Finding software can be overwhelming. Software Advice has helped many project management teams choose the right kanban software so they can track work visually and streamline collaboration.

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Project Insight

Project Insight (PI) is the work management hub helping companies manage projects, allocate personnel and track what work is being done throughout the entire organization. The intuitive software aggregates data from high-productivity... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 23 recommendations

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monday.com

monday.com, an award-winning collaboration and project management platform, helps teams plan together efficiently and execute complex projects to deliver results on time. monday.com team management and task management tool allows for... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 17 recommendations

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Easy Projects

Easy Projects is a cloud-based project management platform suitable for midsize organizations and enterprises. Easy Projects provides every contributing team member, project manager, executive, stakeholder or customer with access... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 14 recommendations

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KeyedIn Projects

KeyedIn Projects is a cloud-based project management solution for enterprise-level companies offering a suite with features, such as program management, professional services automation and project portfolio management application.... Read more

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MPOWR Envision

Designed to eliminate rigid departmentalization and streamline strategic execution, MPOWR Envision helps organizations build an execution strategy using open communication and organizational alignment. As a cloud-based execution tool,... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 9 recommendations

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inMotion ignite

inMotion ignite is a creative project management software built specifically for the needs of creative and marketing teams. Combining the most powerful elements of task and workflow management with the collaborative features of online... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 8 recommendations

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Smartsheet

Smartsheet is a work execution platform and collaboration tool with a familiar spreadsheet-like interface that helps teams plan, track, and manage projects in real-time. Smartsheet features include a range of project management tools,... Read more

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Workfront

Workfront is the leader in enterprise work management. Workfront connects strategy to delivery, integrating people and data across the enterprise, and manages work from start to finish for the delivery of measurable outcomes, all in... Read more

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Cora PPM

Cora Systems provide enterprise project and portfolio management solutions to global organizations and government agencies, such as Honeywell, Elanco, PwC, City of London and the UK’s National Health Service. Their solution, Cora... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 5 recommendations

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Polarion ALM

Polarion is a browser-based application lifecycle management (ALM) solution that allows businesses to manage all facets of the product development lifecycle. Designed for complex development environments, Polarion ALM utilizes built-in... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 4 recommendations

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Sciforma

Sciforma is a cloud-based project and portfolio management solution for enterprises that allows to strategically track and analyze project data and make relevant decisions. It can be sold as a stand-alone portfolio management, project... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 3 recommendations

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WorkOtter

WorkOtter is a SaaS project, resource, and portfolio management solution built for teams of 50-200 who demand a simple, sensible, and supportable PPM alternative. Touting over 50 gorgeous, configurable, and full animated dashboards,... Read more

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Aysling

Aysling is a cloud-based enterprise resource solution that can run an entire business, from leads to sales, through delivery to payments. Aysling is easy to deploy, configure, use, and manage while offering top-level support and... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 2 recommendations

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Wrike

Wrike is a cloud-based project management platform for teams of 20+ that is suitable for both large enterprises and SMBs. It supports remote work for various teams. This solution comes with Gantt charts, calendars, workload view for... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 1 recommendations

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Mavenlink

Mavenlink offers services and solutions for project management, resource planning, collaboration, and project accounting. Mavenlink combines the robust functionality of a Professional Services Automation solution with intuitive user-friendly... Read more

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Workamajig

Workamajig is a cloud-based HTML5 project management solution designed for creative ad agencies and in-house advertising teams of all sizes. Key features include opportunity tracking, project management, time tracking, resource management... Read more

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Forecast

Forecast helps midsized Agencies, Consultants, Software teams and Architects kick their spreadsheets to the curb and start delivering profitable projects every time. The platform provides an intuitive interface to manage your projects,... Read more

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Deltek WorkBook

Deltek WorkBook is a cloud-based agency management system that provides a way to manage resources, schedule jobs and record time. With this system, organizations can manage projects, control budget, store documents and more. Deltek... Read more

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AchieveIt

AchieveIt is a cloud-based solution designed to help medium to large organizations in healthcare, government, utilities, enterprise, education, and more organize and integrate multiple plans, progress updates, and reports in a centralized... Read more

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Kimble

Kimble focuses exclusively on professional services automation (PSA), innovating a best-in-class SaaS platform that works seamlessly with CRM. Recommended by global leaders in consulting, software and hi-tech, Kimble helps professional... Read more

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Buyers guide


Last Updated: January 1, 2021

Kanban is a prominent method used to implement agile project management (PM). It is less rigid and prescriptive than other agile frameworks (e.g., scrum), and is popular among teams that require the flexibility to reprioritize tasks as needed to accomplish project goals.

As the agile PM movement gains momentum, vendors are increasingly developing products designed to support scrum and kanban PM processes. Add these to the wealth of traditional PM tools already on the market and it can be difficult to know where to start.

In this guide, we’ll review the modern kanban PM method and explain how it fits within the larger PM space. We’ll also breakdown the kanban software available to you, so you can make a more informed purchase decision.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Kanban Project Management?
What Is Kanban Software?
Common Features of Kanban Software
What Type of Buyer Are You?

What Is Kanban Project Management?

Before we dive into kanban, here’s a short comparison of agile and waterfall project management:

Agile PM helps teams address and respond to change over the life of a project. Teams start with an overarching project goal and break work down into incremental phases, completing high priority items first. By incorporating more opportunities for inspection and review as the project is in progress, teams reduce waste and strive to deliver the most value to the end user/customer.

