I shall call him ‘Kanban,’ and he shall be mine, and he shall be my Kanban

“I shall call him ‘Kanban,’ and he shall be mine, and he shall be my Kanban.” I am outrageously paraphrasing Dory from Finding Nemo. My point is that everybody seems to want a piece of Kanban. As the authorities, and a few others, tear Kanban apart in definition wars and vying claims of ownership, a few flavours of Kanban are emerging with even more competing names. I thought I’d run through them.

What’s in a name

32. don’t call it anything. If it has a name, people, including you, will waste time arguing what it is and isn’t.
33. call it something. Otherwise nobody can ever talk about it

101 tactics for revolutionaries

Great observations there from ThinkPurpose. Kanban does have a name and it is talked about a lot. But the fact it has a name doesn’t prevent people from wasting “time arguing what it is and isn’t.” Now pardon me while I waste some of your time. 🙂

War of the Kanban illustrious

Kanban, kanban, LKU Kanban, The Kanban Method, Open Kanban, Kanban for Software Development, Kanban for Teams, Capital K Kanban, Small k Kanban, Kanban for Software Engineering, Kanban Ace, Scrumban, and Kanban board are all terms used to describe something related to Kanban. This is mostly because of a war amongst the illustrious of Kanban.

Al Shalloway advocated a New Meaning/Name for Kanban because:

The term Kanban as being usurped by a relatively small number of people to mean the Kanban Method… The rest of us should have a term for Kanban that means the entire range of [Kanban] thinking.

Shalloway goes on to say

It is quite clear that a number of Kanban consultants, particularly those in Lean Kanban University, are attempting to usurp the term to mean that Kanban is the Kanban Method and that any use of Kanban other than the Kanban Method is a “shallow implementation of Kanban.” I am not trying to draw any aspersions to their motivations for this. I am certain they feel they are doing what is in everyone’s best interest, as the Scrum folks did when they blurred the terms Scrum and Agile. But I do not agree that equating Kanban (in the sense of the original Kanban) with the Kanban Method is beneficial for most in the industry.

Shalloway is pointing his finger at David Anderson, one of those who brought Kanban to software around 2007. The indirect discussion between Shallow and Anderson, via blogs and twitter, is a bit tit-for-tat as Anderson has shot a similar accusation back at Shalloway:

Those who seek to brand a shallow subset of #kanban are doing so for their own aggrandizement

David J Anderson (@djaa_dja), 7 August 2013

They both think the other is branding a subset of Kanban.They are probably both right.

Acrimonious mud slinging aside, this might leave some folk a bit confused about what “Kanban” is. So here are a few different definitions / slants / perspectives on the word “Kanban”.

kanban – the sign or logo

In the Japanese language a “kanban” is a sign or billboard (Hurtado, 2013). Businesses often use their kanban as a logo.

kanban – the signal card

In the Toyota world a “kanban” is a signal card used for Just in Time manufacturing (Ohno, 1988). Some folk refer to this use of the word as “small k Kanban” (Cockburn, 2011; Shalloway, 2013 ).

Small k Kanban

“Small k Kanban” is an alternative name for a kanban signal card (Cockburn, 2011; Shalloway, 2013). This name is used to distinguish it from capital K methods.

Kanban Software Development

“Kanban Software Development” is a thought process and a subset of Lean thinking to be used in conjunction with other Agile approaches (Shalloway, 2013 August).

Shalloway (2013, July) uses this phrase, but also “Capital K Kanban”, and “Kanban for Teams”. Hurtado (2013) calls this “Kanban Ace”. In Japanese this Kanban is usually called “Kamban”.

Capital K Kanban

“Capital K Kanban” is an alternative name for “Kanban Software Development” (Shalloway, 2013).

Unfortunately Alistair Cockburn (2011) uses “capital-K Kanban” for “The Kanban Method” (in the guise of “LKU Kanban”) so absolutely not what Shalloway had in mind when he talked about “Capital K Kanban”. Sigh.

