To put it short – Kanban is a way of visualizing pending work, work in progress, prioritization and status of work tasks. The process for each work task is normally illustrated by having vertical separators on the Kanban board, each representing state. Priority of each work task is illustrated by the horizontal placement – a high horizontal position represents a high priority task.
In comparison to other agile methods, e.g. Scrum and XP, Kanban is considered a tool or methodology rather than a process. Scrum, XP, etc. defines a range of meetings, roles and processes where as Kanban only describes a set of principles that can aid the team.
The majority of teams using the Kanban method has either a physical Kanban board in their offices or a virtual Kanban board in digital form. On this board all team members, managers and other stakeholders can easily obtain information about each and every work task in the team.
From the team members perspective
By looking at the board each team member is able to see what work is pending in the near future, being worked on, waiting for interaction inside/outside the team, etc. For each work task the team member can see the priority and optionally also deadline.
From the managers perspective
By looking at the board the manager is able to see progress of work, identify bottle necks, redefine prioritization, etc. In contrast to other methods (Scrum, RUP, etc.) the manager is able to swiftly change priority of tasks and communicate this to the team members.
From the stakeholder perspective
By looking at the board the stakeholder is able to see the current status of each work item. This covers all work completed by the team, all work in progress and all pending work. All this information may give input for the stakeholder to communicate a re-prioritization of work in order to meet any scheduled deadlines. It also serves well for communication purposes if there are multiple stakeholders to the team – i.e. the stakeholder can easily see the capacity of the team and the current load which typically answers the question: Why isn’t my work items done yet?