Kanban: An introduction

The term “kanban” is derived from a 17th century Japanese business practice wherein Japanese merchants used embossed or engraved signs to display one’s trade or expertise. In modern times, this term has come to be related to the streamlining of business processes.

Toyota and Kanban
Initially when Mr. Toyota, of Toyota Motor Company, developed the concept of kanban his focus was on how he could use some of the principles that were present in the Japanese mercantile stores in his factory. He made the observation that the focus of the supply chain business process in the mercantiles was triggered more by the action of the customer than by an action of the store. While the store had fully stocked shelves, that mere fact did not cause the supply chain to move. Instead, it was when the customer made a purchase and removed the item from the shelves that a trigger was activated that signaled to the store owners that it was time to restock the shelf. Mr. Toyota realized that this supply chain process could benefit the assembly processes at his motor plant by helping to limit work in progress that was initiated until orders were placed by customers. This in turn allowed him to stock fewer items in inventory and created real savings for his operation.

Kanban in modern environments
One key component that is a primary focus of this process today is the premise of modifying existing processes rather than creating new ones. Prominent members of the continuous process improvement community feel there is huge value to reengineering a process that is already in place as opposed to creating a new one. The modification of the existing process minimizes upheaval within an organization and will not limit work in progress at the time of the change.

Implement process improvement with care
Kanban has many practical applications in today’s business marketplace. From creating an effective way to limit work in progress and minimize the associated costs of production that are not necessarily associated with product sales, businesses can use this process to help increase profitability. However, as with any new process improvement initiative that is undertaken management must ensure they have provided full disclosure to all stakeholders and done their best to get buy in from all parties affected by the newly implemented processes. Otherwise, new processes may be implemented that are not fully understood or endorsed by those having to execute them and may end up becoming more of a detriment to productivity than the old processes they replaced.

Kanban boards
To visualize the work in progress in severall states of the operational procedure in a company so called Kanban boards are used. A Kanban board is a table separated in several columns, where each of the columns represent one state. If a new job or task shall be performed, it can just enter the process if there is the ability to do this. Let's take an example: If you want to fix bugs in a software product you may have the following steps for every bug: analyze - implement/fix - test - release. The team who analyzes the bugs can only handle a small amount of bugs simultaneous; if they handle more than let's say 2 or 3 bugs than they will get stuck in bad multitasking and therefore will lose efficiency. So the maximum work in progress will be set to 3 in this example and will be marked on the Kanban board. If the team already handles 3 bugs and a new one arives, then this new bug will NOT be handled; the team even will not look at it. The same will be done for the columns implement/fix, test and release.

My personal experiences
Use Kanban and Kanban boards whenever you want to ensure that bad multitasking shall be prevented; this will be done efficiently by the strict limitation of the work in progress. Kanban performs especially good when applied in an external-event triggered environment where normal planning systems may come to their limits.

1 Kommentar:

  1. For an online Kanban solution - check smartQ (www.getsmartQ.com). Makes it easier to track the history and share with the team.