Kanban boards are a simple way to track work as it moves through your projects. There are many project management tools that use the system, so to help you pick one, we’ve put together this guide to the best kanban project management tools.
We’ll show you what a kanban board is and what you can do with one. Then, we’ll look at some of the best tools that include them. Kanban boards are a great way to find your way into project management software. When you get familiar with them, you can start looking at the other views and features.
What Is a Kanban Board?
Kanban originated in Japanese factories, where it was used to make manufacturing more efficient. Microsoft later adapted the technique to software development. It’s useful to agile teams wanting to visualize their workflows.
Kanban boards are made of columns, which contain items. You move the items from column to column to change their status. Things flow from left to right, so you can see how far along everything is and how much is happening at each stage.
The simplest setup is the three-column approach: “to-do,” “doing” and “done.” That’s self-explanatory, but you can go much further, with columns representing every stage of your production process or teams or individuals. It’s up to you.
If you’re new to the technique, read our how to use a kanban board article to help you get started. Then, come back and have a look at the tools here.
What Can You Do with a Kanban Tool?
Kanban boards are a useful way to keep the tasks associated with a project in one place. They can be used on specific projects, as general office to-do lists or to track regular workflows. They also work well as personal task lists.
You can use items as tasks in a project, but you can name the cards and columns whatever you like. That means you can use them for seating plans, restaurant menus, registration systems and many other things.
If you haven’t used one before, they’re easy to set up, and you can probably think of your own ideas for how they can be used in your projects.
Many of the tools we’ll look at include templates and examples, Trello is a good example of that and is our favorite tool for working with kanban, as we’ll see later.
A kanban board and the kanban system aren’t necessarily the same thing. Though kanban is distinct from methodologies such as Scrum, you can set up a board to track tasks there, too.
The Best Kanban Project Management Tools 2021
Kanban tools are quick and simple, so we like to see software that’s responsive and easy to use. Being able to adjust items and columns easily is also a plus.
Most tools provide other boards and features, so how well the kanban board works with those is important. In some cases, such as Wrike, the simple kanban board works well as an accessible face for a complex tool.
Price is a big factor, with free being best. Kanban tools are straightforward so project management software that has free and paid options often includes kanban for free. That makes it a great way to try different tools to see if you like them before deciding whether to pay for their other features.
Of the five tools we look at here, four of them let you use kanban for free. That said, the one that doesn’t, monday.com, is our favorite overall project management platform.
Our top choice for working with kanban specifically, though, is Trello, which is simple, free and centered on the kanban approach.
If you want to get started with kanban, Trello is a great place to do it. Its kanban board is the main focus of the platform. Though it’s basic, it’s an excellent example of the system. We’ve covered it in our Trello review, and our Trello beginner’s guide tells you everything you need to know if looking at the tool for the first time. It’s one of the easiest tools to pick up for beginners.
Trello’s inspiration page includes many boards that its users have shared. Browse them if you need an idea of what can be done with a kanban board. They can also be used with tools other than Trello, if you prefer.
Your Trello cards can be categorized and assigned to team members. You can add attachments of up to 250MB. If that’s too small, take a look at our best cloud storage for large files article.
Trello has a reputation for simplicity, but its “power-ups” system allows you to expand it, so if you feel like levelling up your workflows once you’ve got the basics in place, it lets you do that. “Power-ups” allow you to add many of the features included by default in other platforms.
Trello Public Boards
In addition to being useful for project management, Trello lets you make your boards public. You can get creative and use it to share restaurant menus or seating plans for events. Its custom backgrounds allow you to tailor its look to your business, making it a great way to share information with the world.
Trello is also an excellent choice if you’re looking for a free tool. Its free plan works well and doesn’t pester you to upgrade all the time, but Trello does have nice extras if you choose to do so.
It has a wide selection of custom backgrounds, stickers and emojis, but you can upload your own on the paid plans to make your boards feel at home. You can’t go wrong with Trello. It’s the easiest tool to get started with here and offers plenty of extras through its “power-up” system.
Asana is another user-friendly tool. It has a lot of fun features, such as its celebrations, which reward you with colorful animations for marking tasks as complete. Read more about it in our Asana review. If you need help getting started with it, our Asana beginner’s guide is there to help you, too.
Its interface is attractive, easy to use and responsive. That makes it a great choice for anyone new to project management software. It is enjoyable to work with, which will be a big plus if you have to get skeptical team members excited about using it.
In addition to its kanban board, Asana includes a calendar and timeline, which allows you to manage dependencies. You can break tasks into subtasks, leave comments and attach files to them. If you need to go beyond Asana’s 100MB file size limit, take a look at our top cloud storage roundup.
Asana integrates well with other platforms, including Zapier, which lets you share data with a lot of apps.
Asana’s free tier allows you to create as many boards as you like and customize your columns. You can also break your tasks into subtasks. If you sign up for a paid plan, starting at $9.99 per user per month, you’ll be able to use features such as its timeline and dependency management.
The more expensive plans offer more features, such as improved security and priority customer support. It’s compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation and EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework.
You can see how it compares to other tools in our Trello vs. Asana and Asana vs. Basecamp face-offs. Asana is another excellent choice for newcomers, but it’s better than Trello for users looking to use more than the kanban board. It’ll especially suit teams that prioritize making the workplace a fun place to be.
We’re big fans of monday.com here at Cloudwards.net. It came out on top in our best project management software roundup. You can read more on what we like about it in our monday.com review.
Intuitive and well-designed, monday.com allows you to customize the information stored by its items. They can be the usual basic data types, but they can include things such as voting systems, formulae or color pickers, too.
monday.com lets you generate multiple kanban views based on the data in your main table. You can sort the data automatically by picking one of the columns to use. Its kanban view isn’t its main focus, but it’s part of the way it presents data to you.
