Kanban Cards: Explained in 2 minutes


7 min read

Kanban Cards: Explained in 2 minutes

Kanban is one of the most popular work management frameworks today. The central aim is to help the workforce visualize the work – done, being done, and to be done and maximize efficiency and workflow. It is a well-used system in many fields of business. Originally used in manufacturing but now increasingly in retail, supplies, and customer service industries. In the software and web development industry, it has found a perfect home, often because of its fit with the idea of frequent updates by small teams.

The Kanban Card is the movable representation of a single task, element, or piece of work as it flows through the system from one stage to the next. As we shall see it can be a physical card or a virtual presence. Either way, it contains essential information that is both highly visual and easily accessible.

1. What is a Kanban Card?

A Kanban Board contains labeled lanes or columns representing stages in a process. The Kanban Cards are the actual visual representations of each work item on that Kanban board. Literally from the Japanese Kan (visual) Ban (card).

Each card is not only a representation, it also carries essential information about that particular work item. This information can be accessed by the team and allows them to work on the task, track its history, read or leave comments, etc.

Each Kanban card also instantly shows the status of the work, by its position on the board. Working its way from left to right, from the earliest stages of request right through to completion.

2. Why Do We Need Them?

Kanban is essentially a very visual process. At its core, it is designed to help communication and information sharing within the team. It does this by centralizing information around a single visual hub – the Kanban Board.

If the Kanban board is the heart of the project, the individual Kanban cards are the blood that flows. Each card carries enough detailed information for work to be done with a minimum of additional communication or explanation, thus improving efficiency and saving time. The card also represents the status and progress of that item at any given time, again cutting down the need for additional communication and meeting, etc.

The management of these cards should also help the team quickly identify any hold-ups or bottlenecks in the workflow. therefore you can address issues, and improve the flow in this project. Additionally, this information and record-keeping should improve the system in general, working towards a better uninterrupted more streamlined system.

3. Information on the Cards

A physical Kanban card has two sides or faces, and information is recorded on both sides. It is important that the cards are written in a consistent style. This helps to make the information as understandable and accessible as quickly as possible. Many cards also make use of color, and formatting to increase ease of understanding.

3.1. Kanban Card Front

On the front of the Kanban Card is the most basic information about the task or item. This is the side that faces outwards and is therefore visible. This is the information that the team can see and decide on whether or not it is relevant to them. Here we put the title, type, and description of the task. Other essential information included on the front should be the date the task is due, the person who has been assigned the task, the priority, and the estimated cycle time and effort.

Some of this information is commonly signposted. The use of colored cards, is a typical example, with different colors for different types of work. It is also common to use other systems to communicate information, such as numbering or grading efforts.

3.2. Kanban Card Rear

Once the card has been seen as relevant to the team member, they can then find further information. This is placed on the back of the card.  It is the more detailed information that the person doing the work will need.

Contained here is the history of the card, who has worked on this card up to this point, and what has been done. This can also include comments, attached data or files,  and relevant resources or templates used. The rear of the card can also be used for a more detailed definition of the task the description, and goals. There may also be a breakdown of sub-tasks. The idea is that this detail allows the worker to move forward with the task.

4. The Advantages Of Kanban Cards

There are two main advantages to Kanban cards and the Kanban system. The main one is improved organization and communication.
The second is the sense of movement and therefore progress at a visual level.

Organization and communication are vital in the workplace. This is especially so with more complex projects and different types of teams such as remote or virtual teams and cross-collaboration teams. The Kanban cards cut down on the need for face-to-face meetings and communication as they contain the information that can allow a worker to move forward with little or no additional direction. The highly visual nature of Kanban cards also means that the whole team can keep up with the progress made. It is important in making the worker feel part of a greater whole. This plays a vital role in engagement and motivation at work.

Additionally, Kanban cards make it blindingly obvious for workers to spot weaknesses in the process, bottlenecks, and holdups. Spot the problem and then do something about the issue before it leads to a full breakdown.

Kanban also makes it easy to track performance. There are clearly visible metrics for data collection, such as completion time, cycle time, blockage time, etc. This is perfect information to continue to improve your workflow processes and therefore improve performance.

5. Use Of Card Templates

Standardizing work saves time and Kanban card templates are a great example of this. Not only do they save time on the effort of making something each time from scratch, but they also become easier to understand by familiarity.

Once you have a style and system that works it is both easy and effective to duplicate it. Then customize and edit it when you need to.  As much of your work will doubtless be performing recurring tasks from project to project and task to task. A Kanban card template is an effective and efficient use of time.

6. Digital Kanban Cards

Kanban cards started and became popular in the physical workplace, with managers and employees literally picking cards and moving them from one column to the next. A highly satisfying process but one that doesn’t necessarily work in today’s world of increased remote work and digitalization of systems.

Luckily, as Kanban has shown if the system works then people will adapt it. We can now use Kanban in the virtual world, with kanban boards, cards, and other highly useful tools. You have all the normal Kanban features, virtual boards, and cards and so the essential advantages of great communication and easy, visual access for the whole team are right there for you. With virtual cards, you can add even more information, larger files, and attachments, and comment at the touch of a button. Instead of having a front and back of a physical card, you have on-show information that you can click into to open up the “rear”.

The virtual Kanban cards have other advantages too. They can be set up with automated data collection, which can then be used to produce infographics, charts, and graphs. They have great customization features and you can set up notifications to inform you when a card has been assigned, reassigned, changed, or has moved to the next stage.

In this way, you have a centralized hub of information accessible instantly by remote or onsite workers from their own devices at any time of day or night.


And here is our rapid and quick-fire guide to Kanban cards. This should give you a great idea of what they are. And more so, how incredibly useful they can be in the organization and running of your projects. The system is recognized as one of the best agile systems and has not only stood the test of time but has been adapted to the new realities of the digital workplace, and even improved because of that adaptation.

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