4 Kanban metrics you should be using in 2024

Atlassian By Atlassian
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If you're looking to elevate your project management game, Kanban is a strategy you'll want to understand. Kanban is a visual framework that can transform how you manage workflow and resources, making your projects more efficient and transparent from end to end. 

To master Kanban, you need to be familiar with four essential Kanban metrics—lead time, cycle time, work-in-progress, and throughput. In this guide, we'll dissect these four Kanban metrics, giving you the power to analyze task durations, balance your team's workload, and assess overall project capacity.

What are the main Kanban metrics?

KPI metrics are the lifeblood of any Agile project management strategy, and when it comes to Kanban, four key metrics can make or break your workflow. These metrics are lead time, cycle time, work-in-progress, and throughput. Let's break them down to understand how Kanban metrics help track your team’s performance and progress.

Lead time

Lead time measures the time from when you add a new software development task to the Kanban board to the point where the team marks the task as complete. In essence, it gauges the total time a task takes to travel through the entire Kanban workflow. 

This metric is pivotal for project managers because it offers a comprehensive view of how long tasks take within the system, allowing for more precise planning and effective resource allocation.

Cycle time

Cycle time zooms in on the “active work" phase of the Kanban system, measuring the time between when a team member starts a task and when they complete it. It doesn’t matter if nobody started the task until months after creation; cycle time only starts when the task moves into the active workflow. 

Cycle time can indicate whether your team is working efficiently or if you need to make any adjustments in the active phases of tasks.


Work-in-progress represents the number of tasks currently in the "active" or "in-progress" stages within the Kanban system. It measures the volume of ongoing work at any given time, providing a snapshot of tasks that are neither in the backlog nor complete. 

Monitoring work-in-progress is crucial because it helps to balance the team's workload and identify bottlenecks—ideally, your team is working but not multitasking. 


Throughput quantifies the number of tasks or work items your team successfully completes within a specific time frame, such as a day or a week. It measures the team's output or productivity over that period.

This metric is essential because it directly indicates your team's productivity levels, allowing you to make informed decisions for future task assignments and project timelines.

How are these metrics measured?

If you're new to Kanban—or even an experienced project manager—you might wonder how to measure these key metrics effectively. In this section, we'll delve into the specific methods and tools you can use to measure these essential metrics, such as control charts and cumulative flow diagrams.

But if you're looking for a one-stop solution for measuring these metrics, Jira has you covered. Jira doesn’t just help you track metrics effortlessly—it also provides actionable insights that aid in continuous delivery. There’s a Jira Kanban board for every Agile and DevOps software development team. 

Control charts

A control chart is a graphical representation and diagnostic tool that offers insights into your workflow's stability and variability. The chart plots cycle time data points over a period, showing the average time it takes to complete a task and the variability around that average. This is valuable because high variability often signals instability in the process.

When you dig into a control chart, you interpret the story behind the data points. Here are some possible interpretations:

  • A widening gap between the chart's upper and lower control limits may indicate increasing unpredictability in cycle times. 
  • A clustering of points far from the average line could signal a bottleneck where tasks are getting stuck. 

By scrutinizing these patterns, you can proactively identify issues and implement changes, making your Kanban system more efficient and responsive.

Cumulative flow diagrams

A cumulative flow diagram is another visual tool in the Kanban toolkit. Unlike control charts, which zero in on cycle time, a cumulative flow diagram provides a layered view of all four important Kanban metrics simultaneously. The diagram consists of multiple colored bands, each representing a different stage of your workflow, stacked over time.

A cumulative flow diagram allows you to see the flow of tasks across various stages in real time. The changing width of each layer can offer immediate insights. Consider the work-in-progress layer:

  • If the work-in-progress layer starts to expand, it's a red flag that tasks are accumulating, and you may have a bottleneck. 
  • If the layer narrows, it suggests that tasks are moving through more quickly than new ones are coming in, signaling that your team might have some extra bandwidth. 

The ability to see these metrics interact in one place makes the cumulative flow diagram a powerful tool for timely decision-making and workflow adjustments.

