Project Management

History of the Kanban

Kanban boards are one of the most prominent and popular project management tools. Based on agile methodology, kanban boards allow teams to efficiently manage their WIP tasks and helps establish order in their day-to-day work or current project.

Where it all Began

Kanban hasn’t always been the software and digital-focused tool that’s often used by SEO agencies today. The roots of Kanban lie in feudal 1600s Japan! After the military conflicts of the 14th century, Japan began a more stable period that allowed its economy to flourish. The streets of Japan became a crowded mesh of businesses and restaurants, all looking to win customers and catch a slice of the action. It’s here where the Kanban board was born.

Kanban is a combination of two Japanese Kanji; ‘Kan’ (看) and ‘Ban’ (板’), which together make “signboard”. Merchants would place these Kanbans (or signboards) outside their shop to draw in passers-by. The Kanbans would have cards pinned upon them, giving clear and concise snippets of what the shop sold or the services they offered. This trend soon flourished in the hectic Japanese streets, and shops started making their Kanban boards more and more extravagant to stand out. This practice evolved over the years to become the neon signs that cities like Tokyo and Osaka are known for today. However, the Kanban board and its paper cards would go on to shine in a completely different sector; manufacturing.

Kanban’s Big Break

A struggling 1940’s Toyota couldn’t figure out why the company was stuck in a period of stagnation. Looking at their competitors across the Pacific, American car manufacturers were having incredible success in comparison. A young industrial engineer called Ōno Taiichi 大野耐一 stepped into the company and soon identified that Toyota wasn’t being efficient. Identifying seven specific areas, Toyota wasted time, resources and manpower, which ultimately equated to a slower and poorer output of vehicles.

To combat this, Taiichi started using paper cards for signalling and tracking demand and manufacturing stages – he named the new system “kanban”. Kanban cards were attached to every single piece of inventory and phase of the project, and team members could only begin their phase when the card attached deemed they could do so. This flowed down through the whole manufacturing process and reduced waste, improved output, but more importantly – increase visibility. This increased visibility and operation birthed a new kind of Kanban and laid the foundations for the Kanban that we know and love today.

The Modern Kanban

Today’s Kanban has taken the fundamentals Taiichi instilled in Toyota and has evolved, pathing a way for teams and digital agencies to manage projects with an accessible overview on progress. Commonly used in software releases and iterative website development, the Kanban board has been absorbed into Scrum methodology. Sprints, for example, contain granular Kanban cards (called Stories), giving an overview of tasks that make up that Sprint. These cards move from board to board, often in a “To Do” > “In Progress” > “Review” > “Done” fashion, as they’re worked on and completed. Project management tools like ClickUp, Trello and Asana soon included Kanban views by default, allowing for agile Project Management techniques.

stop starting and start finishing quote

As an SEO Agency, Herdl utilises Kanban boards for various processes, including marketing practices, internal projects, and website development. Having an overview of tasks and their status is an efficient and flexible management process that allows you to adapt your approach to tasks as they become more or less pressured. You can read more on How Herdl use Agile Project Management here or contact us for more information.

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