based organizations, built around software and algorithms.


AgileSHIFT is a framework that prepares individuals for transformational change by creating a culture of agility.

Agile Methodology

Agile started as a lightweight development method compared to heavyweight software development, which is the core paradigm of the previous decades of software development. By 2001 the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born as a set of principles that defined the new paradigm for software development as a continuous iteration. This would also influence the way of doing business.

Agile Program Management

Agile Program Management is a means of managing, planning, and coordinating interrelated work in such a way that value delivery is emphasized for all key stakeholders. Agile Program Management (AgilePgM) is a disciplined yet flexible agile approach to managing transformational change within an organization.

Agile Project Management

Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.

Agile Modeling

Agile Modeling (AM) is a methodology for modeling and documenting software-based systems. Agile Modeling is critical to the rapid and continuous delivery of software. It is a collection of values, principles, and practices that guide effective, lightweight software modeling.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Andon System

The andon system alerts managerial, maintenance, or other staff of a production process problem. The alert itself can be activated manually with a button or pull cord, but it can also be activated automatically by production equipment. Most Andon boards utilize three colored lights similar to a traffic signal: green (no errors), yellow or amber (problem identified, or quality check needed), and red (production stopped due to unidentified issue).

Bimodal Portfolio Management

Bimodal Portfolio Management (BimodalPfM) helps an organization manage both agile and traditional portfolios concurrently. Bimodal Portfolio Management – sometimes referred to as bimodal development – was coined by research and advisory company Gartner. The firm argued that many agile organizations still needed to run some aspects of their operations using traditional delivery models.

Business Innovation Matrix

Business innovation is about creating new opportunities for an organization to reinvent its core offerings, revenue streams, and enhance the value proposition for existing or new customers, thus renewing its whole business model. Business innovation springs by understanding the structure of the market, thus adapting or anticipating those changes.

Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Constructive Disruption

A consumer brand company like Procter & Gamble (P&G) defines “Constructive Disruption” as: a willingness to change, adapt, and create new trends and technologies that will shape our industry for the future. According to P&G, it moves around four pillars: lean innovation, brand building, supply chain, and digitalization & data analytics.

Continuous Innovation

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Design Sprint

A design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.

Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.


DevOps refers to a series of practices performed to perform automated software development processes. It is a conjugation of the term “development” and “operations” to emphasize how functions integrate across IT teams. DevOps strategies promote seamless building, testing, and deployment of products. It aims to bridge a gap between development and operations teams to streamline the development altogether.

Dual Track Agile

Product discovery is a critical part of agile methodologies, as its aim is to ensure that products customers love are built. Product discovery involves learning through a raft of methods, including design thinking, lean start-up, and A/B testing to name a few. Dual Track Agile is an agile methodology containing two separate tracks: the “discovery” track and the “delivery” track.

eXtreme Programming

eXtreme Programming was developed in the late 1990s by Ken Beck, Ron Jeffries, and Ward Cunningham. During this time, the trio was working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation System (C3) to help manage the company payroll system. eXtreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology. It is designed to improve software quality and the ability of software to adapt to changing customer needs.

Feature-Driven Development

Feature-Driven Development is a pragmatic software process that is client and architecture-centric. Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an agile software development model that organizes workflow according to which features need to be developed next.

Gemba Walk

A Gemba Walk is a fundamental component of lean management. It describes the personal observation of work to learn more about it. Gemba is a Japanese word that loosely translates as “the real place”, or in business, “the place where value is created”. The Gemba Walk as a concept was created by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System of lean manufacturing. Ohno wanted to encourage management executives to leave their offices and see where the real work happened. This, he hoped, would build relationships between employees with vastly different skillsets and build trust.

GIST Planning

GIST Planning is a relatively easy and lightweight agile approach to product planning that favors autonomous working. GIST Planning is a lean and agile methodology that was created by former Google product manager Itamar Gilad. GIST Planning seeks to address this situation by creating lightweight plans that are responsive and adaptable to change. GIST Planning also improves team velocity, autonomy, and alignment by reducing the pervasive influence of management. It consists of four blocks: goals, ideas, step-projects, and tasks.

ICE Scoring

The ICE Scoring Model is an agile methodology that prioritizes features using data according to three components: impact, confidence, and ease of implementation. The ICE Scoring Model was initially created by author and growth expert Sean Ellis to help companies expand. Today, the model is broadly used to prioritize projects, features, initiatives, and rollouts. It is ideally suited for early-stage product development where there is a continuous flow of ideas and momentum must be maintained.

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Innovation Matrix

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Innovation Theory

The innovation loop is a methodology/framework derived from the Bell Labs, which produced innovation at scale throughout the 20th century. They learned how to leverage a hybrid innovation management model based on science, invention, engineering, and manufacturing at scale. By leveraging individual genius, creativity, and small/large groups.

Lean vs. Agile

The Agile methodology has been primarily thought of for software development (and other business disciplines have also adopted it). Lean thinking is a process improvement technique where teams prioritize the value streams to improve it continuously. Both methodologies look at the customer as the key driver to improvement and waste reduction. Both methodologies look at improvement as something continuous.

