What Is a Kanban Board? Definition, Benefits and Tips

Updated October 23, 2023

Two people stand in front of a white board depicting a kanban board with four columns.

A Kanban board is an Agile project management tool designed to help you visualize your work. Project managers, team leaders and other business professionals use them to track progress, maximize efficiency and increase organization. If you're responsible for managing a team or project, you may benefit from learning more about Kanban boards.

In this article, we discuss what a Kanban board is, explore its benefits and key terms and share tips to create one. 

Related: The Kanban System: Definition, Principles and Practices

What is a Kanban board?

A Kanban board is an Agile project management tool that uses visual components and specific delivery points to help you plan your work, track progress and maximize efficiency. In Japanese, the word "kanban" means "visual signal." 

Kanban boards can be usually in a variety of industries including manufacturing, human resources, Agile methodologies and DevOps software development. They can be used by teams or individuals to organize and order daily work tasks. Depending on what your needs are, you can choose to create either a physical or a digital Kanban board. Here are some things to consider when choosing which type of Kanban board to use:

Physical Kanban boards

You can create a physical Kanban board by dividing a whiteboard or blackboard into vertical columns. Label what stage of the project each column represents and then have team members use color-coded sticky notes to represent different tasks to be accomplished. These notes are visual signals that make up your workflow and allow you to track progress. Using a physical Kanban board can work well for smaller teams or for personal use.

Related: Project Plan Template: Definition, Types and Example

Digital Kanban boards

For larger teams or teams operating remotely, a digital Kanban board may be a better choice. Digital boards allow everyone on the team to access the information and create a more seamless workflow. Digital Kanban boards are easy to create and may be faster to update than physical boards. They can also provide you with additional data about your team's overall performance such as the ability to analyze work-in-progress (WIP) limits, cumulative flow diagrams and cycle times. This can help you make more informed decisions about your team's workflow.

There are many software tools available to create digital Kanban boards. You can use a search engine to explore your options and help you find the one that best suits your needs.

Related: The 24 Best Free Project Management Software Tools For 2021

Benefits of using a Kanban board

Some of the benefits of using a Kanban board include:

  • Assigning tasks: Kanban boards allow you to assign tasks quickly and track who is responsible for each item. Team members can also choose to add new tasks to their to-do list by selecting items from the board’s backlog.

  • Organizing complex projects: Kanban boards make it easy to organize complex projects by breaking them down into small tasks, providing color-coded visual cues and grouping tasks together into columns to signify what stage of the project they belong in.

  • Tracking and measuring progress: Digital Kanban boards may offer a variety of tools to help you analyze your performance and identify areas you can improve.

  • Encouraging conversation: You can use Kanban boards to encourage conversations about workflow, processes and areas of improvement. This can help you understand how your team works and develop systems that maximize productivity.

  • Keeping everyone aligned: Kanban boards allow everyone to see what tasks are currently being worked on, who is responsible for each task and what tasks are coming up next. This can help teams prevent work from being duplicated, improve communication and stay on track to hit deadlines.

  • Adapting quickly: Kanban boards are flexible, allowing team members to add new tasks, reassign tasks or move tasks to different columns as needed. This flexibility can help Kanban teams develop a more efficient workflow and quickly make adjustments to reach their goals.

Related: Kanban Project Management: What It Is and How To Use It

Kanban versus scrum

Kanban and scrum boards are both Agile frameworks used to track projects and workflows. However, they have slight differences such as:

  • Scrum sprints have start and stop dates. Kanban is an ongoing process.

  • Scrum uses clearly defined roles while Kanban has none. Both teams are self-organized.

  • A Kanban board is used throughout the lifecycle of a project. A scrum board is cleared and recycled after each sprint.  

  • A scrum board has a set number of tasks with strict deadlines for completion.

  • Kanban boards are more flexible with tasks and timing. Tasks can be reprioritized, reassigned or updated as needed.

Related: Kanban vs. Scrum: What’s the Difference?

