The Best Kanban Apps of 2018

The Best Kanban Board Apps

What Is Kanban?

Kanban is a method for managing work using a board with spaces for cards representing tasks. There are only so many spots on the board for the cards, so managers are forced to prioritize tasks instead of just adding them to a bottomless to-do list. These days teams that follow the kanban philosophy typically implement it by using a kanban board app. Two major benefits of using kanban boards as opposed to other kinds of work-management systems and collaboration apps are (1) they’re highly visual, and (2) they’re very good at limiting the amount of work on any one person’s plate at a time. There are many other benefits, as well. The easiest way to learn how kanban works is through an example.

Imagine you have a board and a stack of sticky notes. You create three columns on the board called To Do, Doing, and Done. Next, take a sticky note and write a task on it. Now place that note in the To Do column. Write a few more tasks on a few more sticky notes. Bring everyone who’s responsible for getting these tasks done into the room. Either assign tasks from the To Do column to them, or let them self-assign a few tasks.

When an assignee starts a task, she moves the sticky note into the Doing column. If she wants to add some notes about the task or her progress, she writes them on the sticky note. Whoever manages the work can create a rule saying no one is ever allowed to have more than five active assignments in the Doing column at any given time. When an assignee completes a task, she moves it to the Done column.

Kanban can be much more involved, but that’s the gist of it.

Kanban Microsoft Planner

Kanban Apps for Collaboration

Online kanban apps replicate the general concept of the board and sticky notes (they’re usually called cards in kanban apps). In a digital environment, however, the system can do a lot more for you. For example, each card can contain rich information about a task, such as the due date and any notes one might need to get the task done. Task cards may have files attached to them, as well as tags, numerical fields for logging how much time was spent on the task, and so forth. Digital kanban systems can flag upcoming deadlines, alert appropriate parties when tasks are completed, and generate reports about work progress.

While kanban apps fit into the general category of collaboration apps, they are quite different from project management services, though people sometimes use kanban apps to manage certain kinds of projects. Kanban is generally considered more suited to ongoing work, such as fixing and maintaining software or answering support questions, than to projects. Project management apps, however, are designed to handle projects, the key difference being every project has a beginning date, an end date, and a deliverable. Ongoing work does not.

Each kanban app included in this list of the best kanban apps has its own strengths, and some have weaknesses, too. Which app is best for you and your team largely depends on the kind of work being managed, how your team communicates, and whether and how you need to share any of your progress with people outside your organization, such as clients or freelancers.

Kanban Asana

Best Multifaceted Kanban App

Asana takes the PCMag Editors’ Choice for best kanban board app overall, which may seem like an unusual choice, as Asana didn’t start out specializing in kanban. Asana began as a workflow management tool, something like a super-powered to-do list app. As it grew, it eventually added the ability to visualize work in a board view, à la kanban. Asana was already so strong at helping teams manage work, that the transition to supporting kanban made sense and happened with ease.

A few aspects of Asana make it special. It’s extremely flexible, and it’s easy to experiment with the app. Asana is superb for teams that don’t mind enduring a little trial and error in the name of finding the best solution possible. It’s not exactly a turnkey service, though; every team will need to do some real work to get it set up for their particular workflow.

Asana is also an app where you can write lists, jot down ideas, and keep an archive of what your team has accomplished. Although the app doesn’t have every feature under the sun natively included, it does play nicely with others. It can integrate with a wide range of tools, including Salesforce, for customer relationship management, and Harvest, for time tracking and timesheets. Those additions make Asana even more versatile.

Kitchen-Sink Kanban

If you can’t be bothered to integrate third-party apps and services to create the work management system you want, you’re better off choosing a kanban board app that includes lots of features. As you can probably tell from the table at the top of this article, LeanKit and Kanban Flow include a lot more than many of their competitors.

Two desirable features found in both LeanKit and KanbanFlow are work-in-progress (WIP) limits and swim lanes. A WIP limit restricts the number of tasks allowed in a column at any given time or the number assigned to a particular person or department at any given time. When using a kanban methodology, it’s common for teams to self-impose WIP limits; KanbanFlow and LeanKit make it so you don’t have to. Once you set the limit, the app won’t let you exceed it. Swim lanes refers to the ability to reformat a kanban board so that it includes not only columns, but also rows. A common swim lane visualization is to use the horizontal rows to show who is responsible for tasks.

KanbanFlow swimlanes

Easiest to Learn

Trello makes its name among kanban apps for being easy and fun to use. When you work with a lot of clients and external partners, easy and fun are words you want to hear when discussing ways to collaborate and share information.

Trello’s interface is more bubbly than serious. You can add stickers to cards to express ideas visually, or just to have a bit of fun. As with many of the other apps mentioned so far, Trello easily integrates with other online tools and services.

Best for Teams With Visual Assets

Volerro may not have every feature under the sun, but it still earns a high score in PCMag’s testing, in part for one unique strength: When you upload documents to Volerro, everyone on the team can view them and annotate them, right in the browser. The ability to annotate documents facilitates communication for files that have graphics or design elements, such as slideshow images or advertisements, in particular. Annotating a PDF or image file is a much clearer way to deliver comments about it than simply typing comments into a text box.

Microsoft Planner charts view

Something for Everyone

The kanban apps on the market today are far from being clones of one another. Some have more polished designs than others. Some have smoother usability. Some have a steep learning curve. And some are part of a much larger work-management system, as in the case of Asana and ZenKit. Each one offers something different, even though the methodology behind them is the same. Check the table above and the capsule reviews below, and be sure to click through to read the complete, in-depth reviews of kanban services that sound like they might fit the needs of your team or business.

Featured Kanban App Reviews:

  • Asana



    MSRP: $0.00

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    Bottom Line: Asana helps teams manage tasks and workflows, and it’s the preeminent tool for the job.

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  • Wrike



    MSRP: $24.80

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    Bottom Line: When you need a project management and collaboration solution yesterday, turn to Wrike. It offers plenty of ways to integrate with other apps and services, and you can set it up in a hurry.

    Read Review

  • LeanKit



    MSRP: $19.00

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    Bottom Line: If your small business is already using the kanban-style project management system, LeanKit is an excellent way to take your solution to the next level.

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  • Volerro



    MSRP: $7.99

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    Bottom Line: Volerro is a kanban-style project management app. It provides excellent tools for communicating, but comes up short on mobile apps and integration with other services.

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  • Trello



    MSRP: $8.33

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    Bottom Line: Trello is an online kanban tool that helps teams collaborate and manage work. It’s a solid, flexible system, but it’s less powerful than traditional project management software.

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  • KanbanFlow



    MSRP: $5.00

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    Bottom Line: KanbanFlow’s low price makes it an attractive kanban app for project management, but otherwise, it’s a mixed bag of strengths and annoyances.

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  • Zenkit



    MSRP: $348.00

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    Bottom Line: Zenkit measures up very well against kanban apps and offers some capabilities that go beyond kanban, too, but it doesn’t excel in those areas.

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  • Microsoft Planner



    MSRP: $15.00

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    Bottom Line: Microsoft Planner is a lightweight kanban-style collaboration tool. While it supports teamwork to a degree, it’s missing important functionality found in competing apps.

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  • Taiga



    MSRP: $69.00

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    Bottom Line: Taiga.io is an open-source system for managing work using kanban and scrum. Proponents of agile may take to it easily, but the software has several confusing quirks.

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