Waterfall PM is the traditional model of project management and is change averse. Requirements are agreed upon before the start of a project and benchmarks are set for scope, budget and timeline. Teams work sequentially, and work flows from one phase to the next until the project is completed. Success is measured by how closely the project adheres to the initial plan, i.e., “on-time and on-budget.”

The Kanban method is designed to reduce waste and improve team efficiency. Although less prescriptive than scrum, there are four key principles that define the kanban PM methodology:

  1. Manage work visually. Kanban teams create a visual representation of their work and workflows by using a kanban board. The board is broken down into several columns that represent the team’s different workflow stages, and users move cards with task information across the board to represent where the task is in their workflow.
  2.   
  3. Limit work in progress. By limiting the amount of open work items on the board, teams can reduce the time it takes to complete a single task. Ultimately, this helps them complete work at a faster pace because they don’t suffer productivity losses due to context switching and juggling multiple tasks at once.
  4.   
  5. Work in a “continuous flow.” Whereas scrum is iterative and teams complete work in timeboxes, kanban teams complete work in a continuous flow. Users pull work through the system a single piece at a time and work on that task until it is complete. Then they pull the next highest-priority item from the backlog. Work-in-progress limits help to regulate the flow of tasks and eliminate bottlenecks, so teams work at their ideal pace and do not overextend themselves or get burned out.
  6.   
  7. Focus on “continuous improvement.” Continuous improvement is a cornerstone of agile project management. By embracing change and increasing opportunities for inspection and review over the course of the project, agile teams strive to maximize the value delivered to the customer and/or end user. This is why kanban allows for the re-prioritization of backlogs, so users work on and complete the highest-priority items first, i.e., balancing demand against throughput. This is also why teams track their flow, throughput and quality, and why they limit their open work items, so they can experiment and find their ideal pace and optimize their performance.
  8.   

What Is Kanban Software?

Kanban software supports the above principles in several ways:

Helps teams visualize work and workflows. Digital kanban boards act as a team’s centralized project hub, helping to relate task and project status at a glance. Users can see instantly where a work item is in their workflow, meaning they know what stages it has already passed through and where it needs to go next.

Places actual limits on the number of open items. Kanban software allows teams to set work-in-progress (WIP) limits on a specific phase of work (i.e., column) or on the number of open tasks allowed for a specific user. Managers can put a “cap” on the number of open items permitted, and set up notifications to alert themselves and the user when they have reached the maximum number of open tasks permitted.

Easily reprioritizes work in the backlog, or “to-do” phase, as needed. Items in the backlog can be reprioritized as needed and placed at the top of the “to-do” column or prioritized in another way, either by marking the task as urgent or assigning an agreed-upon color-code (e.g., red for urgent, yellow for needs attention soon etc.).

Tracks the progression of work items and measuring performance. Kanban teams have two defining methods for tracking the flow and progression of work and measuring team performance: lead and cycle time and cumulative flow (more on these in the next section). Kanban software helps automate these reports, allowing managers to schedule them to run on a recurring basis. The findings can be mirrored onto a dashboard or collated into a project status report for stakeholders. Tracking these items helps teams make more informed decisions about their rate of throughput and how to effectively use tools such as WIP limits, so they can work to continuously improve their efficiency.

Kanban board in LeanKit

Kanban board in LeanKit

Common Features of Kanban Software

Look for the following features as you evaluate and compare kanban software solutions:

Kanban boards A visualization of a team’s workflows. The boards are broken down by columns which represent different workflow stages. Tasks are represented by cards that workers pull from the backlog according to highest priority and then move across the board (drag-and-drop to different columns) as the task progresses through the various stages.
Work-in-progress (WIP) limits A “cap” on the number of open tasks allowed in any one column or by any one user. WIP limits can help reduce bottlenecks between stages, such as those that can pile up when projects require specialized personnel resources, e.g., a certain type of programmer. In this example, a manager might set a limit on the number of tasks the programmer is working on to ensure they don’t get overloaded.
Cumulative flow diagrams (CFDs) CFDs are charts that show the status of work items over time. The x-axis plots time and the y-axis shows the number of tasks within a project. Colored lanes represent the workflow stages on the board. CFDs are used to track the flow of work and identify problem areas, e.g., bottlenecks or scope changes, that could impact completion.
Lead and cycle time diagrams Lead and cycle time diagrams are charts that measure the time elapsed from when a task is placed on the board in the “to-do” column until it is completed. Lead time encompasses the entire time elapsed, while cycle time refers to just the time spent actually working on a task (e.g., when it is pulled from the backlog). The goal is to shorten cycle times, enabling teams to improve lead time as well (i.e., if you’re working at an ideal pace, you’ll get to more of the backlog items more quickly).

What Type of Buyer Are You?

Kanban works well for teams within fast-paced industries, such as marketing and communications, who have a backlog of continually evolving commitments. Kanban provides them the flexibility required to re-prioritize their backlog as often as needed.

Conversely, scrum teams work in fixed sprints, and changes and re-prioritization are not allowed mid-sprint. Scrum is still more accepting of change than traditional PM, but not as flexible as kanban.

Additionally, kanban doesn’t call for prescribed roles the way that scrum does, which means that it requires fewer organizational and team changes to get set up. If you’re interested in implementing agile PM, but receiving resistance to an entire agile overhaul, consider kanban as an easy stepping stone.

Furthermore, VersionOne found in their 11th annual State of Agile report, that a hybrid or blended kanban process is more popular than “pure” kanban. Again, this may lower the barrier to adoption for your team and/or organization, so consider flexible tools that allow for custom workflows, fields etc. so your teams can mold the tool to their exact needs.

For tips on how to successfully implement a new project management solution, check out this infographic.