Kanban Metrics on Kanban Zone

The Kanban methodology provides the ideal way to visualize your work, goals, and ideas. The best about Kanban is its simplicity… You map your process visually on a board and then flow cards on that board. All Kanban requires is to follow these 5 properties: visualize the workflow, limit the Work-In-Progress (WIP), make the process explicit, use models to recognize improvement opportunities and measure and manage the flow. To help you measure and manage the flow, this is where Kanban metrics play a key role. Let us explore these in detail.

Track your success.

As shown on the screenshot on the right, you can access all your Kanban metrics from each board by clicking the metrics icon. This will provide a quick glance at your current metrics and you can click each of these metrics to see the full details. In the sections below, we will explain each of these Kanban metrics.

kanban zone - metrics menu


Track your performance.

As one of the Kanban metrics, throughput measures the number of cards that get Done within a certain frequency (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc…). By establishing your throughput you can understand what your Kanban board (process or team) is producing. This is how you start building more predictability to plan your work.

For example, if your team produces an average of 10 cards per week. You can expect that you will continue to produce 10 cards per week unless something significant changes with your process or team. Since you are using an average, you can track if it’s stable, going up or down, but you will always have an average. This throughput average can be used to plan your week by always identifying the 10 cards you want to produce every week. If you are asked to deliver 50 cards for a specific project, then you can inform the project manager that if you only focus on these 50 cards, then it will take 5 weeks, or 7 weeks to be safe.

But what if all the cards are not the same size? This is the question we always get. Although it’s ideal that all your cards are roughly the same size and Kanban teams usually find ways over time to achieve this, it’s ok if they are not exactly the same size because you are using an average over at least 4-6 weeks.

Kanban Zone - Reports - Throughput

Based on the chart above showing 6 months, this team produced an average of 31 cards per month. The expectation for next month should be around 31 cards. Please note that the data never showed a month producing exactly 31 cards. This is why you must use an average and set expectations “around” 31 cards and not state exactly 31. The team might be slightly over or under and we don’t want the team to stop at 31, we need the team to produce as much as they can while providing some predictability.

Read our knowledge base article about throughput for more detailed instructions about using throughput as one of the Kanban metrics in Kanban Zone.

Cycle Time

Track your responsiveness.

Compared to the other Kanban metrics, cycle time is designed to measure the time it takes for a card to flow through the process steps (columns) of your board. The default cycle time is calculated from the time a card enters a WIP column to the time it enters a Done column. This is how long it took the team to complete the card.

For example, the card was created on Monday and it stayed in the Backlog or a To Do column of your board until Wednesday. The team picked up the card on Wednesday, moved it to a WIP column, and then completed the card on Friday by moving the card in a Done column. The card took 3 days (Wednesday to Friday) to get worked on, so the cycle time of that card is 3 days. To the customer, it felt like 5 days because the card was created on Monday and completed on Friday (5 days), but in reality, it only took the team 3 days.

The time the card took prior to hitting a WIP column is called lead time, so the total time it took to deliver the card is 5 days, but the detail should show 2 + 3 = 5 (Lead Time + Cycle Time = Total Time).

The reason we must focus on the cycle time is because the team must use this number to set expectations about the time it will take to actually produce the work. The team might not be responsible for the time the card stayed in the backlog, or the time it took someone outside of the team to create the card. We fully understand that to the customer it’s the full time that counts, but in order for the team to measure their responsiveness, it must focus on the cycle time.

Kanban Zone - Reports - Cycle Time

The screenshot above shows a line chart of your cycle time per card label. For this board, the team has decided to create 9 card labels represented by different colors. This provides a cycle time for each card label, but you can also see that the overall cycle time for all the cards is shown as 4 days.

Based on this data Feature cards shown in green took 6 days, but other types of cards had different cycle times ranging from 1 to 9 days. If someone needed a Feature card from this team, we would set the expectation at 6 days.

Kanban Zone - Reports - Cycle Time Splatter Plot

The screenshot above shows a scatter plot chart of your cycle time per card label. The dotted line shows the control limits and the green line shows the average. Any card outside the control limits took more or less than what was expected or acceptable for this team. This chart is very helpful to identify and learn from the cards outside the control limits. The team should seek to understand why it took longer for some cards and what can be done to correct this in the future. This is one way for a team to embrace continuous improvement.

Read our knowledge base article about cycle time for more detailed instructions about using cycle time in Kanban Zone.


Track the flow of work.

This graphical representation usually referred to as a Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD) will provide a more holistic view of your entire workflow to better understand why your team is doing better (or not) over time. It also had the advantage to visualize many Kanban metrics at a glance like the size of your Backlog, Work In Progress (WIP), Lead Time, and Cycle Time.

Kanban Zone - Cumulative Flow Diagram with Details

Reading the chart requires to follow the changes in flow. Ideally, the Done work shown in green should continuously grow, but you must keep an eye on your Backlog shown in purple. A very simple and important concept to keep an eye on is the relationship between Backlog and Done.

Is your Done trend stronger than your Backlog trend? Using the economic analogy of offer (Done) and demand (Backlog), if the Done is stronger than the Backlog, then the team is offering more than the market is requesting, which is good as long as the team doesn’t become idle by running out of work from the Backlog. On the other hand, if the Backlog is stronger than the Done, your team is not keeping up with the demands. This should cause meaningful conversations about increasing the size of the team or improving the way the team functions as a whole.

Stop patching issues downstream with quick fixes and temporary band-aids and instead understand your flow to identify the real problems upstream. By having a healthy flow of work, you will start seeing work get done faster and with greater attention to quality. Be sure to learn about the 3 Ms (Muda, Mura, Muri) from the Toyota Production System to create the ideal flow for your organization.

Read our knowledge base article about flow for more detailed instructions about using the flow chart in as part of your Kanban metrics in Kanban Zone.


Track your source of work.

Although not considered as part of the official Kanban metrics, we strongly believe that a great Kanban board starts with identifying clear sources of work. These are captured as colorful labels to visually grasp where you are spending most of your time. Based on the allocation data, you can adjust the way you support this work, but also invest your improvement efforts where it will have the highest impact.

kanban zone - chart allocation

Read our knowledge base article about allocation for more detailed instructions about using the allocation chart in Kanban Zone.

Unleash the power of visual management!

Boost traceability, and collaboration across all organizational levels with Kanban Zone!

No credit card | No contract | No risk

Unleash the power of visual management!

Boost traceability, and collaboration across all organizational levels with Kanban Zone!

No credit card | No contract | No risk