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Kanban is one of the most popular agile methods that help thousands of peoples and companies to manage their daily job. We’ve gathered some interesting Kanban facts that you would like to know about.   

1. What does “Kanban” mean?

A Kanban System consists of a quantity of “kanban” signal cards in circulation.  

Kanban Has Two Meanings: 

  • Written 看板 in Kanji (Chinese characters), kanban means “sign” or “large visual board.”  
  • Written かんばん in Hiragana (the Japanese alphabet), kanban means “signal card(s).” 

Kanban Method was inspired by the signal cards system used in Japan. 

2. Why Kanban is a method, but not a framework or methodology? 

Kanban is a method that helps to manage all types of professional services that requires applying a holistic way of thinking about your services with a focus on improving them from your customers’ perspective.  

With the Kanban Method, you visualize invisible knowledge work and how it moves through a workflow. Kanban is an effective organizational development tool. 

  • Kanban is not a methodology as methodologies have prescriptive, defined workflows and processes, including roles, and responsibilities, which means that they are usually very specific to a certain domain (a bit confusing, as “methodology” is being perceived as “the study of methods”).  
  • Kanban is not a Methodologies process framework as a framework is an incomplete methodology – a set of scaffolding that is intended to have broader applicability but requires customization for each context to fill in the missing gaps. 

That is why Kanban is not a methodology nor a process framework. 

Kanban is a management method or approach that should be applied to an existing process or way of working. Kanban is always added to an existing methodology, framework, or way of working.  

Learn more about Kanban method from an official Kanban Guide by Kanban University. 

3. When was the Kanban Method first applied? 

The first Kanban Method comprehensive application happened in 2004 when implemented in the XIT business unit, a part of Microsoft’s IT organization.  

Dragos Dumitriu, working as a Project Manager had volunteered to take over the department with the worse customer service record in the Microsoft. Then he called David Anderson for his advice and help and that`s how they started Kanban Method.  

Fifteen months later they:

  • Tripled the productivity of that department;
  • Reduced their average delivery time from 1,5 month to 11 days;
  • Improved on-time delivery from 0% to 98%. 

Read more about the first Kanban implementation and its results in “The Microsoft XIT Sustaining Engineering Story” full case study, available from   

4. It’s not Kanban if there’s no WIP limit. Is that right? 

WIP (Work in Progress) states the number of work items in progress at a certain time. Effective systems focus more on flow of work and less on working force utilization. When resources are fully utilized there is no slack in the system and the result is very poor flow. In knowledge work there is also an issue of context switching that reduces workers’ effectiveness. 

In Kanban, we limit the WIP to balance utilization and ensure the flow of work. WIP limits are key to establishing a pull system. And the “pull principle” in Kanban is an important distinguishing point from traditional project management, where work items are scheduled based on deterministic planning (push).  

In pull systems, completed work is regarded as more valuable than starting new work. This is often a cultural change. “Stop starting, start finishing” is a popular Kanban mantra.  

That is why without limiting WIP you can’t ensure healthy workflow aimed on finishing items and a “pull principle”. Without WIP limits you may have a nice work visualization, but not a real Kanban system.  

For more information explore the Kanban Guide.   

5. Can the tickets move backwards? 

We often hear that tickets cannot be moved backwards. But is this true? In fact, tickets can move back, especially if you have detected some defect that relates to a previous stage of development. And yet, this scenario is very undesirable for several reasons:  

  • You mess-up the flow – if any ticket anytime can move backwards means your process is not predictable and your lead time distribution will become fat-tailed. 
  • You break the WIP – as the item should be moved to a previous column that also has its WIP, what will happen to the ticket that is moved back? Does it turn to an Expedite? Or other ticket becomes blocked while the team is fixing this one? There should be a clear policy developed for these cases.  
  • You confuse your metrics – CFD will mean nothing as some items may be counted twice in some stages and moreover, affect the time and quantity in the queue. 

Kanban is not just about the board that visualizes the work, but also a system to learn your process to use and manage your data.  

To learn more read the article “Kanban Evergreen: Don`t Move Tickets Backward on the Board” by the AKT Ania Radzikowska. 

Learn more about Kanban studies in Kanban Maturity Model book or get access to full book content online using kmm.plusAttend training at the David J Anderson School of Management to learn more about advanced Kanban studies and how they can help your business, or find your local trainer at Kanban University to start your Kanban journey.