5 Kanban Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 30 September 2022

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Many organisations use kanban to help them visualise their workflows and organise responsibilities. This is particularly popular in software development, manufacturing and video production. If you are applying for a job where you expect to use kanban, knowing about some relevant interview questions and how to answer them is going to be quite useful. In this article, we explain what kanban is and give you five examples of kanban interview questions with sample answers.

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Commonly asked kanban interview questions

Below are five commonly asked kanban interview questions, together with an explanation of each and a sample answer:

1. What is kanban?

You can usually expect to get one simple question relating to the definition of kanban. This allows the interviewer to determine whether you know the basics. It is also an opportunity to assess your communication skills. If you receive this question, try to keep your answer simple and relevant by describing what kanban is and why many people use it.

Example answer: 'Kanban is a workflow management method that helps you to visualise tasks at various stages. It separates tasks into different columns on a kanban board, each of which represents a different stage of the work process. For example, you could have columns for 'to do', 'doing' and 'done'. This helps everyone understand what others are doing, organise their workflows and can help increase efficiency.'

2. Give me two examples of kanban principles and what they mean.

Since kanban also incorporates certain principles in addition to the boards, an interviewer might want to know if you also know about this. A kanban board is something that is easy to visualise, but knowledge of the associated principles can demonstrate that you understand it in a more profound way. It is typically unlikely for an interviewer to ask you for all the principles, as these may differ to a certain extent because of adaptation.

It is also important to remember that principles are different from practices, which are things like visualising workflows, managing them and limiting works in progress. If you are unsure of what the interviewer wants to know, ask for clarification. Try to memorise a few of these principles prior to the interview, so you can use them as examples when answering questions like this.

Example answer: 'An important kanban principle is that of incremental change. This is because kanban is not supposed to totally overhaul your workflows and cause resistance, but rather to evolve them over time through smaller, incremental adaptations and changes. This also incorporates feedback and collaboration from all the people involved to ensure that everyone is working harmoniously. Another principle is to encourage leadership acts from everyone, rather than just senior managers. This encourages people to contribute ideas and therefore improve products, services and their delivery.'

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3. Could you tell me about the difference between kanban and scrum?

In project management, kanban and scrum are two distinct methodologies. Each has its advantages and disadvantages over the other, although they do share some common principles. A good way of answering this question is to briefly describe each in terms of their similarities, then detail the differences. This can help you organise your thoughts and can also demonstrate structured thinking to the interviewer.

Example answer: 'Both scrum and kanban are workflow management methods. Whereas kanban focuses on collaboration, harmony and clarity of workflows, scrum separates tasks into 'sprints'. Both of these try to limit the amount of work in progress in favour of getting things done through self-organised teams. One of the primary differences is that scrum has roles like scrum master, whereas kanban does not. A major difference is that scrum gets work done through sprints, which are like individual episodes. Conversely, kanban focuses on continuous workflows and delivery.

Scrum is also much more rigid, as it discourages changes during a sprint. Kanban is different because incremental changes are almost always permissible to allow for positive evolution. Kanban is much more cyclical in its approach, whereby each workflow leads to the next. Scrum is more sequential, with each sprint distinct from the one before it and the one after, although feedback is also important here.'

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4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of an online kanban board?

You can have a physical kanban board with things like sticky notes, or you can use a software application. Both are quite common, but the nature of the work itself can make one more useful than another. The interviewer wants to know if you are aware of the limitations of certain implementations of kanban, in addition to why someone might prefer an online board. Try to focus on why these differences exist and how different working environments can cause this.

Example answer: 'This depends on the working environment, which can make certain advantages or disadvantages relevant. For example, if everyone is working in the same office, there are more advantages to a physical board. In this case, everyone can see and contribute to change. It is also easier to get feedback when everyone is in closer proximity to each other. The disadvantage of this is that it might be harder to see if the room is large and the board is far away, which could mean you getting up whenever you want to see it.

If a portion of the team is working remotely from different locations, then a physical board becomes virtually unusable, as not everyone can see it. In this scenario, an online board have greater advantages. They are typically easy to set up and alter from remote locations, and you can add notes which do not add to the clutter. The downside of this is that you cannot be sure that someone can see it, as they might close the browser tab or application periodically and therefore forget to update it, although in remote settings the online board has more advantages.'

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5. Could you tell me what scrumban is? What are its advantages?

Scrumban is a combination of scrum and kanban, and a hiring manager may want to know if you have experience using it. In your response, define scrumban, list its advantages and limitations and give examples.

Example answer: 'Scrumban is a combination of the scrum and kanban methodologies. It incorporates boards and continuous work from kanban, together with regular meetings and task limitations from scrum. It has certain advantages depending on the nature of the project. For example, it is better than scrum for ongoing maintenance work, as it removes the sprint-based system. It is also better than kanban if you have consistent bottlenecks, as it limits the number of simultaneous items on a board.

Scrumban removes the time limits of scrum and makes work continuous, but retains scrum's short stand-up meetings. I also find that the regular standup meetings are a good way of incorporating feedback, which is common to both scrum and kanban. The focus on task prioritisation rather than assigned roles also makes things much more flexible, which is good for developing a team of collaborative and interdependent people.'

How does a kanban system work?

Kanban is a workflow management methodology whereby you visualise separate work tasks in sequence. This involves a kanban board, which has multiple columns which represent different stages of the work process. Typically, the column on the far right represents work that is complete. The column on the far left typically represents work that is in its earliest stages. All the columns in between these two represent different stages of the process. In its simplest form, you could therefore have a three-column kanban board, with columns for requested work, work in progress and completed work.

Kanban also involves certain principles. First of these is that adopting the kanban methodology means that you can still retain a lot of your previous processes and systems, with kanban simply helping you organise, visualise and improve them. This is related to the next principle, which is the pursuit of incremental change through collaboration and feedback. Next is the encouragement of leadership at all levels to use everyone's insights. This is also related to the principle that you want to manage the work, not the people performing it. Kanban also involves focussing on customer expectations and regularly reviewing services.

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