The 4 Kanban Principles & 6 Practices Explained for 2024

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What Are the 4 Core Principles of Kanban?

kanban principles

Successful kanban implementations follow the four principles of kanban.

Kanban is a relatively simple agile framework that’s designed to complement and enhance workflows that may already be in use. The kanban framework is made up of just four principles.

1. Start With What You Are Doing Now

Implementing the kanban methodology does not mean upending your current workflows or structures. The idea is to recognize which processes work well in your current setup and identify areas that need improvement. By doing this, you can avoid major workflow disruptions and better track newly implemented processes. 

2. Agree to Pursue Incremental Improvement & Evolutionary Change

Adopting a new project management workflow is challenging. Instead of implementing sweeping changes, project managers should adopt a continuous improvement approach when thinking about changing existing workflows. Widespread changes could disrupt an organization’s efficiency, increase costs and lead to team member errors.

Implementing an agile framework like kanban should be done incrementally. In fact, you need only look at the scrum framework and other agile methods to see that incremental improvements are key agile values. Kanban recognizes this and encourages teams to evolve experimentally by changing one process at a time so teams can get used to the changes.

3. Respect the Existing Processes, Roles, Responsibilities and Titles

When adopting kanban, don’t make wholesale changes to your team’s structure. Kanban is designed to improve processes and complement current organizational structures, not upend them.

By keeping the structure of your project teams, you can promote buy-in, reduce resistance to change and hit the ground running. This applies to small businesses and large organizations working on multiple projects.

4. Encourage Acts of Leadership at All Levels in Your Company

Collaboration is a key part of agile methodologies and frameworks, and kanban is no different. Kanban provides every team member a global view of a project, which includes tasks to be worked on, tasks being worked on, potential bottlenecks and work-in-progress (WIP) limits. 

With this in mind, everyone should be charged with taking responsibility for their tasks and empowered to solve any problems they see. Members of software development teams, senior management and project managers alike, should encourage leadership by tackling problems and issues when they see them.

What Are the 6 Kanban Practices?

Now that you understand the four steps to follow when implementing kanban, we’ll take a look at the six core principles that all kanban teams should follow to ensure success.

1. Visualize Workflow Elements

Project managers, team leaders and all team members must be able to see the tasks on their plate before they get to work. The kanban method uses kanban boards, which offer one of the best ways to visualize an entire project’s list of tasks and jobs.

monday kanban view

Kanban boards are easy to use and provide a global view of projects. 

A simple kanban board houses columns that represent stages of work, such as “to do,” “in progress” and “done.” In each column, you’ll find kanban cards that contain task details, due dates, files, custom fields related to your current project and more. As tasks are completed, team members simply move the cards from left to right through the various stages of the project.

2. Limit Work in Progress (WIP)

Projects have many moving parts and often have many tasks that must be completed. As such, it can be easy for a project manager to assign multiple tasks to a team member without realizing they may have too much on their plate. Fortunately, kanban champions work-in-progress limits (WIP). 

You can strike a balance by implementing a WIP rule stating that team members can only have a certain number of tasks assigned to them at any given time. Thanks to kanban’s visual nature, senior leaders can quickly see which employees have too much or too little work. 

It’s worth noting that kanban is a pull system, not a push system. Push systems can easily overwhelm team members with tasks they’re not ready for, as they are simply assigned work whenever a task is ready. A pull system states that new tasks should only be assigned to employees when the employees are ready.

3. Manage Flow

Kanban boards are one of the best tools for identifying bottlenecks in your workflow. Each stage of the kanban system process has a dedicated column, making it easy to see where a holdup might be occurring. For example, if you have a slow-moving column for image proofing, you can identify the bottleneck and meet with your designers to understand the reason for the delay.

4. Make Process Policies

Once you’ve decided to adopt the kanban system (or any agile methodology, for that matter), take the time to create policies that cover processes, issues and rules of use so every team member is on the same page. The last thing you want is a poor interpretation of kanban processes, which can lead to inefficiencies, extra expenditures and potential conflict.

5. Implement Feedback Loops

Read the agile manifesto and you’ll quickly discover that communication is a key part of agile frameworks. Managers should hold frequent meetings with team members and encourage open, honest communication so issues and problems can be discussed and resolved quickly.

During meetings, ask how everyone likes using the board, whether the project stages are appropriate and for general feedback on kanban. Then, take that feedback and implement incremental changes that lead to continual improvement of the system and processes.

6. Improve Collaboratively

Collaboration is another key component of agile frameworks, including kanban. The idea is to bring teams together via the collaboration tools found in some of the best free project management software or in person so that problems can be discussed and addressed internally and externally with clients and project stakeholders.

clickup collaboration

Many leading project management software solutions offer
collaboration tools for in-house and distributed teams.

In our review, you can learn about collaboration tools and integrations that can help distributed teams work together. In our ClickUp review, you can learn about mind maps that can help teams solve complex problems. As a project manager, you should do everything in your power to use any tools you can get your hands on to encourage collaboration.