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Kanban is a Japanese term: ‘kan’ means ‘visual’ and ‘ban’ means card, so roughly translated, it means ‘card you can see.’ Previously, we have read about the 5 steps of  Lean Implementation

The originator of the term was Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System (TPS). This was done in the 1950s to manage just-in-time (JIT) production lines effectively.

Kanban took its inspiration from Piggly Wiggly grocery store in the US. Ohno saw that the store shelves had enough product to meet buyer demand. Nothing more than that. They would replace the products only when there was an empty spot on the shelf. Thus, the idea of providing visual markers—the Kanban card— to reduce unnecessary inventory and a way to uncover workflow and process problems.

What is Kanban

The Four Basic Principles of Kanban

There are 4 change management principles which describe what or how one needs to think to successfully manage for efficiency:

1. Start with what you do now.

The Kanban method does not dictate specific processes. Kanban can be used to examine existing processes. Yet, it focuses on radical changes which don’t need to be made immediately.

2. Pursue small incremental changes.

This method supports continuous small changes (Kaizen). Wide-ranging, radical changes are discouraged because they are inevitably met with resistance.


3. One should respect existing processes and responsibilities.

It doesn’t stop or mandate change. But, it recognizes that the present state of organizations has value in itself. Moreover, incremental change creates broader implementation support because small corrections are more palatable than complete alterations to process.

4. Encourage acts of leadership at all levels.

Kaizen, or a mindset of continual improvement by everyone in the organization, is supported. Hence, the concept means that great ideas can be generated from anyone on the team, not just management.

Kanban Card

The Six General Practices of Kanban

There are also practices that describe what you need to do in a Kanban system to work optimally toward a goal:

1. Visualize the process.

This is where Kanban cards come into play. Once you can actually see work, the number of requests, the amount of time it takes to deliver on a request, who is making the requests, and risks, you can take steps to manage them better individually and as a team. Cards are placed on a Kanban board so all team members can follow the current workflow.

2. Control work in progress (WIP).

This is a cornerstone of Kanban. One should limit the WIP. Thus, it forces the team to focus on a limited number of tasks and work to completion. Also, it spotlights where work is being obstructed in the delivery pipeline before a situation becomes critical.

3. Manage flow

Based on the data gathered on cycle time and other agreed upon metrics, and using information about the current state of work on the board, Kanban helps visually track and manage tasks to deliver maximum value.

4. Communicate policies explicitly

Kanban teams work together to create basic rules about work flows for different items, when to move an item into the next lane or row, and how to note and manage blocked work tasks. These items are near the board, and the team works toward improvement.

5. Implement feedback

Most Kanban teams do daily standup meetings in front of their Kanban board. They discuss ways to improve task delivery and overall process. Also, they check for elimination of waste .

6. Collaborate for improvement, evolve experimentally.

A Kanban system shines a light on the areas that call for improvement. Once highlighted, workgroups develop a way to solve the problem, hypothesize, and test solutions.

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