What is a Kanban?

A kanban is a tool to visualize, organize, and complete work. The first official use of kanban can be traced to Taiichi Ohno’s work at Toyota. He needed a way to quickly communicate to all workers how much work was being done, in what state it was, and how the work was being done. His goal was to make work processes transparent – meaning he wanted everyone, not just managers to know what was “really” going on.  The goal was to empower line workers to improve how Toyota worked. Everyone had a hand in making Toyota better.

Work moves across a kanban

Work moves across a kanban

In the image to the right we see two work flows with work flowing through them.  The top part of the board shows three states: Backlog, Doing, and Done.  Tasks move across this simple workflow.

In a subtle way, this is doing three main things:

  1. Showing us the work we have in progress
  2. Showing us all the work we haven’t gotten to yet
  3. Showing us how efficiently we work

That’s it! That’s all there is to a kanban physically.

For personal kanban, we take the simplicity of this system and use it to help us understand how we do what we do and how long it takes to do it. Simply having clarity around our workload is a tremendous psychological gift.