The origins of the kanban card: where it all began

Today the Kanban principle used in businesses around the world is one of the most popular workflow management programs, but where did it all start? Well, naturally it started off small with a card.

How was the kanban card created?

The origins of the kanban card can be traced back to the late 1940’s when the Toyota company started using visual cards to signify the different processes in their production line. The word “kanban” is Japanese in origin and means literally “visual signal” or just “card”.

Over time the cards have now been implemented into the Kanban principle which now use either visual boards mapped out in lanes and sporting multicolored post-it notes or online software applications which use the same basic color-coded principle as the physical boards, but in a more communicable platform.

Today’s Kanban card provides the same functions as its ancestors, which is to signal different stages of the processes in the workflow. There is relevant information on the front and back of each card. Generally, the front of the card displays a title or unique identifier along with a short description and estimated size of the work as well as who is assigned to the task. Priority, class, and blocked work can also be indicated on the front of the card.

The back of the card often includes records of applicable metrics such as the start date, finished date, lead time, blocked days, and blocked locations. The additions to the back of the card are usually made by many different members of the team as it goes through the workflow. This type of history report on the back of the card is valuable information to improve and analyze the process. It indicates the health of the system and can help identify bottlenecks and other workflow obstacles.

The most basic function of a Kanban card is to illustrate each item’s flow visually through the process and to reduce the need for progress meetings and repeated conversations by creating a hub of information. The card has come a long way to be one of the fastest growing tools of today’s modern business world!


Start using Kanban today with Pipefy!

Pipefy is an intuitive, simple to use, workflow software. We allow businesses to run all their processes in a single platform, ensuring efficiency and solid execution.

Pipefy works as an online Kanban system where tasks move laterally through the multiple phases of your process. Each of your process’ phases can have its own set of work rules, triggers and, if needed, a designated owner.

Don’t lose any more time, try Pipefy!

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Written by Isabelle Salemme, Product content manager at Pipefy. She uses her extensive Pipefy knowledge to write informative pieces teaching users to make the best of Pipefy. Besides being responsible for all product-related content, she's an avid reader, a coffee lover and a professional photographer.