The importance of Kanban metrics

Kanban metrics aren't just numbers or data points—they're the pulse of your project's health and efficiency. These metrics serve as a navigational tool to help you make informed decisions about things such as allocating resources and setting deadlines.

Spot bottlenecks quickly

If your team’s cycle times are suddenly stretching out and your throughput is dwindling, they’ve likely hit a bottleneck. These trends are red flags that a particular stage in your process may be slowing everything down.

Bottlenecks can lead to delayed deliveries, increased costs, and stressed team members. By spotting these early, you can immediately reallocate resources or streamline the problematic stage, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of your entire workflow. 

Improve forecasting

When it comes to project management, the ability to forecast accurately is like having a crystal ball. This highly valued skill helps with resource allocation, client expectations, and timely deliveries—all crucial for maintaining a competitive edge.

Metrics such as lead and cycle times can be your best allies in this. By monitoring these, you can gauge how long it will take to deliver a task from start to finish. This helps set realistic deadlines and expectations for your team and stakeholders. Similarly, monitoring throughput provides a snapshot of your team's efficiency so you can adjust forecasts as necessary.

Maximize efficiency across projects

The real magic happens when you start using these Kanban metrics together. You can gauge task duration by monitoring lead time and cycle time, while watching work-in-progress prevents team overload. Adding throughput provides a complete view of your team's capacity over time.

When integrating these metrics into your daily management practices, you're not just putting out fires or fixing bottlenecks—you're refining your entire process for future projects. This proactive approach allows you to continuously improve, adapt, and, most importantly, deliver more value in less time.

How to implement Kanban tracking and reporting

If you're looking to implement Kanban tracking and reporting easily and seamlessly, then specialized software is your best ally. Among the top choices is Jira, a platform that's practically synonymous with Agile project management. 

Jira makes it easy to identify trends, follow the status of every team's projects, and predict future performance with dozens of pre-configured agile reports. Insights in the backlog and board empower teams to build and train muscles to continuously learn and improve their way of working. And if you're just starting out, Jira's Kanban board template makes it incredibly easy to get up and running.

Improve project impact with Kanban metrics on Jira

In agile project management, the metrics you focus on can make or break your success. When it comes to tracking these metrics seamlessly, Jira brings it all together. Trusted by millions of high-performing software teams, Jira has a robust selection of project management features that can support any agile methodology, making it easy to organize work, stay aligned, and build better products. Jira not only tracks important Kanban metrics, but also empowers the team with data to drive efficiencies and prioritize outcomes over outputs. If you're looking to excel in your projects, making them leaner, more efficient, and more impactful, Jira is the best solution.

Kanban metrics: frequently asked questions

Is refining the Kanban method easy?

Yes, refining the Kanban method is notably straightforward. The Kanban method is great for incremental improvement, meaning you can use it without disrupting your current processes. Its adaptability makes it simple to refine over time, allowing you to continuously improve your workflow. 

For more details, you can refer to Atlassian's comprehensive Kanban guide.

How do you know if it’s better to switch to the Scrum method?

You'll know it's better to switch to the Scrum method when your project requires a more structured framework with set roles and time-boxed iterations. 

While Kanban offers flexibility, Scrum provides a rigid structure that can benefit certain projects. Many teams opt for a hybrid approach, blending elements of Kanban and Scrum to suit their specific needs. 

You can visit Atlassian's guide on Kanban vs. Scrum for a more in-depth comparison.

What are the key principles of the Kanban method?

The Kanban method is built on core principles designed to improve workflow and efficiency. Here's a breakdown:

  • Start with what you do now: Beginning with your existing workflow makes it easier to implement Kanban without disrupting operations.
  • Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change: Opt for small, incremental adjustments that evolve over time to reduce the risks associated with drastic changes.
  • Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities, and title: When introducing improvements, respect the company’s current roles and processes.
  • Encourage acts of leadership at all levels in your company: Empower everyone to take initiative and contribute to process improvements.