Perhaps “Capital K Kanban” means one of the heavy weight Kanbans that definitely isn’t “Small k Kanban”.

Kanban for Teams

“Kanban for Teams” is an alternative name for Kanban Software Development used by Al Shalloway (Net Objectives)

Kanban Ace

“Kanban Ace” is the name that Agile Lion use for their flavour of “Kanban for Software Development” (Hurtado, 2013).

Open Kanban

Hurtado (2013) proposed “Open Kanban” as an alternative to “Kanban for Software Development” but it doesn’t seem to have caught on.

The Kanban Method

Officially “The Kanban Method” is Anderson’s “approach to incremental, evolutionary change for technology development/operations organizations” (Anderson, 2010b, updated 2014). This is the brand of Kanban that taught by the Lean Kanban University company, hence sometimes called “LKU Kanban”. Used to be called “Kanban for Software Engineering”.

Kanban for Software Engineering

“Kanban for Software Engineering” it the name David Anderson originally gave “the Kanban Method” (Anderson, 2010a). Not to be confused with “Kanban for Software Development” although Shalloway (2013, July) suggests the origin is the same.

LKU Kanban

“LKU Kanban” is an alternative name for “The Kanban Method” because it is taught by the Lean Kanban University company (Hurtado, 2013).

Colloquial Kanban

Paul Klipp (@paulklipp, 5 Sep 2013) described “Colloquial Kanban” in a tweet:

Colloquial #Kanban: Get stuff done. Do less stuff. Use yer damn head.

Kanban Board

The physical board used by a team using any of the variations on is called a “Kanban board” (Zheglov, 2013). The board is sometimes called a “Kanban” although technically this is incorrect and it is the card on the board that is the kanban.


“Scrumban” is the combination of Scrum and Kanban (Ladas, 2009).

Dory and Squishy

In the movie Finding Nemo the character Dory says “I shall call him ‘Squishy,’ and he shall be mine, and he shall be my Squishy” about a small jellyfish she adopts as her pet.

Dory and Squishy

Dory and Squishy

Of course my post is nothing about fish or jellyfish, or pets, or animated movies. I just like the quote and saw an opportunity to misuse it.


Anderson, D. (2010a). Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business. Blue Hole Press.

Anderson, D. (2010b, 10 Dec; Updated Sep 2014). The Principles & General Practices of the Kanban Method.

Cockburn, A. (2011, 25 May). Alistair Cockburn. Author.

Hurtado, J. (2013, 29 July). What is Kanban?. Agile Lion.

Ladas, C. (2009). Scrumban – Essays on Kanban Systems for Lean Software Development. Modus Cooperandi Lean.

Net Objectives (n.d.). Lean-Kanban for Teams. Author.

Ohno, T. (1988). Toyota Production System – beyond large-scale production. Productivity Press.

Shalloway, A. (2013, 13 July). Why We Need a New Meaning/Name for Kanban. Net Objectives.

Shalloway, A. (2013, 26 August). A Tale of Two Kanbans… or Three. Net Objectives.

White. D. (2013, 31 July). Them’s Fighting Word!. Agile Ramblings.

Zheglov, A. (2013, 7 August)
The Seven (or More) Meanings of Kanban. Learning Agile and Lean.

2 thoughts on “I shall call him ‘Kanban,’ and he shall be mine, and he shall be my Kanban

  1. Thanks for this. It’s helpful. I’m commenting though to enhance what you said about ScrumBan, because I think it’s not quite clear.

    I don’t think ScrumBan is accurately described as a combination of Scrum and Kanban, which suggests that it takes some practices and artifacts from each think to create a new thing.

    I think a better definition of ScrumBan is: the application of Kanban to a particular Scrum implementation (for the purpose of evolutionarily improving the flow of value from the Scrum team). Since Kanban is a evolutionary change tool, over time different Scrum teams who use it will evolve to present different sets of rules, roles and practices so no two ScrumBan implementations will be alike.

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