History of Kanban

Kanban is a strategy for optimising the flow of value through a process that uses a visual, work-in-progress limited pull system. Kanban originated in Japan during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Its development is credited to Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, who created the system to improve manufacturing efficiency. He drew inspiration from an unlikely place: the American supermarket. Ohno noticed that supermarkets would only restock items as they were depleted from shelves, essentially letting customer demand drive the supply. He thought the same principle could apply to Toyota’s production process to reduce waste and increase efficiency.

The term “Kanban” translates to “visual signal” or “card” in English. In its original context, physical cards were used to signal the need for inventory replenishment in Toyota’s just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing process. When a bin of parts used on the assembly line was empty, a kanban card was passed to the upstream process to produce more. This ensured that only necessary parts were made in the correct quantity at the right time, significantly reducing waste.

In the early 2000s, David J. Anderson, a software engineer and business consultant, began to apply the principles of Kanban to knowledge work, particularly software development. He defined the Kanban Method as an approach to incremental, evolutionary process and systems change for organisations. It’s characterised by principles and practices, including visualisation of work, limiting work in progress (WIP), managing flow, making policies explicit, implementing feedback loops, and improving collaboratively. It is used widely across various industries, not just manufacturing or software development.

While Kanban has its roots in Toyota’s manufacturing process, it has evolved into a popular method for managing work in diverse areas, helping teams focus on efficiency, continuous improvement, and flow.

Kanban Organisations

Kanban University (formerly known as Lean Kanban University)  is an organisation that supports the Kanban method in professional settings. It offers training, coaching, and consulting in the Kanban method and related topics.

ProKanban.org is a newer organisation that provides Kanban certification, learning material, training, and assessments to help people with Kanban (but not the Kanban method).

Scrum.org, the home of Scrum, was founded by Scrum co-creator Ken Schwaber as a mission-based organisation to help people and teams solve complex problems. They created the Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams, which details how Kanban can enhance and complement the Scrum framework and its implementation. Scrum Teams can add complementary Kanban practices whether they are just starting to use Scrum or have been using it all along.

Scrum With Kanban

Scrum is not a process. It is a lightweight framework that helps people, teams, and organisations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems. The Scrum framework is purposefully incomplete. Various processes, techniques and methods can be employed within the framework.

The flow-based perspective of Kanban can enhance and complement the Scrum framework and its usage. This does not change the rules or application of Scrum. Scrum Teams can add complementary Kanban practices to support the development of their product.  These practices provide Scrum Teams with additional opportunities to optimise the flow of work, increase transparency, and improve their inspection and adaptation.

The following content in this section outlines how to use Kanban practices in combination with Scrum to enhance the delivery of value by a Scrum Team.