Kanban Defined

Kanban defined literally in Japanese means signboard. However, means far more than that.  It is a system developed to help visually manage workflow and improve communications to deliver dramatically improved throughput.

Origin of Kanban

It was first used in Japanese manufacturing to help signal when work was ready to move from one stage of a process to another.  As the work moved the cards on the Kanban board moved as well.

This not only helped signal and control workflow but it had the added benefit of communicating status updates in near real time to the rest of the manufacturing organization.  With a quick look to the kanban board managers and workers could respond to work in progress.

How does Kanban work?

Kanban is a pull system.  Work is not performed until there is a gap in the line in front of a workstation.  This prevents building up excess work in process that can't be efficiently consumed.

Each phase of work is represented visually on a Kanban board as a column. Work items are represented as cards and placed on the kanban board in the column that represents the phase the work is currently going through.

Kanban cards move from left to right across the board until they complete the workflow process and reach a state of “done”. The state of done means the work item's value can now be utilized either for sale or as a component of the organization's operations.

What are the benefits?

This management of work flow helps identify bottlenecks in the system and allows focus on improvements to those areas so that overall flow is improved.

Kanban has been expanded from manufacturing into other areas.  Specifically it is now used in software development to move ideas into actual software.  More and more fields are utilizing kanban to improve throughput and make their workflow systems more productive.

Where to learn more

To learn more about kanban and how to implement it in your everyday life and organization I recommend the following books:

[FULL DISCLOSURE: These are affiliate links.  If you click on them and make a purchase I will receive an affiliate payment.  That being said, I only recommend products or services that I have used personally and feel will be of benefit to you]