Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of HarcourtHealth.com and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.

Most people by now will have heard of the concept Kanban but if not, we will give you some basic information about what it is and how it can be used to benefit your business. Understanding the Kanban method is not difficult and there is much information about this available on the internet and other sources.

What is Kanban?

Kanban was created as a concept in the automotive world in the late 1940’s in Asia (Japan). Toyota was the main company that adopted the system (and still does) by creating a concept based on pulling products instead of pushing products. This was in response to cash-flow issues where companies would build excessive products in order to ensure they keep the customer happy (and essentially create a buffer stock) however the risk here is that the particular product manufactured does not get sold which could be down to a newer model being created. In addition to this, buffer stock is effectively cash strapped up in the business. The pull system is all based on the voice on the customer and product would only be launched when there is a signal of customer demand created.

What is needed before Implementation?

There is one thing that is really crucial for you to have before implementing Kanban and that is a good stable process. What we mean by this is if you have operations that are producing a high non-conformance rate or a process capability of less than 1.33cpk then you may have some problems. The main reason for this is that parts are launched on the customer demand, if you are then having quality problems in operations, this would then delay the parts in the process pending either sentencing, rework or even scrap. This could then also create bottlenecks in particular operations.

Selling it to the Workforce?

Before you even think about rolling this out, you need to make sure that your workforce is 100% engaged and committed. If they are not, then you can forget about this being a successful project. The recommendation would be to invite all of the stakeholders to a meeting explaining both the internal and customer benefits to the business. If this is a mature business that has been operating a specific way for many years then you may find resistance to change therefore the influencing part is key. If there is one specific area that do not buy into this and do not engage then you will find major difficulty in the full overall project being a success.

Kanban Boards

If you want to fully understand the Kanban method, you need to know that visual management is a key aspect to this initiative. You can purchase specific different Kanban boards that are normally card type. What happens with this type is that when product is launched the card is moved along the board underneath the operations that would be marked on it. Clearly this will give immediate visual management as to the progress of work in progress. Going back to the previous point – if people don’t engage in this and update the boards then this element will fail.

There are also some more modern ways to have visual management on work in progress. Technology will give you the opportunity to scan paperwork such as batch cards or routers, and when you do so, this will immediately register exactly where the item is in the operations sequence. This can then be connected to a TV screen which will show the full WIP status. As a result, you would not require to rely on people updating boards but more for them just to scan the paperwork.

Bottleneck in the Process

Completing a value stream map with a number of relevant stakeholders is probably one of the most effective ways to understand where your bottlenecks are however Kanban will also indirectly tell you this. Clearly with you having a powerful visual management system supporting this initiative, if work gets stuck at a specific operation this will become evident very quickly.

If you have bottlenecks, this can be for a number of reasons including quality problems, over inspection, poor OEE or even just the lead-time of the process. Whatever the reason, if the bottleneck is causing a problem holistically within the value stream and affecting the overall lead-time from start to finish, it is important that you look into this further and take measures to remedy it. This can be done by using people that are greenbelt or black-belt trained who can take a step back from the day to day running of the operation and take a helicopter view on what the problem definition is and put in robust corrective actions that are sustainable and credible.