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What is Kanban

Darshim Saxena| Kanban | 9 months, 1 week


Kanban also spelt “Kamban” in Japanese translates to “billboard” which infers the available capacity to work. As a concept, Kanban has a close connection with lenient and just-in-time (JIT) production.  In these areas, Kamban is often used to solve the central problems of what to produce, how to produce and how much to produce. Precisely, Kanban visualises work as it moves through a process. It enables a person to see both the workflow and the actual work being done in the visual format. The method of Kanban is said to be efficient when it attains its goal of identifying the potential hurdles in the and has further removed them to ensure smooth workflow. It reduces the amount of stress on an everyday basis and boosts productivity in return.


A Brief History


Kanban has its roots way back in the early 1940s. It is said to be first developed by Taiichi Ohmo for Toyota in Japan. The story of how Toyota stumbled upon this theory is interesting. The method of Kanban has its roots in the psychology of their clerks in a supermarket. Toyota observed that when an article in a supermarket ran out the clerks did not replace it from the vendor’s supply but the store’s inventory. The grocer delivered the items “just-in-time”, and this ensured the smooth functioning of the supermarkets. Thus, Kanban was born. Toyota had finally discovered a method to match inventories with demand and thus boost the aggregate quality. Kanban is a simple planning system with the aim of managing work and inventory at every stage optimally.


      Toyota was forced to think outside the box because of its flaws in productivity and efficiency. These flaws hindered the company’s progress, and it lagged behind its rivals in America. Kanban took this company out of the deep seas of trouble by boosting productivity, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.


    Kanban has the unique quality of binding the entire value chain together and keeping a record from the beginning to the end, i.e. from the supplier to the end consumer. It minimises waste and reduces time frame by avoiding supply disruption and overstocking of goods at various stages. While following the process of Kanban religiously, rapt attention to the entire production process is required. It is advisable to spot bottlenecks outright and thus avoid slowing down the production process. Only by being highly vigilant can one achieve the goal of higher throughput with lower delivery lead times.


     Kanban moved beyond Toyota and the automobile sector and found its application in the contemporary era in 2005. By 2007, leaders such as David Anderson, Jim Benson and Corey Ladas had formed inquisitive teams for research on the process. The resulting body of knowledge not only had the essence of Toyota but also the incredible work of men of wisdom like Edwards Deming, Eliyahu Goldratt, Donald Reinertsen and others.


The Process


Though Taiichi Ohmo can be given the credits for first introducing the concept in the automobile sector, the efforts of David Anderson to adapt it to the needs of the IT sector cannot be overlooked either. David synthesised the works of Taiichi Ohmo, Eliyahu Goldratt, Edwards Demming, Peter Drucker to define Kamban as we know it today. He inculcated the concepts of pull theory, queueing and flow and thus came up with the most comprehensive definition of Kamban in his book “Kanban: Successfully Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business” in 2010.


     Kanban efficiently recognises that textual information is not one size fits all. Through Kanban, one can harness the unfathomable visual capacity of the human brain by using “sticky notes” on a whiteboard to denote various stages of production. Through the visual collage, one can effortlessly track the status of the work as well as the context of the same. Thus, the collaboration and the proactive intercommunication in a team is boosted to a substantial extent.


    Kanban does not expect a revolution overnight. It focuses on gradual improvement of the processes whether it is software development, staffing, recruiting or marketing and sales. Kanban has a vast coverage and can be applied to absolutely any business process to notice dramatic improvements.


   Kanban has indeed grown from strength to strength. Right from the time when the concept was first published in a book. The works of many learned men have enriched kanban throughout the years. Contributions by scholars like Don Reinertsen (author of Principles of Productive Development Flow), Jim Benson (pioneer of Personal Kamban) and others in this field can never be forgotten.




Like every other process, the body of Kanban is governed by some strict principles which help in improving work efficiency and the flow of work. It is evolutionary and expects the change gradually. Thus, through its non-disruptive methods, it builds up an organisation brick by brick. There are myriad benefits of Kanban right from improving flow, reducing cycle time, increasing value to the customer to great predictability. One can enjoy all these perks and more by using the principles of Kanban listed in this article as the guiding light.


1.    Kanban is emphatically an evolutionary process. Any sudden change in the current ongoing process is not advisable. The Kanban method must be applied directly to the current procedure. Changes can happen over time and at the comfortable pace at which the entire team is satisfied.


2.    Resistance within the group or organisation must be avoided at all costs. Solidarity can be achieved by achieved by refusing to make overnight changes and instead trusting the process of gradual changes and step by step increments to the productivity.


3.    Any outright organisational changes must also be discouraged. The team can undergo such changes as and when deemed fit. Ignoring this principle may disturb the components that are working flawlessly at present.


4.    Encourage the junior employees and instil in them the feeling the leadership efforts do not always need to come from the seniors in the organisation.


5.    By keeping track of unfinished work in the system, the time taken for work to flow through the entire Kanban cycle can be reduced.


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