kanban terminology

Kanban Cheat Sheet – A Quick Reminder of Terminology & Practices

Do you ever find yourself looking up Kanban terminology? We sure do! No matter how long you have been practicing Kanban, sometimes you just forget. To make sure this does not ruin your day, we have prepared a quick rundown of the most important Kanban terms and practices.

Find all of them below and forget having to search the whole internet for the right information. If you want something to keep on your desk (or desktop) instead, scroll down to download a beautiful Kanban cheat sheet! We hope this helps with your Kanban application!

Kanban

Kanban is one of the most popular Agile applications used today. It strives to visualize the workflow and optimize processes to deliver the most value. While it has started in software development, Kanban is now used in various fields and even scaled to manage company-wide processes. Due to its flexibility and waste reduction, Kanban is valued in sales, finance, engineering, accounting, and various other teams. If you are not yet familiar with this practice, you can find more here – What is Kanban?

While the practice in itself is simple, the terminology it uses can feel foreign. Especially if you are coming to Kanban for the first time. In this case, having a resource to consult for the process and terminology is great. This is what we are aiming to do here – a quick rundown of all the Kanban basics in one place.

Kanban terms – Process Organization

Following are the Kanban board terms that regard the process organization. Learn what it takes to run a Kanban project and where you should start.

Kanban boards Process

Kanban projects run on need-based iterations that the team uses to deliver incremental value to the end product. It is up to the team to decide both – when an iteration is over and when a substantial value has been added to the end product. The whole process is tracked on a Kanban board.

Kanban Task Size

Kanban does not define a specific size a task has to fit. However, it asks for the tasks to have a clear goal that the team can complete. Some teams make all tasks of the same size to ease planning, others add estimates. Making all your tasks of the same size will make your Kanban board clearer and the process more predictable.

Task Assignment

Tasks are not assigned to team members in Kanban. Instead, team members pull tasks from the Kanban board backlog based on their skill set and task priority. The amount of tasks each team member can perform at a time is controlled by setting a WIP limit.

New Tasks In Iteration

The team can add new tasks to an ongoing iteration as long as there is value in completing them. Some teams chose to use rows in their Kanban board to distinguish between regular and urgent tasks. Regular tasks are added to the Backlog and urgent tasks are highlighted in a separate priority swimlane.

Roles

There are no predefined roles in Kanban. A team usually keeps the roles they had previously and works together to deliver results. The prioritization in a Kanban board helps to empower a self-organizing team that does not need specific titles.

Iterations

Kanban teams do not need to plan the iteration in advance. Instead, they are planned on the need basis and ended once the team feels they have added substantial value to the end product. It is up to the team to decide when a new iteration should begin. Iteration length is usually decided in a planning session and can be visualized on a Kanban board using separate rows for each iteration.

Estimation

With Kanban practices, estimation is optional. Teams usually chose to estimate in hours or broad size metrics like ‘Small’, ‘Medium’ and ‘Large’. Another approach is trying to make all tasks of the same size and then estimate based on the item count on the Kanban board.

Kanban board estimation

Meetings

Kanban teams decide when they need to hold the meetings. However, they do not happen on a planned schedule like in Scrum. There are 4 meetings for the team to have:

Planning Session – a meeting where the team fills the Kanban board backlog with tasks and prioritizes them based on importance. It is also in this meeting that most Kanban teams set the WIP limits to make sure the work will be done effectively. This meeting is set off by a Planning Trigger.

Daily Standup – a 15-minute meeting where each team member presents what they have done yesterday and what they plan on doing today. The daily standup is usually done in front of Kanban boards so that the whole team can see how tasks relate and what could be done.

Iteration review – a presentation of the completed work to see if the goals were met by the team. To make sure the team delivered what they were supposed to, this meeting often includes the end client or their representative. Using a Kanban board, or another way of presenting, the team shows what has been accomplished and gathers feedback for the next iteration.

The retrospective – an end of the iteration or project meeting where the team members discuss the process and how it can be improved. This often involves reviewing the Kanban boards, discussing WIP limits, and coming up with other ways to improve the process.

Kanban Board

Kanban boards are comprised out of 3 main sections – Backlog, Work In Progress, and Done. The teams often expand these sections with additional columns to clearly represent all the process steps. ‘Backlog section’ holds planned and prioritized tasks. This Kanban board section usually has separate columns for different levels of prioritized tasks. The ‘Work In Progress’ section holds tasks that the team is working on. You will recognize this Kanban board section as it will have the most columns listing out the team’s process. And ‘Done’ section holds the completed tasks.

Teamhood Kanban board

Prioritization

Kanban lets the teams decide if they want to use prioritization. Most teams that prioritize tasks, do so with the priority columns in the Kanban board backlog.

Scope Limits

Lastly, teams manage the amount of work that is being done with WIP limits. Team members cannot start working on more tasks than the WIP limit on the Kanban board states.

Keep reading for more Kanban terms or scroll down for a downloadable one-page Kanban sheet.

Kanban Terminology

Feeling lost with some terms used in Kanban? The following section explains Kanban’s unique terms and what they relate to on the daily basis. Read through and be confident the next time your team is discussing Kanban board WIP limits, planning triggers, and more.

Kanban Planning Trigger

Planning Trigger alarms the team when it is time to arrange a planning session. It goes off as there is a certain number of tasks left in the Kanban board backlog and makes sure the team plans new tasks before the old ones run out.

Bottleneck

Kanban teams use the term Bottleneck to describe a Kanban task or another obstacle that prevents them from making further progress on the Kanban board. The team then focuses on removing the Bottleneck to resume working as usual.

Lead Time

One of the two metrics used by Kanban practitioners, Lead Time describes the total time from the initial customer request to the final product delivery.

Cycle Time

Second Kanban metric Cycle Time defines the total time from when a team started working on a task to its completion. This metric can be easily tracked in the Kanban board as each task starts moving through the process steps. Here is more on lead and cycle time.

Kanban board lead time
Lead and cycle time

Cumulative Flow

Cumulative Flow Chart or CFD shows the quantity of work in each given state – arrivals, queue, departure. It helps the project manager better understand the progress and track work outside of the Kanban boards.

Swim Lane

A horizontal lane along which cards flow on Kanban boards. Teams can use Kanban board swimlanes to represent separate iterations, products, projects, and many other things.

Kanban sheet swimlane

WIP Limits

Work In Progress limit sets the number of tasks the team can work on at any given point. By limiting the amount of work that can be taken on, WIP limits guarantee each task is completed before a new one is taken on.

kanban board WIP

Kanban Cheat Scheet – The only Kanban Sheet You Need

Like this summary? Then we have good news for you – we fit all of this information into the handy Kanban cheat sheet below. Grab it and keep it close by for any questions you may have about Kanban.

And if you are looking to expand your Kanban board to effectively track both – large work items and their subtasks, check out our advanced Kanban board. It will answer all your complex process management needs with a visual 2D Kanban board that lets you track both – large work items and subtasks.

Kanban Cheat Sheet

kanban cheat sheet

Summary

Kanban is a visual and flexible project management approach that fits most teams. The Kanban board brings clarity and speed to delivering products or services and thus has been applied in many fields since it was first introduced. This Agile approach has a set of vague guidelines but is not limited by very strict rules. Thus, it is great for teams that already have some experience with Agile and want to have a guide to creating their own way of being Agile and setting up a Kanban board.

Check out our Kanban board template gallery to get started immediately or check out these Kanban board examples to get your creativity flowing.

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