Kanban usually means a board for visualizing the flow of work. It can also mean the cards that populate the board.

The Kanban method is a set of principles and practices for managing and improving the flow of work.

If you use the Kanban method, you will always have a board.

People use Kanban boards, even if they are not following the Rules of Kanban to help understand and communicate the progression of work on a project or other endeavor.

Clarive Kanban boards are available at various places within the application. Most notably:

  • From a Topic grid.
  • From within a Topic.

For instance, Kanban is a useful interface for visualizing progress at any Topic level.

Topics on cards flow from left to right through columns or states.

The objective of a Kanban system is the smooth flow of work from start to completion without unnecessary slowdown or stoppage.

Kanban teams limit the number of items they work on at any one time (WIP) in order to reduce the cycle time it takes to bring individual items to completion.

Core Practices

These are the fundamental aspects of an operating Kanban system. It often makes sense to introduce these sequentially to a team.

  • Visualize flow. This may start with a diagram of how work gets done in a team: the steps, hand-offs, decisions, work queues, demand patterns, and so on. Ultimately, it takes the form of a Kanban board, either in an electronic tool or with sticky notes on a whiteboard.
  • Limit WIP. Kanban teams set limits for the number of work items in each column on the board. WIP limits are meant to represent the capacity of the team, and it is normal for them to evolve as the team learns more about what works best to balance smooth flow and low cycle time.
  • Make management policies explicit. Kanban teams define simple rules for work flows for different types of work items, when to pull an item into the next state, and how to flag and manage blocked items. These are often posted near the board. They evolve as the team improves. It is common to have policies for each state, as well as overall policies or working agreements inside the team and with stakeholders.
  • Manage flow. Teams use data which they gather on average cycle time and other metrics, along with information from the current state of work on the board, to manage the work in a way that delivers the maximum value the fastest. Teams strive to balance minimum cycle time with maximum throughput.
  • Improve collaboratively. A Kanban system highlights the most critical opportunities for improvement. Teams work on these as a group and apply problem-solving methods to get to causes and to hypothesize and test solutions.


Teams using Kanban pay close attention to bottlenecks. They work quickly to remove the bottleneck and get work flowing again, and will look for ways to prevent the bottleneck from occurring again in the future. This is at the heart of continually improving the overall flow of work, which is a fundamental concept in Kanban.

Such a methodology demands avoidance of bottlenecks. If column B has a bottleneck, then column A also becomes blocked as a result of being unable to advance jobs to column B. C will in turn become blocked due to having no incoming jobs.

Kanban boards

Most boards start with a New-type state and end with a Close-type state. Usually New means a Topic that has been just created and has not been processed yet. As the topic advances, work is accepted into the team's flow. This column is a queue; no work is done while a card is in this state.

Each state indicates the principal type of work going on while the card is in the column. However, the team could for example commence conducting early testing while the card is in Build.

Topic Coloring

In Clarive, card coloring indicates the Topic category coloring.

Tagging With Views

View tags may be used to classify Topics further. View tags are available in Kanban.


Kanban was developed by adapting principles from Lean manufacturing, along with other disciplines, and it shares many of its core concepts. These include:

  • System thinking. Maintaining a focus that includes the entire delivery system and how events and changes impact the whole.
  • Learning. Emphasizing the need to collect, interpret and apply data, experiences, and understanding how to drive improvement of the system.
  • Flow. Promoting and maintaining the smooth progression of work through a system, minimizing wastage resulting from re-work, stoppages, bottlenecks and queues.
  • Pull. Drawing work into the overall system, or into a specific state, only when capacity becomes available, rather than pushing work in based on a schedule or outside decision.
  • Slack. Reserving capacity to respond to normal variations and unexpected conditions, rather than attempting to maximize utilization of individuals.
  • Swarm. Quickly handling work problems with all necessary resources to promote flow.