Kanban promotes visualizing work. This can be accomplished by having a Kanban board with explicit agreements, WIP limits, and cards with clear signals. Because Kanban is all about improving the flow of work, it’s great to see bottlenecks, but the ability to visualize card aging is both fun and very helpful.

What is Card Aging?

The second a card is created on a Kanban board, the clock starts ticking to calculate the cycle time of the card. This cycle time is very useful to understand the responsiveness of a Kanban team, but instead of waiting to see that a card took too long once it reaches the final “Done” state… What if cards that don’t move fast enough, wouldn’t it be great to know while the cards are still in play? That’s card aging.

Kanban Zone - card aging edit

In the screenshot above, we show the board settings that can be customized to set 3 levels of aging. Since each board tracks a different process, you can set each board with different aging levels. By default, we set these at 7, 14 and 21 days, but you can set these to whatever you need using minutes, hours, days, weeks or months.

Displayed on the right side is how the cards will visually show their aging on the board. Any card below the first aging level will look normal (on a white background) and as the aging levels are hit the card will change color gradually until the third and last level.

What exactly causes a card to age?

There are 2 factors that will cause a card to start aging:

  1. The card is not moving on the board to a new column (moving within the same column does not count as progress on the board)
  2. Editing a card (not just opening the card but taking an action that causes an edit on the card)
Portfolio Kanban - Reduce Overburden - Improve Flow

How can my team benefit from card aging?

Blocked cards

In Kanban when a card is blocked, we practice avoidance by focusing on other cards that are not blocked. This is the opposite of Scrum, where an impediment during a sprint must be removed ASAP because it may cause the work to not get completed within the current sprint (timebox). When a card gets blocked in Kanban, we show a clear red block signal on the card, but now combined with aging, you will quickly see how long the card has been blocked, simply by its color.

Stale cards

Sometimes a card can suffer from behind missed or avoided, without having a clear reason like being blocked. Although this should not happen often because of the WIP limit causing teams to focus only on a few cards, if a card does get stale, then it will start aging to signal the team to pay attention to the card.

These stale cards can also be the result of poor performance from a team member who can’t keep up like the rest of the team to deliver cards within the aging levels. Aging, in this case, can serve as another important signal for the team to help a member who might need more training or maybe is not suited to be on the team. Either way, the team must pay attention to this and figure out how to resolve it as a team.

If most of the cards are aging, then the aging levels should be discussed as a team to evaluate adjusting these. Aging is not meant to pressure the team to work faster, it’s meant to use data to establish these aging levels, in order to keep a smooth continuous flow of work.

Large cards

In Kanban overtime teams naturally create cards of roughly the same size, because it keeps the flow running smoothly and simplifies everything, including eliminating the need to estimate, while still providing estimates. The card aging will help you identify cards that are too large because a large card will take longer than other cards to clear certain columns. This will serve as a way to learn from these cards and correct the sizes going forward.

Not a Kanban card

Some teams might create cards that are not Kanban cards. In Kanban Zone, we permit to create columns on your board with a “None” state (excluded from reporting). We use these columns to hold cards that serve as documentation for the team, or important research cards. These cards will all very likely hit and stay at the third aging level, which is ok because they are not Kanban cards that flow through the board. Remember that a card only stops aging if it moves to another column or has been edited.

Ready for card aging…

We hope that you enjoy card aging as much as we do. Learn more about using card aging in this knowledge base article.

Did this blog inspire you?

Once you start visualizing your work in Kanban Zone, you will be surprised how much faster it gets done!

No credit card | No contract | No risk

About the Author: Dimitri Ponomareff

Kanban Coach Dimitri Ponomareff
Dimitri Ponomareff is a Coach. Transforming organizations to deliver value faster since 2005, using Agile, Scrum/XP first, and then blending Lean and Kanban. Dimitri has the ability to relate and energize people. He is consistently recognized as a very passionate and successful change agent, with an overwhelming capacity to motivate and mobilize teams on their path to continuous improvements.