What is a Kanban? Definition & Use Guide

Kanban boards are some of the most flexible and widespread collaboration templates used in the workplace. If you’re new to visual collaboration, they are a great place to start and will also provide huge benefits to your team. This article will walk you through what kanbans are and some strategies to get the most out of them.

If you want to learn more about how to use other types of boards, check out our guides to using customer journey maps or SWOT analyses.

What is a Kanban?

A kanban board is a task-based project management system meant to visualize the workflow of an entire team. Used correctly, it can circumvent possible bottlenecks and improve overall efficiency. Kanban allows you to visualize the task-based procedure of projects while also thinking about the overall workflow and efficiency.

People using shapes to organize their work, just like they do with a Kanban.

How to use a Kanban

Kanban boards are broken into multiple different sections. These sections are based on the different stages of the workflow and are the basis for the task-based organization you will engage in. Our Kanban board is broken into 5 different sections: Possible Ideas, Backlog, On Deck, In Progress, and Complete. This is a common setup for a kanban, while some will instead do only three sections consisting of Backlog, In Progress, and Complete, or some will add a section for “stuck” where you can group tasks when you have hit a roadblock.

Whatever the setup for the kanban you’re using, the method of interaction will be the same across all of them. You begin by focusing on a specific project or sprint. This project will be the basis of the entire kanban. The purpose of using a kanban is to visualize and organize the actionable tasks you need to accomplish to achieve success in your project. Because of that, you will proceed to create notes based on all of the tangible, actionable tasks that need to be accomplished for the project to finish successfully. These tasks should be as specific as possible to target the actions taken to complete them. 

Once you’ve gathered all of your actionable tasks and possible ideas, you begin to prioritize them. This will be a more unique process since your team will have different priorities based on the specific project you’re working on. However, whatever your priorities are, you can organize your tasks into the sections above based on when they need to be completed and their possible impact.

The next step in using the kanban is revisiting it as your project moves forward. As the team completes tasks and progresses towards completion, you can update the board and move tasks towards the completed side.

It’s also important to check in to ensure that your priorities are still correct, and if you need to re-evaluate your priorities you can easily transfer tasks further to the backlog and begin on others. Visualizing these tasks gives a great overview of the project and helps align teams together.

Using Kanban boards is possible on physical boards, but is made incredibly easier through online whiteboards. You can feasibly manage all of your tasks on sticky notes and easily align your team.

However, physical boards slightly hold back the possibilities of using a kanban. Because of their accessibility, online whiteboards make it much easier to organize all of your tasks in the same place and subsequently revisit the board to update it or remind yourself of the next priority. The permanent accessibility of online whiteboards makes them the perfect location for your next kanban and a great place to use any visual organizer.

Fresco's weekly Kanban & Analysis board.

Kanban vs Scrum

People often confuse the differences between using a kanban and a scrum, and rightfully so. These two project management systems are very similar and often use the same physical formats, but can differ greatly in their mindset and goals. Here are some of the key differences between the two:

As a brief definition, while they both focus on the completion and organization of actionable tasks, Kanban workflows are more malleable and fluid, whereas scrum organizations are more rigid and based on small sprints.

  • Scrum sprints have strict timeframes and release deadlines. While kanban flows can also focus on specific projects, they are more used for continuous team alignment.
  • Kanban organization pushes content/product continuously whereas scrum sprints have a scheduled weekly/bi-monthly release date.
  • Scrum boards have clear roles and guidelines, while kanban boards are more self-organized and team-based.
  • Kanban boards are designed to be revisited and reassessed. This flexibility is key to the kanban workflow.

Retrospective Analysis

Kanbans are very useful in planning future projects or organizing the one your team is working on currently, but it’s equally as important to organize and evaluate your previous work as your current projects.

Retrospective templates organize the tasks and actions of previous work, and allow you to categorize tasks based on “what went well”, “what could be better”, and “Actionable tasks to implement these changes”. By organizing tasks based on these sections, you can analyze your previous sprint, both the good and the bad. By doing this, you understand how you can improve your future projects and create tangible actions that will make that a reality.

Retrospective templates operate very similarly to Kanbans, and for that reason, we created a board that implements both of them in the same place. Our Weekly Kanban & Analysis board enables users to analyze the success of their most recent project while also evaluating and prioritizing their future tasks. These actions become very intertwined, and through the intersectional analysis, you are able to maximize the efficiency at which you complete your tasks and prioritize your workflow.

People using visual collaboration to organize their tasks.


Kanban’s are some of the most agile templates teams can implement in order to optimize their workflow, and hopefully, this article has provided the inspiration to use one. If you want to check out our tips on how to succeed in innovation while working from home, you can check out our recent post on the IdeaScale blog, and don’t forget to try out our Kanban board for free!

As always you can check out our guides to virtual workshops and online whiteboards as well.


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