The Kanban Method in Lean UX

Kanban refers a display board for embodying and controlling repetitive workflow. It was invented in the 1950s in Toyota by Taichi Ohno to support the methodology of delivering the product to customers just in time (JIT), neither sooner nor later. Due to its many benefits, including the flexible plant system as well as the notion of mistake-proof (Poka-Yoke) and optimized system flow, this production system was implemented in the US and later recognized as one of the methods of a user experience strategy called ‘LeanUX’. In Lean UX, Kanban plays a critical role in the execution of the principle of JIT method.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 7.20.23 PM



In its basic form, Kanban frames the process of production into four categories: Backlog, Todo, Work In Process (WIP), and Done. Requests for the product are collected at Backlog. Based on the Backlog list, Todo will produced as a set of cards with modularized tasks. Priority brings the card at the top of the column, which is then pulled into the WIP column by each worker. Depending on the definition of “Done,” cards are returned to the backlog for each new challenge or improvement, or they arrive at the destination of Done. The visual flow of the cards prevents a bottleneck of workflow, and demands are collected as a new backlog. Kanban presents only a repetitive form without deadline.



Kanban functions in two aspects of a Lean UX project: 1) by supporting the pulling method of Lean UX; and 2) by optimizing the workflow and cycle time of production. In comparison with the traditional push system of industry in the 1960s, the backlog of the Kanban board provides a buffer and autonomy in the production through the pulling method. Modulating the tasks into bite-sizes portions prevents the bottleneck of the project flow. This not only prevents burnout syndrome, but also makes it possible to visualize and record the flow of the work process. In this visualization, Kanban provides an overview of the project workflow for all related people as well as all production team members.



As a principal component of Lean UX, Kanban is often used as the architecture of software project management tools and integrated with other ideas in UX frameworks, especially with agile development framework. Indeed, using Kanban in software project management is a natural decision because the software design pattern originated from the factory system; however, one of the finest improvements in the case study of Lean UX is the improvement in communication between the production and design teams. In a presentation by Bill Scott, it was pointed out that Paypal’s agile production team became a sole runner due to hyper-speed of their development. Scott called LeanUX “a brain of Agile” that involves agile production. The Paypal design and production teams worked together to make many kinds of prototypes to response each others. In a nut shell, it was building the front and back ends of the workflow prototype. In this case, the Kanban board is used to record and design the prototype software before building the actual software. The Paypal team executed the Kanban method in both the electronic and paper version. In Strompath’s case, Alex Salazar also pointed out the overhead issue of the agile framework. As a fast-moving start-up, Strompath’s product development went through many more irregular changes than would occur in a typical daily meeting (Sprint). According to Salazar, “With Kanban, the business owns the ‘To Do’ column, but Engineering owns all the rest.” When tasks are in the ‘To Do’ column, business can change as much as they wish, while production does no longer needs to worry about changes after the card was pulled at the WIP column.




Studying the traditional tools in their original form is an invaluable experience, especially if they still works sufficiently well. By its own evaluation, recent Kanban boards have much more functionality than their original form. Not only do they provide visualization of workflow and a process tracking system, but recent Kanban systems such as Trello, JIRA and Leankit also support real-time updating and provide community support as well. However many people prefer non-electrical methods called “Magic of post-it:” the fastest form of Kanban.


Technology sometimes limits the way to think about the world and in certain educational level of technology. For team members who does not necessarily technological could have best idea above all. The access of Kanban could be the truth strength of Kanban. Because team need to work together in any condition.

Resource :

a Brief history of Kanban

Item 4. Development and Deployment of the Toyota Production System