Kanban key concepts

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This article provides a short dictionary of terms and available tools used in tracking work using Kanban boards and Kanban methods. See also:

Blocker

An issue that prevents work from progressing. You can highlight work that is blocked by using tags and changing the card color. Learn more: Customize cards, Define style rules to highlight cards.

Bottleneck

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. Learn more: Split columns, Identify bottlenecks.

Card reordering

Card reordering is a configurable setting for a team's Kanban board that either forces cards to maintain the backlog priority when dragged and dropped on the board, or allows the priority order to change. Learn more: Reorder cards.

Reorder cards while changing columns

Cumulative flow diagram (CFD)

The in-context CFD report shows the count of items in each Kanban column for the past 30 weeks or less. From this chart you can gain an idea of the amount of work in progress and lead time. Work in progress counts unfinished requirements. Learn more: Cumulative flow, lead time, and cycle time guidance.

Cycle time

Cycle time is the time calculated for a work item from first entering an In Progress category state to entering a Completed state category. Learn more: Cumulative flow, lead time, and cycle time guidance.

Lead time and cycle time

You can gain valuable metrics and visualize the cycle time for a team and a configurable time period by adding the Cycle Time widget to the dashboard.

Definition of Done

Criteria that a team specifies for each stage of work to share and standardize on what constitutes work being done at that stage. Learn more: Kanban best practices, working software and the Definition of Done.

Kanban board

An interactive, electronic sign board that supports visualization of the flow of work from concept to completion and lean methods. Azure DevOps provides a Kanban board for each product and portfolio backlog. Learn more: Kanban basics and Kanban board features and epics.

Important

Work items that appear on more than one team's Kanban board can yield results that don't meet your expectations because each team can customize their Kanban board columns and swimlanes. The values assigned to Kanban Board Column, Board Column Done, and Board Lane fields may differ from what you expect when another team updates the work item from a different board. To learn more, see About Boards and Kanban, Exercising select features with multi-team ownership.

Kanban columns

A Kanban column maps to a stage of work. The default columns map to the workflow states of the work item types which appear on the Kanban board. You configure the columns to map workflow states of your team. Learn more: Kanban basics, Map the flow of work.

Lead time

Lead time is the time calculated for a work item from first entering a Proposed category state to entering a Completed state category. Learn more: Cumulative flow, lead time, and cycle time guidance.

You can gain valuable metrics and visualize the lead time for a team and a configurable time period by adding the Lead Time widget to the dashboard.

Live updates

Live updates is a Kanban board view option which when enabled automatically refreshes the Kanban board as other team members move or reorder cards. Learn more: Enable live updates.

Product backlog

An interactive list of work items that corresponds to a team's project plan or roadmap for what the team plans to deliver. The product backlog supports prioritizing work, forecasting work by sprints, and quickly linking work to portfolio backlog items. You can define your backlog items and then manage their status using the Kanban board.

Each product backlog can be customized by a team. Learn more: Create your backlog.

Product backlog item

A type of work item that defines the applications, requirements, and elements that teams plan to create. Product owners typically define and stack rank product backlog items which are defined with the Scrum process. Learn more: Scrum process work item types and workflow.

Portfolio backlog

An interactive list of work items, similar to the product backlog, that supports organizing or grouping work under features, epics, or scenarios. Portfolio backlogs work similarly to product backlogs in that you can prioritize work and view the tree hierarchy of work. Learn more: Define features and epics.

Swimlanes

A swimlane is a configurable row on a Kanban board, usually used to support different service class levels of work. Learn more: Expedite work with swimlanes.

Kanban board, Drag items into a swimlane

Split columns

Split columns lets your team implement a pull mechanism within the workflow process. Without split columns, teams push work forward, to signal that they've completed their stage of work. However, pushing it to the next stage doesn't necessarily mean that a team member immediately starts work on that item. With split columns, your team knows exactly how many items sit idle, waiting for work to begin. Learn more: Split columns.

Kanban board, Split columns

Task checklists

A task is a type of work item used to track work required to complete a user story or product backlog item. You can add tasks from your Kanban board which appear as a checklist of work to be done. As you complete a task, you can update it's status by checking the checkbox for the task. Learn more: Add tasks or child items as checklists.

Task switching

Task switching, also referred to as context switching or multitasking, is when a team member shifts their attention among different tasks. 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.

User story

A type of work item that defines the applications, requirements, and elements that teams plan to create. Product owners typically define and stack rank user stories. User story is defined with the Agile process. Learn more: Agile process work item types and workflow.

WIP limit

A WIP limit is a constraint that a team applies to one or more workflow stages to help prevent potential bottlenecks that hinder the continuous flow of work in the system. Learn more: Work in Progress limits.

Work in Process (WIP)

Work that has been started but isn't done or completed.

Workflow states

Workflow states are defined for each work item type to support tracking the status of a work item, from its creation to it's completion. These states define the workflow process: actions, steps, or stages that a piece of work goes through from inception to completion.

The State and Reason fields differ depending on the work item type and process selected for the project.

Workflow states: User Story, Agile process

User Story workflow states, Agile process

You can customize your workflow states, adding states or renaming states. Learn more: Customize the workflow.

You can customize your workflow states, adding states, renaming states, and changing state transitions and reasons. Learn more: Customize the workflow.

Workflow state categories

State categories determine how the Kanban board treat each workflow state. The state categories used by the backlogs are Proposed, In Progress, Resolved, and Completed. Learn more: Workflow states and state categories.