What Does Kanban Mean?

No matter what industry you’re in, you’re likely surrounded by text and copy. From emails to briefs to instruction manuals, we’re all surrounded by endless words dictating how to manage projects and move forward professionally.

But is text alone the best way to communicate professionally? This is essentially the thinking behind the modern version of kanban. Modern-day kanban boards allow easier, more collaborative communication through visual management.

But what does Kanban mean exactly?

A Short History

The word “kanban” is Japanese for “visual card” — a simple but apt description for the kanban board system. It’s a solution that allows team members to visualize the workflow for a particular project all in one place, including everything that needs to get done and all the tasks coming down the pipeline.

In its most basic form, a kanban is often created on a big whiteboard, with three columns and sticky notes in each column signifying various tasks. And modern kanban solutions, such as online kanban boards and kanban software, can alleviate the workload for over-stressed project managers while creating a sleek, collaborative workflow for team members.

How It Works

So how do they work? The three most basic column types are “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done,” or some elaboration or variation of those three concepts.

Each sticky note is a task or work item that is moved from one column to the next as it is completed. Those columns can be scaled up and customized based on the needs of each team and project.

Whether they take the form of whiteboards or online software, kanbans are a scalable tool that can really help bump up a team’s efficiency and highlight any backlogs or bottlenecks.

From service industries to software developers to manufacturing (yes, the originators of this management methodology), this simple but effective tool can span the projects of a single department or an entire multi-national organization.

The Benefits

In addition to its scalability, kanban boards offer a number of direct benefits to team who use them. Digital kanban solutions allow both on-site and remote team members to access the latest tasks and projects in real time, reducing miscommunications and accessing documents that aren’t up to date.

Visual management on this level also brings a high level of transparency to tasks. It’s easy to tell which team member is working on what, and what’s coming down the pipeline. And this task transparency also makes it much easier for mangers to delegate tasks, better manage human resources and break up any bottlenecks occurring in your workflow.