That means it’ll suit people who want to integrate kanban into their workflows, but it isn’t as suitable for those who want to work entirely on the kanban board. Managers can use it to easily create boards for other people to work with, though.
In addition to kanban, monday.com has all sorts of views and charts that let you view your data in different ways. They include its timeline, calendar, map and activity log.
Read our monday.com beginner’s guide for tips on what you can do with it.
It doesn’t have a free tier, but its cheapest plan allows for five users for $25 per month, so it isn’t too expensive for small teams. There’s a free trial, so you don’t have to pay to try it.
In addition to looking good and working well, it has top-quality security, with TLS v1.2 encryption used for data in transit and AES 256-bit for stored data. Read our description of encryption article for more about those.
monday.com does well in our comparison articles. Read our monday.com vs. Jira or monday.com vs. Asana comparisons to see how it shapes up against other platforms.
monday.com offers a good balance between usability and depth. Its excellent interface makes using it easy and allows you to figure out its more advanced features without running into problems. We recommend it.
Wrike is a powerhouse of the project management field, packing in features galore. Despite its heavyweight status, it has a free plan that lets you use it as a kanban board, but you’ll need to pay to take advantage of everything it offers.
It can be trickier to use than some of its rivals, but the kanban view is straightforward and can be figured out in minutes. Moving tasks from column to column is quick and easy, as is clicking and adjusting tasks.
Wrike’s kanban board uses a fixed five-column approach, with the traditional three-column setup complemented by “on hold” and “cancelled” columns to allow you to juggle things around as needed.
Wrike features dependencies, and they’re integrated into the kanban board. If you change the dates of a task, you get the option to automatically adjust other tasks that have relationships with it. That makes Wrike suitable for complex projects with a lot going on.
Tasks can include a description and you can attach files to them. You can assign them to multiple people and track their status. Wrike allows you to filter tasks in various ways, such as by user, or due date. That’s useful for larger projects, with many tasks assigned to multiple people.
Wrike also has top-quality security features, including two-factor authentication and customizable access controls. If you want to improve your own security, read our best VPN guide.
The downside is that Wrike’s kanban board isn’t that flexible. You can’t adjust the column names easily like you can with Trello, for example. What it does, it does well, though.
Wrike is a sophisticated tool. Its kanban board does a good job of making it accessible and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use it exclusively to manage projects. To get the most out of Wrike, though, you should look at its other views, too.
It has apps for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, so it can be used on most devices.
Wrike is a full-featured platform that’ll suit managers of big projects. Its simple kanban board is a great way to get started with it. Read more about it in our Wrike review. Our monday.com vs. Wrike article will also give you an idea of how it shapes up against its competitors.
ClickUp is another tool with a free offering that includes a basic kanban board. There’s a 100MB attachment limit on its free version, but that vanishes on the paid plans, which also allow you to use its more advanced features, such as Gantt charts. Read our #link pending how to use a Gantt chart guide to learn more about those.
Though it only has two columns by default, you can add your own, so you can set it up however you need. You can have multiple boards per project. In the example above we’ve set it up to manage orders at a restaurant, with boards for cold and warm plates.
You could adapt that system to work with multiple teams or have boards for individual team members. It’s versatile and powerful.
ClickUp has a sharp, responsive interface that’s easy to work with. Its readable interface is packed with options and worth playing around with to see what you can do with it.
ClickUp also includes dependency management, so if things get complicated, you can spot scheduling conflicts before they cause problems. With its time management and logging tools, it allows you to track how much tasks cost to get done, which is an excellent feature for managers to have.
It also allows you to make estimates, which you can compare to the time logged later on. That lets you improve your planning next time you set up a project. If you need help with the financial side of your projects, our guide to the best accounting software will also come in handy.
ClickUp has many security features to help keep your data safe. Read our online security guide to learn more about staying protected.
In addition to apps for macOS, Windows, Android, iOS and Amazon Fire TV, it has a Google Chrome plugin, making it one of the most device-friendly tools around. To learn more about it, read our ClickUp review.
ClickUp’s time logging and estimation features make it a great choice for managers who want to keep a close eye on costs. Its ease of use and versatility make it a strong choice for everyone else, too.
There are plenty of other good tools that include a kanban view that didn’t quite make our top five.
LeanKit’s colorful kanban board shows you multiple teams at once, tiled vertically across your screen. It isn’t the prettiest approach, and looks crowded, but once you get used to it, you’ll find that it makes a lot of information available to you without forcing you to click around. Check out our LeanKit review for more.
Smartsheet’s “card view” is a kanban board. It lets you add subtasks easily. Smartsheet also includes a Gantt view to help you see how tasks fit together. It’s a no-frills product but an effective one, which you can read about in our Smartsheet review.
Jira includes a kanban view with customizable columns and will be extra useful for software developers using agile methodologies. It’s full of developer-friendly features, such as its Scrum view. Read about it in our Jira review.
As we’ve seen, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to kanban board software. They take many approaches and range from simple to advanced.
Our favorite is Trello. It’s free, focused on its kanban board and so simple you can’t go wrong with it. It also has a surprising amount of scope for expansion. monday.com deserves a mention as our all-around favorite tool, too, but it isn’t free or as kanban-focused as Trello.
For the most fun, check out Asana. ClickUp is great for managing the financial side of things and Wrike is an all-around quality tool with a lot of depth.
All the tools here are free or have a free trial, so there’s nothing to stop you from testing them. If you’ve tried any of the tools here or have other recommendations, please let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading.