How widely is Kanban used in its home country of Japan?

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  • Post last modified:2020-11-25
  • Post category:Code Review
  • Reading time:5 mins read

(From Editor: This post was translated and edited from a personal blog of Koichiro Sumi, CEO of Sider.)

You might have heard that the concept of Kanban was originally introduced by a Japanese company. But is it really used in Japan? From Web services to physical whiteboards, what is the most popular tool among Japanese business people? 
I had the chance to conduct a survey on social media the other day and ask people what project management software they use. In this post, I am going to share the result of the survey, along with our opinions about Trello and other popular Kanban tools.

And who am I? My name is Koichiro Sumi, and I run a company called Sider. We provide an automated code review service. People who participated were my friends and friends of my friends, and many of them are in the IT industry.

Is Trello the Best of Kanban? Other Options for Project Management Software

I used to use Redmine and Backlog in my previous work. As for our company, we’ve used various kinds of project management software over the course. I have also used Trello, JIRA, JIRA Agile, Pivotal Tracker, Waffle.io, ZenHub, a physical whiteboard, and GitHub Projects.

When we used to do Sprint planning, we used plug-ins such as Trello for Scrum in addition to Trello. 
Here are some pros and cons about some of the tools I have used.

  • Trello has great flexibility. It is an easy-to-use software so that anyone can use it. It has many plug-ins also known as Power-Ups and is also scalable. If you have Zapier and Trello, you can manage most tasks with Trello.
  • PivotalTracker classifies Feature and Chore mandatorily, and also you will almost be forced to calculate velocities. It will make you pay attention to estimations, velocities, and features.
  • With Redmine, the tickets would never be forgotten, and we can write a lot information on them. Also, we can draw a Gantt chart which everyone loves (you can do it on Trello with Power-Ups.)

Disadvantages of Trello

When we were using Trello on a daily basis, there were other types of opinions like below.

  • “The Trello display board is too small. We need more space to write on it. There are too many notices saying to take a look at GitHub and Pull Requests.”
  • “Trello isn’t flexible enough to get other company’s employees involved. The unit is too large to share boards on its basis.”

Then I started to use Basecamp because it was the most recommended by one of the developers. At the same time, I asked some people I know and their friends to participate a survey.

What is the most-used Project Management Tool?

The participants of the survey were CTOs and former CTOs (thank you very much for your help.) Here is a breakdown of 72 replies. Some participants have submitted multiple answers.

The breakdown of the survey
*The lettersホワイトボードmean a whiteboard in Japanese.

What the Result Tells Us

It turns out either waffle.io or ZenHub is most used among teams here.

They both are Kanban-style project management software. Because it is difficult to manage projects only by GitHub Issues, and also the options of this question was set as “GitHub Issues and waffle.io, or GitHub Issues and ZenHub.”

I’m not sure JIRA means JIRA or JIRA Agile, but I assume it is JIRA. It doesn’t surprise me at all that why JIRA, the issue-ticket tracking system, came the top because Japanese listed companies need to manage software asset and keep track of how many person-hours are required for each project and function. In most cases, JIRA is simply good or a strong preference for Atlassian products.

In most cases JIRA is simply good or a strong preference for Atlassian products

Backlog and Redmine followed, Pivotal Tracker, which works well for Agile development, and Asana was in the same rank.

When GitHub Projects was released, I thought that was the end of Waffle, but it is still around.

Kanban is used more than I expected

The top two rankings were waffle.io or ZenHub, and third was Trello. I felt Kanban has been more widely used than I thought. The culture of Kanban seems to be strong here in the home country of Japan, where it was made.

The following book tells you about the origin of Kanban.

https://www.amazon.com/Toyota-Production-System-Beyond-Large-Scale/dp/0915299143

Some of you may sometimes limit the number of the tasks that are works in progress, hoping to improve throughput by using Kanban and visualizing bottlenecks. If you want to learn about throughput, you will find The Goal very informative. I have read its graphic novel version.

https://www.amazon.com/Goal-Business-Graphic-Novel/dp/0884272079

Kanban and Ticket Management are today’s standard

Issue tracking system and Kanban seem to be the people’s choice for project management in Japan.

We need to keep in mind that they are tools, not a method or a development practice. But you can use them to leverage your development cycle.


For more information about Sider, please go to our website.

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