Now here’s an interesting, if somewhat ironic story. Japan is famous for reinventing manufacturing in the years following World War II. Japan’s revolutionary systems (at the time) meant that only a few short decades after being a post-war basket case, Japan had become a powerhouse of industry and manufacturing. In a heartbeat, Japan almost single-handedly crushed much of the market share of Western manufacturing companies.

One of the systems that Japan used to create massively efficient manufacturing systems was Kanban. Kanban is Japanese for “visual signal” or “card,” and it refers to the method for managing the creation of products with an emphasis on continual delivery while not overburdening the development team. Kanban is a process designed to help teams work together more effectively.

So given the success of Kanban for Japan, it is somewhat ironic that, whereas Japan reinvented manufacturing, its business processes and workstyles were very formal and conservative. Even more ironic that other economies had taken the Kanban approach, and applied it to areas outside of manufacturing – management processes, for examples.

Indeed, Kanban is actually the system that sits behind Trello, a project management tool that was acquired by everyone’s favorite collaboration and productivity tool vendor, Atlassian, back in February of this year. Trello has grown hugely, so hugely, in fact, that Atlassian took some of its hard-earned cash and acquired them to broaden their own product portfolio.

So. A Japanese management system sitting behind a very successful US-founded and Australian headquartered that… isn’t broadly used in Japan itself. ironic, huh?

Atlassian looks set to reduce that irony with the news that Trello is aiming to add to its 25 million global users with a Japanese customer base. The company is announcing that beginning early next year, Trello will provide localized go-to-market and support as part of its long-term strategy in the market, as well as work with local partners such as Qiita and Chatwork to integrate popular local work tools with Trello

Michael Pryor, co-founder and head of Trello, got a little bit misty-eyed around the announcement of the news which he made at the TechCrunch Tokyo, which (yet more irony) comes six years after he pitched the fledgling Trello idea at TechCrunch Disrupt:

Launching Trello in Japan has been a goal of ours for years, and we’re confident that the market will embrace Trello’s Kanban-style tool, especially as it continues to go through its tremendous work-style transformation. With Atlassian’s support in Japan, we are excited to finally be able to support a long-term strategy and provide users with support in local language.

Trello’s parent company, Atlassian, already has a strong presence in the Japanese market, having opened an office in Yokohama, Kanagawa in 2013. The office has a small dedicated team that supports all of Atlassian’s products locally. Commenting on the general trends occurring in Japan, Stuart Harrington, GM of Atlassian Japan said that:

Over the past several years, Japan has been going through a work-style transformation that affects both how knowledge workers are working, as well as the tools they use to complete their work. As workplaces become more flexible and trends like remote and distributed work gain ground, workers will increasingly require tools that help them communicate, organize and complete work with their teams, even if they aren’t sitting side by side. Atlassian’s products have found quick success with companies that want to empower their teams to work together from anywhere, in an open and transparent way. We’re thrilled to increase our footprint in the Japanese market with Trello, and believe it will be embraced by Japanese knowledge workers who require a shared perspective of their work with their teams.


I like me a little bit of irony in my daily news and this is a perfect example. An immensely successful management system has been used as the foundational elements in a tool being applied in a plethora of different areas. That tool is then being sold back into the country that originally invented the system itself.

Beyond the irony, it’s awesome to see Atlassian executing so well. I’ve been a big fan since the early years of the company and it’s great seeing them go from strength to strength.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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