primary kanban metrics

One of the most common and perhaps biggest challenges of project managers is finding reliable methods to predict a project’s future. And additionally, steer projects in the right direction. Keeping up with the dynamic workflows of multiple projects can feel like fighting a never-ending battle. You need to estimate projects’ duration, identify and resolve problems, and much more. You’ll need metrics. Doing these tasks successfully requires investing substantial time and effort to gather and analyze appropriate metrics. Time that PMs usually don’t have. Fortunately, managing projects doesn’t have to be such a struggle thanks to a visual and collaborative approach called Kanban which gives PMs the opportunity to use primary Kanban metrics to measure their productivity.

Modern Kanban software solutions can be helpful in a few ways. They let you visualize the whole project on a digital board, making it easily accessible to all team member. And come equipped with tracking tools, allowing you to get valuable analytics. In fact, Kanban software solutions provide insightful metrics that allow you to track the primary Kanban metrics. You can measure the project’s performance, identify bottlenecks and resolve problems.

Let’s see what are the primary Kanban metrics and how you can use them to improve your projects.

Lead Time and Cycle Time

These two primary Kanban metrics are key to understanding the average speed at which the team works on tasks over a specific time period. Lead and Cycle Time diagrams or charts present the entire cycle of a project. Or the time between any two custom points in time during the project’s lifecycle.

Lead time is the time that passes from the moment the team placed the client’s request on the board to the moment when all work on this task is completed and the requested work is delivered to the client. Basically, it’s the total time a client is waiting for the delivery of an item. Including the time that the task spent waiting in queues.

Cycle time in, the other hand, is the time that the team spent actively working on the task. It is measured from the moment the task enters the “In progress” column, and the time it spends there. Wait times are not included.

These two metrics are useful for analyzing the time required to move work items across the board. And use them to make improvements to the project. In order to understand whether your team’s efficiency increases or decreases, it’s a good practice to keep track of average cycle time and lead time. As primary Kanban metrics, they will show you how your cycle and lead times evolve over time. That way, you can understand when the project is completed efficiently. And make better predictions about future project completion times and speed.

kanban metrics - cycle-time


While cycle time measures how long it takes for a task to move through the stages of the process, throughput measures the total amount of work delivered in a specific time period. Throughput differs from the two other primary Kanban metrics as it measures only the tasks that are completed.

When combined with cycle time and lead time, throughput is a very handy metric that can increase the accuracy of forecasting how much work your team is able to deliver. Over time, your team’s throughput should stay the same or increase. If it decreases, then something is negatively affecting the team’s ability to complete tasks. And you as a project manager need to identify and resolve the problem.

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Additionally, using the throughput histogram can help you get a better understanding of the impact that your workflow has on the total business performance. The number of tasks you complete over a period of time can help you decide whether you need to expand the team’s work capacity, speed up delivery, etc.

kanban metrics - throughput

Cumulative Flow Diagram

The Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD) is one of the primary Kanban metrics which provides a concise visualization of the most important metrics of the project’s flow, aggregated in three categories:

  • number of tasks the team has completed
  • number of tasks the team is already working on
  • number of tasks which are waiting to be started.

The CFD is a great tool for measuring the team’s performance. It shows all stages of the process and the number of related tasks, with each stage represented by a differently colored band. The height of each band indicates the number of tasks (cards) in each stage. If the colored band for “Done” work increases, that means the teams is delivering work faster. On the other hand, an increase in the band can indicate there’s a bottleneck slowing down the work.

Usually, the top band is the “Backlog” – the place where all tasks are stored. And the bottom one represents the completed or archived tasks. On a physical Kanban board, teams can use an envelope or a tray where they keep completed tasks. While on digital boards, like Kanban Zone, completed tasks simply get closed and moved off the board to the archive.

The cumulative flow diagram shows how the team’s performance changes over time. It tells you how many cards moved in and out of each stage per unit of time. And cumulatively, how many cards traversed the board and were successfully done. The slope presented on your CFD is an indicator of the team’s Kanban throughput. The higher the slope, the greater the throughput. This makes it very easy for project managers to get a quick visual assessment of the current project status. Thus, make informed decisions when delegating tasks.

kanban metrics - cumulative flow diagram

Make Data-Driven Decisions with Primary Kanban Metrics

Using a Kanban system has many benefits. Visualizing the whole project will give you and the team a better overview of the work that lies ahead of you. But more importantly, it will allow you to quickly and easily generate performance data that you can communicate to your customers. You can get a better understanding of the team’s capabilities and make more accurate predictions about future delivery.

This way, you’ll be able to reap all the benefits of using Kanban. And understand how much time your team needs to complete a specific work. Thus you can make a more accurate prediction about project completion times. Furthermore, you’ll be able to plan and organize work better, make data-driven changes and improvements to your flow.

Tracking the primary Kanban metrics will not only help you organize a project better but will also help you understand and improve your own performance as a project manager.

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About the Author: Ivana Sarandeska

Ivana Sarandeska is a digital marketer, creative writer and master procrastinator. An Agile enthusiast and a firm believer that thorough planning is key to good execution and even better improvisation. She has a soft spot for technology, so most of her full-time jobs were in IT companies where she was introduced to Agile and Scrum. After she got her Scrum Basics certification she started actively using these methodologies and their main principles. Learning how to organize her time and tasks better has motivated her to dive deeper into these methodologies. Now, she is an avid advocate of Agile and Scrum and happily shares her knowledge and experience to fellow procrastinators.