Lean Startup

A startup company is a high-tech business that tries to build a scalable business model in tech-driven industries. A startup company usually follows a lean methodology, where continuous innovation, driven by built-in viral loops is the rule. Thus, driving growth and building network effects as a consequence of this strategy.

Minimum Viable Product

As pointed out by Eric Ries, a minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort through a cycle of build, measure, learn; that is the foundation of the lean startup methodology.

Leaner MVP

A leaner MVP is the evolution of the MPV approach. Where the market risk is validated before anything else


Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.


Jidoka was first used in 1896 by Sakichi Toyoda, who invented a textile loom that would stop automatically when it encountered a defective thread. Jidoka is a Japanese term used in lean manufacturing. The term describes a scenario where machines cease operating without human intervention when a problem or defect is discovered.

PDCA Cycle

The PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle was first proposed by American physicist and engineer Walter A. Shewhart in the 1920s. The PDCA cycle is a continuous process and product improvement method and an essential component of the lean manufacturing philosophy.

Rational Unified Process

Rational unified process (RUP) is an agile software development methodology that breaks the project life cycle down into four distinct phases.

Rapid Application Development

RAD was first introduced by author and consultant James Martin in 1991. Martin recognized and then took advantage of the endless malleability of software in designing development models. Rapid Application Development (RAD) is a methodology focusing on delivering rapidly through continuous feedback and frequent iterations.

Retrospective Analysis

Retrospective analyses are held after a project to determine what worked well and what did not. They are also conducted at the end of an iteration in Agile project management. Agile practitioners call these meetings retrospectives or retros. They are an effective way to check the pulse of a project team, reflect on the work performed to date, and reach a consensus on how to tackle the next sprint cycle. These are the five stages of a retrospective analysis for effective Agile project management: set the stage, gather the data, generate insights, decide on the next steps, and close the retrospective.

Scaled Agile

Scaled Agile Lean Development (ScALeD) helps businesses discover a balanced approach to agile transition and scaling questions. The ScALed approach helps businesses successfully respond to change. Inspired by a combination of lean and agile values, ScALed is practitioner-based and can be completed through various agile frameworks and practices.


The SMED (single minute exchange of die) method is a lean production framework to reduce waste and increase production efficiency. The SMED method is a framework for reducing the time associated with completing an equipment changeover.

Spotify Model

The Spotify Model is an autonomous approach to scaling agile, focusing on culture communication, accountability, and quality. The Spotify model was first recognized in 2012 after Henrik Kniberg, and Anders Ivarsson released a white paper detailing how streaming company Spotify approached agility. Therefore, the Spotify model represents an evolution of agile.

Test-Driven Development

As the name suggests, TDD is a test-driven technique for delivering high-quality software rapidly and sustainably. It is an iterative approach based on the idea that a failing test should be written before any code for a feature or function is written. Test-Driven Development (TDD) is an approach to software development that relies on very short development cycles.


Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.


Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.


Scrumban is a project management framework that is a hybrid of two popular agile methodologies: Scrum and Kanban. Scrumban is a popular approach to helping businesses focus on the right strategic tasks while simultaneously strengthening their processes.

Scrum Anti-Patterns

Scrum anti-patterns describe any attractive, easy-to-implement solution that ultimately makes a problem worse. Therefore, these are the practice not to follow to prevent issues from emerging. Some classic examples of scrum anti-patterns comprise absent product owners, pre-assigned tickets (making individuals work in isolation), and discounting retrospectives (where review meetings are not useful to really make improvements).

Scrum At Scale

Scrum at Scale (Scrum@Scale) is a framework that Scrum teams use to address complex problems and deliver high-value products. Scrum at Scale was created through a joint venture between the Scrum Alliance and Scrum Inc. The joint venture was overseen by Jeff Sutherland, a co-creator of Scrum and one of the principal authors of the Agile Manifesto.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating errors or defects in a product, service, or process. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola as a management approach based on quality fundamentals in the early 1980s. A decade later, it was popularized by General Electric who estimated that the methodology saved them $12 billion in the first five years of operation.

Stretch Objectives

Stretch objectives describe any task an agile team plans to complete without expressly committing to do so. Teams incorporate stretch objectives during a Sprint or Program Increment (PI) as part of Scaled Agile. They are used when the agile team is unsure of its capacity to attain an objective. Therefore, stretch objectives are instead outcomes that, while extremely desirable, are not the difference between the success or failure of each sprint.

Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an early form of lean manufacturing created by auto-manufacturer Toyota. Created by the Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1940s and 50s, the Toyota Production System seeks to manufacture vehicles ordered by customers most quickly and efficiently possible.

Total Quality Management

The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework is a technique based on the premise that employees continuously work on their ability to provide value to customers. Importantly, the word “total” means that all employees are involved in the process – regardless of whether they work in development, production, or fulfillment.


The waterfall model was first described by Herbert D. Benington in 1956 during a presentation about the software used in radar imaging during the Cold War. Since there were no knowledge-based, creative software development strategies at the time, the waterfall method became standard practice. The waterfall model is a linear and sequential project management framework. 

Read Also: Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

Read Next: Agile Methodology, Lean Methodology, Agile Project Management, Scrum, Kanban, Six Sigma.

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