Kanban is a highly effective framework for managing work at various stages of production. It originated in Japan and has been widely adopted in various industries, particularly in software development and product management. This article will delve into the intricacies of Kanban, its principles, benefits, and how it is utilized in product management, particularly in early-stage SaaS startups.

Understanding Kanban is essential for product managers as it provides a visual representation of work at different stages, allowing for better tracking and management of tasks. It also promotes continuous collaboration and encourages active, ongoing learning and improvement, which are crucial in a fast-paced startup environment.

Origins and Principles of Kanban

The Kanban system was first developed by Toyota in the 1940s as a means of managing inventory and ensuring a smooth production flow. The term "Kanban" translates to "visual signal" or "card" in English, which is a nod to the system's visual nature. It was designed to be simple and flexible, allowing for easy adaptation to changes in demand.

There are four fundamental principles of Kanban: visualize work, limit work in progress, focus on flow, and continuous improvement. These principles guide how the Kanban system is implemented and used in different contexts, including product management.

Visualize Work

Visualizing work is the first principle of Kanban. This involves representing work items visually on a Kanban board, allowing team members to see the state of every piece of work at any time. This transparency helps teams understand their work and how their work fits into the larger picture.

In product management, this could mean visualizing the various stages of product development, from idea generation to deployment. This helps product managers keep track of progress and identify any bottlenecks in the process.

Limit Work in Progress

The second principle, limit work in progress, is about limiting the amount of work that is in the 'in-progress' stage. This is done to prevent overloading the team and to maintain focus on completing tasks. Limiting work in progress helps teams manage their workload effectively and promotes quality over quantity.

In the context of product management, this could mean limiting the number of features that are being developed at the same time. This allows product managers to focus on delivering high-quality features and prevents the team from becoming overwhelmed with too many tasks.

Kanban in Product Management

Kanban has found a significant place in product management, particularly in Agile environments. It provides a clear and visual way to manage product development stages and helps in maintaining a steady and sustainable pace of work.

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Product managers use Kanban boards to visualize their product roadmap, track progress, manage backlogs, and facilitate team communication. Each card on the board represents a task or a feature, and its movement across the board represents its progress.

Creating a Product Roadmap with Kanban

A product roadmap is a strategic document that outlines the vision, direction, and progress of a product over time. It is a crucial tool for product managers as it helps them communicate their strategy and plan to their team and stakeholders.

With Kanban, product managers can visualize their product roadmap on a Kanban board with cards representing features or tasks and columns representing different stages of development. This visual representation allows for easy tracking of progress and provides a clear picture of the product's current state and future direction.

Managing Backlogs with Kanban

Product backlogs are a common feature in product management, containing all the features, enhancements, and bug fixes that are planned for a product but have not yet been worked on. Managing these backlogs effectively is crucial for maintaining a steady flow of work.

Kanban can be used to manage product backlogs by visualizing them on a Kanban board. This allows product managers to prioritize tasks effectively, keep track of backlog items, and ensure that important tasks are not overlooked.

Benefits of Kanban in Product Management

Implementing Kanban in product management comes with a host of benefits. It promotes transparency, improves efficiency, and helps maintain a sustainable pace of work. Moreover, it fosters a culture of continuous improvement, which is crucial in a fast-paced startup environment.

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The visual nature of Kanban makes it easier for teams to understand their work and how their tasks fit into the larger picture. It also makes it easier to identify bottlenecks and areas of improvement, leading to increased efficiency and productivity.

Transparency and Communication

Kanban promotes transparency in the workflow, as every task is represented visually on the Kanban board. This transparency fosters better communication within the team as everyone has a clear understanding of what is being worked on, who is working on what, and what the status of each task is.

In product management, this level of transparency can lead to better collaboration between team members, improved decision-making, and a more cohesive product development process.

Efficiency and Productivity

By visualizing work and limiting work in progress, Kanban helps teams manage their workload effectively, leading to increased efficiency and productivity. It allows teams to focus on completing tasks rather than starting new ones, promoting a culture of 'done' over 'doing'.

For product managers, this means being able to deliver features more quickly and efficiently, leading to faster time-to-market and higher customer satisfaction.

Kanban and Customer Feedback

Customer feedback plays a crucial role in product management. It provides valuable insights into what customers want and need, helping product managers make informed decisions about what features to develop and how to improve their product.

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Kanban can be used to manage and prioritize customer feedback effectively. By visualizing feedback on a Kanban board, product managers can easily see what issues are most important to customers and prioritize them accordingly.

Collecting and Managing Customer Feedback

Collecting customer feedback is a continuous process in product management. It can come from various sources, such as customer surveys, user testing, customer support tickets, and social media.

Once collected, this feedback can be visualized on a Kanban board, with each piece of feedback represented as a card. This allows product managers to easily see and manage all the feedback they have received, and prioritize it based on its importance and relevance to the product's goals.

Prioritizing Feedback with Kanban

Prioritizing customer feedback is crucial in product management, as it helps determine what features to develop and what improvements to make. Kanban can aid in this process by providing a visual representation of all feedback, making it easier to identify and prioritize the most important issues.

By moving feedback cards across the Kanban board, product managers can track the progress of addressing customer feedback, from acknowledgement to resolution. This helps ensure that important feedback is not overlooked and that customers' needs are being addressed in a timely manner.


Kanban is a powerful tool for product management, providing a visual and flexible way to manage work and promote continuous improvement. Its principles of visualizing work, limiting work in progress, focusing on flow, and continuous improvement are particularly relevant in a fast-paced startup environment.

Whether it's creating a product roadmap, managing backlogs, or handling customer feedback, Kanban can help product managers stay organized, prioritize effectively, and deliver high-quality products. As such, understanding and implementing Kanban can be a significant asset for any product manager, especially in the dynamic world of early-stage SaaS startups.

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