A Quick Guide to Kanban Cards


Kanban cards are a versatile project management tool. They’re part of the kanban method, a simple yet powerful system that consists of kanban boards, kanban cards and management principles.

The kanban method can be used to manage projects, business processes and inventories, among other things. It was first introduced by Taiichi Ohno on the floor of the Toyota factory as a just-in-time manufacturing method that delivered only the materials needed at the time they were needed.

Since then, the kanban system has been adopted by many industries. Teams have responded to the visual style of kanban software as an easy way to limit work in progress and focus on the task at hand. Project managers love the transparency in the project workflow that kanban offers.

But before we dive into kanban cards and kanban software, let’s quickly define what a kanban board is and how it works.

What Is a Kanban Board?

A kanban board is a visual tool that’s used to manage work in progress. Kanban boards are made of kanban cards, columns and swimlanes. Kanban cards represent tasks, also called work items. Kanban columns indicate a stage of completion of those tasks, and generally, measure progress from left to right. Swimlanes are horizontal lines limiting different types of work or tasks.

What Is a Kanban Card?

A kanban card is a visual element that represents a task or work item on a kanban board column. As team members work on their tasks, they move their kanban cards along the kanban columns. Teams can create their own physical kanban cards with sticky notes, but most project managers use digital kanban cards.

ProjectManager’s digital kanban cards allow you to assign tasks to team members, track their progress, and manage their workload in real time. Our kanban board view is simple to use for both managers and team members alike and can be easily customized to fit the needs of your organization. Get started for free.

ProjectManager's Kanban cards on a digital kanban board

Purposes of Kanban Cards

In the most basic sense, kanban cards allow team members to see the work assigned to them in the to-do column and then manage their work as they complete tasks. But that’s only the beginning. When you’re deciding which is the best kanban software for your team, you need to make sure it allows you to do the following.

Track Lead Time & Due Dates

One of the key purposes of kanban cards is to measure lead time. That is the time it takes for a work item to be completed from start to finish. The columns on your kanban board should cover the lead time of all work items, and kanban cards help managers get more insight into each stage of completion and the due dates for deliverables and subtasks.

Improve Team Collaboration

Kanban cards include key information that helps team members understand what everybody’s working on. In addition, digital kanban cards allow managers to assign tasks, leave comments and share files. These and other features help build a collaborative atmosphere with teams.

Limit Work In Progress

Work-in-progress limits, or WIP limits, are an important part of a kanban system. While the term “WIP limits” might sound complicated, it simply means that you can limit the work in progress of your team by defining the maximum number of kanban cards that can be on a column simultaneously.

For example, setting a WIP limit of two kanban cards in a given column will guarantee that the team only focuses on those two tasks before moving to the next work items. This increases your team’s efficiency and helps avoid bottlenecks.

These are only some of the things that you can do with ProjectManager. Our kanban boards have advanced project management features that can be used with other project views such as Gantt charts, task lists and project calendars. Our kanban view allows you to customize boards, columns and cards to fit the needs of your team.

Kanban Card Templates

We offer dozens of project management templates for different industries such as construction, marketing, manufacturing and product development. Here are three samples that show how kanban cards can help you streamline your processes.

5 Kanban Card Tips

The kanban card is a task, but it’s a means to track progress as it moves from one column to the next in the workflow. This gives the production of that task greater transparency. To master this process, here are five tips to get the most out of your kanban cards.

1. Critical Data

The kanban card should be filled with the critical data necessary to complete the task. This includes who on the team is responsible for the work, what that work is in a brief description, when it’s due and if there are any dependencies linked to the task. Supporting documents and images are attached to the card for greater direction and clarity.

2. Keep It Simple

The point of kanban cards is to keep your focus on what must be done now. When you start using kanban cards, start off simple. You can always ramp up later. A kanban card is going to go through three iterations: to do, doing and done. Of course, it can do much more than that, but at first, it’s best to stick to the basics. As you get comfortable, expand what your kanban does.

3. Set Up Policies

Before starting to use kanban cards, set up clear policies on methodology. If everyone on the team understands what the kanban cards do, the process will be more successful. For instance, when can a card be worked on, what can it move from one column to the next, etc.? These are important boundaries to set up to make sure your agile workflow is smooth.

4. Feedback Loops

The kanban card is not written in stone. As the project changes, so should the kanban card and board. There’s always room for improvement in your workflow and the kanban is there to respond to it. Take a moment regularly to look at your kanban and see if it can be improved.

5. Don’t Clutter Your Doing Column

You don’t want to have a bottleneck clogging the process of your work. The idea of limiting your work in progress (WIP) column keeps that queue from getting too many kanban cards and potentially leaving a lot of those cards undone. You don’t want cards in an unfinished state or to start multitasking in an effort to get things done too quickly. Just work on priority cards.

ProjectManager and Kanban Cards

That’s the basics, but kanban boards have developed exponentially as they’ve been folded into larger project management software tools. ProjectManager is intuitive online software that organizes projects with some of the most dynamic kanban features available.

A Customizable Experience

Some kanban boards might as well be written in stone: they aren’t open to how you work. ProjectManager has kanban columns that are customizable, so you can name them whatever is appropriate for your project. Create as many as needed for the project.

Screenshot of the kanban board in ProjectManager

Teams want a kanban that’s easy to use and flexible. Cards can be dragged and dropped from one column to the next to easily update progress. But these cards are more than mere tasks.

The ProjectManager kanban cards are highly dynamic. For example, you can add a to-do list to the card assigned to you and manage your own workflow. Each card can be tagged and prioritized to make it easy to sort. Plus, project managers can attach as many relevant documents and images as necessary to the card.

Collaboration Features

Once the card has been formatted and assigned, you don’t want it just to sit there. ProjectManager has cards that make it easy for teams to work together.

Teams can comment, tag other project members and attach files. All of this is attached to the task so you don’t have to shift through a mass of emails to find what you need.

Kanban board with task card popup in ProjectManager

Managers have different priorities when assigning and tracking the project. With ProjectManager, you can assign tasks from the kanban card. Team members are notified when they’re assigned so everyone is on the same page.

Multiple Project Views for More Control

Not everything you do in a project can rest on kanban boards, though. That’s why ProjectManager has multiple project views. Teams might prefer the visual workflow of a kanban view, while managers might want to see tasks laid out on a timeline on a Gantt chart, so they can link dependencies. There are also task list and calendar views.

ProjectManager's list view

Actionable Reporting

It’s important to have data to track a project. You don’t want to have to switch to another software to see how the project is going. ProjectManager has it all under one roof. One-click reports tell you how tasks are progressing, as status updates are instantly reflected in the software. It gives you the data you need to make the right choice.

Stakeholders also want to know how the project is moving forward, but they don’t want you to go in the weeds with them. ProjectManager has a real-time dashboard for a high-level view, including task progress, to keep stakeholders in the loop.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

Kanban is not just for manufacturers. It’s also a favorite tool for scrum teams working in an agile environment, marketing teams, HR teams and anyone involved in managing a project. With Kanban cards, your project is sure to be a winning hand.

ProjectManager has a robust kanban tool that provides visibility into projects and allows teams to have the autonomy to work together more productively. Its online software gives project managers and teams the most up-to-date data possible, which means more informed decisions. The kanban is but one of four project views, all of which are fully integrated into the software, keeping everyone on the same page. Try the kanban tool from ProjectManager today by taking this free 30-day trial.

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