Kanban is a tool for visualizing the flow of materials and information in a system. This is most commonly using kanban cards—a visual management tool that makes information about production processes digestible at a glance. When executed properly, Kanban makes information visually available in a coherent, timely, and regular manner.
The Origins of Kanban
Kanban, which translates to “card” or “signboard” from Japanese, is a signaling device for managing the production l of items in a pull system.
Along with the concept of Just-in-Time, Kanban originated from Toyota Production System’s (TPS) lean manufacturing practices.
In the last decade, kanban has spread from manufacturing to IT, marketing, and various other company functions. Kanban is now one of the most commonly used process management systems across various industries.
The most basic Kanban board will have three columns: ‘Requested or To Do’, ‘In Progress’, and ‘Done’. However, depending on the needs of the team and the uniqueness of a process, the names of these workflows can be changed.
A kanban board can be mapped out physically on a piece of paper or on a whiteboard, or digitally through an online platform or an internal tool.
Since this is a visual representation of a process, the items under each column move through the columns from: ‘Requested’ → ‘In Progress’ → ‘Done’. By moving these items down the stream, a team can identify where the bottlenecks are, track how long each task took, and at what stage the team is at in terms of accomplishing their goal.
It is a transparent, real-time information repository that relies on the accountability of team members.
Benefits of Using a Kanban Board
There are multiple benefits to gaining visibility into work processes and information flows.
Keeps Everyone in Sync
Since real-time information is available at all times, Kanban reduces unnecessary communication around progress checking and documentation. It can serve as a central information hub for the team.
Short Cycle Times
By visualizing who is responsible for which task and who needs help, a team can overlap their skillsets to complete their tasks even faster. By maximizing the use of different skills in a team, the cycle time can be significantly shortened (from the moment work begins to when it is completed).
A Kanban board can identify which tasks are taking longer than usual, or which tasks are holding other tasks back from moving forward. Through visualization, finding bottlenecks in processes can happen at an earlier stage, shaving down the cycle time even further.
Easy to Set-up
Since the Kanban board is simply a visual representation of the kinds of tasks and processes that are already happening within a team, it is fairly easy to adopt this method. It is simply a new way of organizing the information a team already has.