Key Kanban board terms

Before you learn how to create a Kanban board, there are some key terms that may be helpful to understand:

  • Visual signals: Kanban teams use visual signals such as cards, sticky notes or tickets to write down all of their tasks. Team members usually assign one task per visual signal.

  • Columns: Columns are vertical to-do lists that keep the tasks everyone is working on organized by grouping visual signals based on the activity or stage of the project they belong in.

  • Workflow: A workflow is created by combining multiple columns each containing the appropriate tasks or visual signals for that stage of the project. You can label columns in your workflow with simple terms such as "To do," "In progress" and "Complete" to help keep your team organized.

  • Backlog: A backlog is a list of new tasks developed by team members that anyone on the team can choose to add to their to-do list.

  • Commitment point: The commitment point references the moment when a team member selects a new task from the backlog, adds it to their to-do list and begins working on it.

  • Delivery point: The delivery point signifies the end of a Kanban team's workflow. For most teams, this is when the product or service is delivered to the customer or when the project is complete.

  • Lead time: This is the amount of time it takes to get from the commitment point to the delivery point. Kanban teams are always working to decrease the lead time so they can finish projects faster and more efficiently.

  • WIP limits: Also known as work-in-progress limits, WIP limits are the maximum number of visual signals in a single column at any given time. The limit is usually set by the team at the beginning of the project. WIP limits can expose bottlenecks in the workflow and maximize flow. WIP limits can help Kanban teams identify if one team member is taking on too many tasks and then work together to improve the workflow. 

  • Swimlanes: A Kanban board swimlane is a productivity method that discusses WIP limits. Swimlanes split Kanban boards into columns to help employees visualize tasks and workflow quickly.

Related: 5 Phases of the Project Management Life Cycle

Tips to create a Kanban board

You can customize Kanban boards to fit your needs since there are few rules about creating them. Here are some suggestions to create an efficient, effective Kanban board:

Make it visual

Kanban boards represent complex or intangible ideas visually. Make your Kanban board visual by using signals like cards or sticky notes. You can also choose to color-code your board to make it easier to read at a glance.

Limit each visual signal to one task

Creating a new visual signal for each task can help team members, project managers and stakeholders quickly identify what each member is working on. This can also help you identify if someone is taking on too many tasks and help you set WIP limits to create a more efficient workflow.

Limit work in progress

Monitor each team member's WIP to ensure everyone is responsible for an appropriate number of tasks. Limiting the number of tasks each member can work on in a given period can help you increase efficiency and promote teamwork.

Respect team members

Kanban teams are self-organized, which means leadership each member of the team must take on a leadership role for the group to be successful. Respect other members by actively listening to their ideas and suggestions for improvement.

Focus on continuous improvement

Check-in regularly with yourself and other team members to identify areas of improvement in your workflow. Being open to critique and feedback can help you shorten your lead time and develop more efficient processes.

Communicate with team members

Even if you are using a digital board to manage a remote team, make it a habit to communicate regularly with team members. This can help you understand how each team member is completing their tasks, develop a deeper understanding of your team's process and nurture a stronger team dynamic.

Related: Using the Agile Project Management Methodology

Example of a Kanban board

Here is an example of what a Kanban board may look like. Each column represents a stage in the process. Each item represents a visual signal that will progress through the workflow until it is completed. 





Meet with the client to discuss the marketing campaign

Capture photos and videos for the marketing campaign

Review all the marketing assets with the internal team

Publish the landing page

Develop a blueprint for the marketing campaign

Create target audiences on all social media platforms

Share blueprint with the client to approve

Publish the ad campaign on social media

Develop a proposal that outlines the final campaign

Write copy for the ads and the landing page

Share the proposal with the client for approval

Submit the ad to local television stations

Build a landing page

Meet with the client to discuss the marketing campaignCapture photos and videos for the marketing campaignReview all the marketing assets with the internal teamPublish the landing page
Develop a blueprint for the marketing campaignCreate target audiences on all social media platformsShare blueprint with the client to approvePublish the ad campaign on social media
Develop a proposal that outlines the final campaignWrite copy for the ads and the landing pageShare the proposal with the client for approvalSubmit the ad to local television stations
Build a landing page


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