What is Kanban Flight Levels?

Uncover the transformative power of Kanban Flight Levels in this comprehensive article.

Kanban Flight Levels is a concept that is gaining popularity in project management and workflow optimization. It provides a framework for understanding and implementing Kanban principles at different levels within an organization. This article will delve into the concept of Kanban, explore the three flight levels, discuss their role in project management, provide steps to implement Kanban Flight Levels, and highlight the benefits of using this approach.

Understanding the Concept of Kanban

The Origin of Kanban

Kanban originated in the 1940s at Toyota, a Japanese automobile manufacturer. It was initially developed as a scheduling system to improve efficiency and eliminate waste. The word “Kanban” translates to “visual card” in Japanese, which accurately describes how the system operates.

The basic idea of Kanban is to visualize the workflow by using cards or sticky notes to represent work items and moving them through various stages of completion. This visual representation allows teams to easily identify bottlenecks, track progress, and make informed decisions.

The concept of Kanban was first introduced by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota. Ohno was inspired by the supermarkets’ inventory management system, where products were restocked only when they reached a certain threshold. He realized that this approach could be applied to manufacturing processes as well.

Ohno observed that traditional manufacturing systems often suffered from overproduction, excessive inventory, and long lead times. He believed that by implementing a visual system that limited work in progress and focused on continuous improvement, these issues could be addressed.

Ohno’s idea was simple yet revolutionary. He proposed using cards, known as Kanban cards, to represent work items. Each card would contain information about the task, such as its priority, due date, and the person responsible for its completion. These cards would be placed on a board, divided into columns representing different stages of the workflow.

As work progressed, the cards would be moved from one column to another, indicating the task’s current status. This visual representation made it easy for everyone involved to understand the workflow and identify any bottlenecks or delays.

Basic Principles of Kanban

Kanban is based on three fundamental principles:

  1. Visualize the workflow: Display work items on a Kanban board to provide a clear overview of the entire process. By visualizing the workflow, team members can easily see what tasks are in progress, what tasks are completed, and what tasks are yet to be started. This transparency promotes collaboration and helps teams stay organized.
  2. Limit work in progress (WIP): Set a maximum limit for the number of tasks that can be in progress simultaneously. This helps prevent overloading and improves focus. By limiting the WIP, teams can avoid multitasking and ensure that tasks are completed before new ones are started. This leads to faster cycle times and higher productivity.
  3. Continuously improve the process: Regularly analyze and optimize the workflow based on feedback and data, aiming for incremental improvements. Kanban encourages teams to reflect on their processes and identify areas for improvement. By continuously refining the workflow, teams can eliminate waste, reduce lead times, and deliver higher-quality work.

These principles form the foundation of Kanban and guide teams in implementing the system effectively. By embracing visual management, limiting work in progress, and striving for continuous improvement, organizations can achieve greater efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction.

The Three Flight Levels in Kanban

Kanban is a popular framework used in project management to improve workflow efficiency and enhance collaboration within organizations. It consists of three flight levels that cater to different aspects of an organization’s operations.

Flight Level One: Operational Level

The first flight level in Kanban focuses on the operational level of an organization. It involves the frontline teams responsible for the day-to-day work. These teams use Kanban boards to visualize their tasks, collaborate, and manage their workload effectively.

With Kanban Flight Levels, the operational teams gain transparency into their work processes. They can easily identify the status of each task, understand their priorities, and track progress. This transparency enhances the team’s ability to self-organize and make decisions, leading to improved productivity and efficiency.

Moreover, Kanban Flight Levels promote a culture of continuous improvement. By visualizing their work, teams can identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas for improvement. They can then implement changes to optimize their workflow and deliver value to customers more effectively.

Flight Level Two: Coordination Level

The coordination level involves teams that coordinate and collaborate across multiple operational teams. This flight level helps identify dependencies, bottlenecks, and areas for improvement.

With Kanban Flight Levels, teams at the coordination level can gain a better understanding of the interdependencies between different operational teams. They can identify potential bottlenecks and take proactive measures to address them. By aligning their efforts toward common goals, these teams can improve overall workflow efficiency and reduce delays.

