Many employees may have heard their managers whisper the word, ‘Kanban’, but what does it mean?
Origins of Kanban
Kanban is a system aimed at maintaining an efficient workplace. The word, Kanban actually means “sign card” in Japanese. It is a visual workflow management system, aimed at creating the best flow of tasks. Tasks are represented by cards which a worker takes and places under a category of ‘new’, ‘in progress’ or ‘complete’. The system was first adopted by Toyota in the late 1940s. The company used Kanban as part of switching its production method to a ‘pull’ system, where instead of using forecasts, they based production on actual demand.
Toyota used physical cards in order to be able to visualise the demand levels throughout the supply chain. The visual nature of the system helped standardise supply cues, limiting the amount of work in process and clarifying exactly what needed to be done.
How does Kanban work?
Kanban works by creating a visual model of the workflow. It shows how many things need to be done and where they lie in context to each other and on the production line.
Kanban has a work-in-progress (WIP) limit to help focus efforts on a given task. By noting when the number of cards exceeds this limit, you can identify bottlenecks and refocus on finishing what has been started, rather than starting new tasks. Once ‘in process’ cards are put into the ‘finished’ category, another task can take its place.
Kanban has been embraced at major firms such as HP, Pixar and Spotify.
Kanban is, like Scrum, an agile methodology. Project-management professionals, or those wishing to move into that domain, could benefit from undertaking the course in Certified Scrum Master training in Dublin (or elsewhere in the UK).
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Kanban board: physical or digital?
The Kanban board can be physical or digital. In the case of a physical board, the board will be segmented into categories across a workflow, and will have colour-coded notes stuck on it, outlining specific tasks. The board could be as hi-tech as an interactive whiteboard or as basic as a blank wall.