With Quality Comes Quantity
Read practically any book about productivity, whether for your personal or professional lives, and the focus will be on getting more done in less time. That’s an admirable goal, to be sure, but what have you actually produced?
What is Kanban?
In the late 1940s, Taiichi Ohno, a prominent Japanese businessman, developed a scheduling system for his employer, Toyota, to control the logistical chain from a production standpoint. He called this method Kanban, translated literally as “signboard” or “billboard,” and is a system to maintain a high level of production while integrating improvement in both methods and products. The overall goal of Kanban is to facilitate lean and just-in-time production. Another goal of Kanban is greater transparency in the manufacturing process.
The Effect of Kanban
The Kanban system came about from studies conducted in the early 1940s when managers noticed what could be called the ultimate in just-in-time production–supermarkets. In this case, since customers purchased only what they needed during a given trip, no more or less. As a result, and in order to keep inventories minimal, supermarkets stocked only what they would expect to sell in a given day. The overall effect is to move steps in a process composed of three stages: Backlog, In Progress, and Done. These labels are frequently modified to reflect the specific needs of the user.
The Kanban system, when used with time scheduling tools, can dramatically increase the rate of production, but also allows managers as well as workers to improve the quality of products as well as processes of production.
A key element of making the Kanban method work is to use the cards, often just post-it notes on a white board, each marked with a specific task that will lead to the completion of a step in the production process. When production is begun a card with a single step in the production process is moved from the Backlog column to In Progress. When that process is completed it is moved to the Done column, indicating that completed parts are ready to be moved to another location.
If on first review you think that this is just another method of what used to be called workflow with different shapes of icons to stand for different steps in a process, you would be correct. The difference with Kanban is that that steps physically move to give everyone who uses the board a visual tool to determine where a project process stands.
To illustrate, the day’s activities are symbolized by the board, which has on it all of the steps for a process in the Backlog column. For example, if you are making bricks, a card which says to make 500 bricks is moved from the Backlog column to the In Progress column. As everyone in the plant passes by the board, they will know that the job of the day is the demand made by the sales crew that they need more bricks. Further, the production manager has indicated that making those bricks is the order of the day. Finally, as the brick order is completed, the card for making 500 bricks is moved from In Progress to the Done column.
Over the years, the Kanban system has taken on other variances which make it unique to different organizations. For example, a growing number of companies have created electronic Kanban systems, which instead of the paper and board tracking system the steps in the process are animated with electronic letters.
Problem areas are addressed when there are fewer cards in the process.