Kanban Flight Levels also foster a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing. Teams at the coordination level can share best practices, lessons learned, and success stories, enabling continuous learning and improvement across the organization.

Flight Level Three: Strategic Level

At the strategic level, Kanban Flight Levels provide a holistic view of the organization’s strategic initiatives. This flight level ensures alignment between operational and strategic goals, facilitating effective decision-making and resource allocation.

With Kanban Flight Levels, organizations can visualize their strategic initiatives and track their progress. This visibility enables leaders to evaluate the impact of these initiatives on the overall workflow and make informed adjustments if needed.

Furthermore, Kanban Flight Levels promote strategic alignment and transparency across the organization. By visualizing the strategic goals and initiatives, teams at all flight levels can understand how their work contributes to the organization’s larger objectives. This alignment fosters a sense of purpose and empowers teams to make decisions that align with the organization’s strategic direction.

In conclusion, Kanban Flight Levels provide a structured approach to managing work at different levels within an organization. By promoting transparency, collaboration, and strategic alignment, Kanban Flight Levels help organizations optimize their workflow, improve efficiency, and achieve their strategic objectives.

The Role of Kanban Flight Levels in Project Management

Enhancing Workflow Efficiency

Kanban Flight Levels play a crucial role in enhancing workflow efficiency by providing teams with a clear understanding of their tasks, priorities, and dependencies. Visualizing the workflow allows for better identification of bottlenecks and enables teams to address them promptly, resulting in smoother and faster project execution.

Moreover, with the limit on work in progress set at each flight level, teams can focus on a manageable number of tasks at a time, avoiding overload and ensuring higher quality output.

Improving Communication and Collaboration

Kanban Flight Levels foster effective communication and collaboration within and across teams. By visualizing tasks and progress, teams can easily communicate and share information, reducing misunderstandings and delays. The coordination level ensures that teams work together seamlessly, resolving dependencies and preventing silos.

Additionally, the strategic level establishes a common understanding of the organization’s goals, allowing for better alignment and coordination of efforts at all levels.

Implementing Kanban Flight Levels

Steps to Implement Kanban Flight Levels

  1. Educate teams: Provide training on Kanban principles, Flight Levels, and the benefits they offer.
  2. Design Kanban boards: Create Kanban boards for each flight level, ensuring a clear representation of the workflow.
  3. Set WIP limits: Determine appropriate work in progress limits for each flight level to balance workload and optimize efficiency.
  4. Establish feedback loops: Implement regular feedback loops to gather insights, identify improvement areas, and respond to changing needs.
  5. Continuously refine: Encourage teams to continuously refine and improve their workflows based on data and feedback.

Common Challenges and Solutions

Implementing Kanban Flight Levels may come with some challenges, such as resistance to change, lack of understanding, or difficulty in setting appropriate WIP limits. To overcome these challenges, organizations can:

  • Provide comprehensive training and support to facilitate smooth adoption.
  • Communicate the benefits of Kanban Flight Levels to gain buy-in from all stakeholders.
  • Collaborate with teams to set realistic and achievable WIP limits based on their specific context.
  • Encourage continuous learning and improvement through experimentation and adaptation.

Benefits of Using Kanban Flight Levels

Increased Productivity and Efficiency

By implementing Kanban Flight Levels, organizations can experience increased productivity and efficiency. Clear visualization of tasks, streamlined workflows, and improved coordination enable teams to work more effectively, reducing delays and minimizing waste. The focus on continuous improvement allows for ongoing enhancements to optimize resources and processes further.

Improved Project Visibility and Control

Kanban Flight Levels provide enhanced project visibility at all levels of an organization. This visibility enables stakeholders to have a real-time understanding of progress, potential risks, and resource utilization. With this knowledge, informed decisions can be made promptly, ensuring better control over project outcomes.


Kanban Flight Levels offer organizations a powerful framework to optimize workflow, enhance collaboration, and align operational and strategic goals. By understanding the concept of Kanban, implementing the three flight levels, and embracing the associated benefits, organizations can achieve improved productivity, efficient project management, and ultimately, better business outcomes.


Flight Levels 1, 2 and 3 - Flight Levels Academy

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