Kanban Glossary

Kanban — the Japanese word for “visual signal” or “card” — is a method used to visualize work, limit work-in-process, and foster continuous improvement.

Get familiar with some of the key Kanban terms:


An internal or external factor preventing progress, thereby limiting the ability for the work to move from one phase in your process to the next.


A constraint in the system that limits the flow of work. Identifying bottlenecks makes it easier to reduce their impact and provides a mechanism for controlling work flowing through the process.

Hidden WIP

Work that someone on the team is working on but hasn’t been added to the board.

Kanban System

A display of visual indicators, namely cards, that signals what the process needs exactly when the process needs it. Also: a way to visualize work and workflow.


The series of actions, steps or stages that a piece of work goes through to be considered “done.”

Process Map

A visual representation of the steps needed to complete a piece of work.

Pull Mechanism

The action of pulling work based on the opportunity and capacity to fulfill the needs of the system.

Pull System

A work process where each stage only pulls work into progress when it has capacity to do so; the opposite of a push system, where work is assigned and added to a queue, regardless of capacity to complete it.

Source of Demand

The business goal that is driving the requirement for work. The source of demand is sometimes an external customer and sometimes an internal business stakeholder.

Task Switching

also known as Context Switching or Multitasking

Shifting attention between multiple pieces of work. Limiting task switching can allow a person to work more efficiently by minimizing the amount of time required to redirect cognitive function to a new activity.

Visual Management

A philosophy that work is better managed through visual systems, such as Kanban, than text-based lists or spreadsheets. The philosophy posits that visualizing work as it’s being done better reveals problems at earlier stages, leading to lower cost solutions.


see Work in Process

WIP Limit

A constraint that can be applied to either parts of a workflow (e.g., a process step) or to an entire workflow to help prevent potential bottlenecks that hinder the continuous flow of work in the system.

Work in Process (WIP)

Work that has been started but is not yet “done.”

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