Let's suppose that an item gets to some stage on a kanban board and then it is discovered that additional work is required from an earlier stage. What do we do?

We can't move items backward in Kanban. So the item becomes blocked. But it has higher priority than the items in that earlier stage (because it is later in the workflow), so do we need to go to the person who contributed to the item in that earlier stage and ask them to do the additional work? But this introduces a context-switch and new blocked items - those items the person was working on at the earlier stage at the the given moment.

  • 5
    We can't move items backward in Kanban. Why not?
    – Bogdan
    Jan 18, 2021 at 20:45
  • What are you using for your Kanban board (physical board or an electronic tool)? Does your Kanban board have an "expedite" swimlane?
    – Thomas Owens
    Jan 18, 2021 at 21:10
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? Kanban, moving items back? Or how do you manage mistakes?
    – Thomas Owens
    Jan 19, 2021 at 12:40
  • @Bogdan Because of WIP limits - there may be no slot fot it in an earlier column.
    – Daniel
    Jan 19, 2021 at 16:45
  • @Daniel If all other lanes are blocked (and you don't want to make an exception for this task), you could move it back all the way to TODO.
    – Llewellyn
    Jan 19, 2021 at 21:21

1 Answer 1


You Have More Choices Than You Think

We can't move items backward in Kanban.

Of course you can! Whether or not you should will depend on what "additional work" means within your current process. In most cases, it either means:

  1. Your process failed to complete or expose all the work needed to get a task to the Definition of Done for a given activity or for the process as a whole. Therefore, the work item should never have been pulled forward and needs to be sent backwards to be done properly within the appropriate activities.

  2. You have exposed new work that is related to a given work item, but wasn't part of its original scope or Definition of Done. In such cases, you need to define the new work items, and handle those in accordance with your current working agreements for queuing and prioritization.

There are bound to be other edge cases as well, but these are the two most common. You're experiencing some dissonance about this because you seem to think work has to advance monotonically, when in reality your solution space can involve anything that:

  1. Doesn't invalidate your working agreements.
  2. Doesn't violate your WIP limits.
  3. Doesn't treat a one-off problem as a reason to chuck the whole process.
  4. Doesn't treat a recurring process problem as one-off problem to be glossed over.

If it's truly a one-off issue, stop the line until you can collectively resolve the problem. Otherwise, inspect-and-adapt your processes and working agreements to avoid similar classes of problems in the future.

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