The term Kanban is familiar to many. It is often associated with IT services and is seen by many as a new concept developed by technologists. However, that is not the case. The Kanban has been present and its methodology used for centuries.
Inception in the 1600’s
It has a rich history dating back to the 1600’s. This was a time when Japan was coming out of a period of constant war and social upheaval. Following this disruptive period, Japan managed to build a period of economic stability and growth. Through this economic growth, Japanese villages and towns were bustling with local shops and business vying for a place and fighting for the attention of potential customers. It is in these streets, that the Kanban was created. The word Kanban is derived from the Japanese word “Kan” meaning sign, and “Ban” meaning board. In their pursuit of gaining the attention of passers by, Japanese shop owners would create signs outside their shops detailing the different services provided by that shop.
In the post-war years Toyota automotive was fighting to gain international competitivity. Its American rivals were dominating the markets and Toyota needed to respond. It sought to increase the overall efficiency of its production. A key factor Toyota had to address was the large inventory levels which were maintained. These proved to be very costly and included large amounts of stock of raw materials that was not entering the next phase of production. Toyota industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno looked to supermarkets for inspiration. The Supermarket model allowed them to restock their products once their customers had bought most of their available items. This meant that it was the demand for certain products that directly affected the supply rate. This meant that Supermarkets would restock certain items at a higher frequency than others, depending on the demand of that product.
Figure 1 Taiichi Ōno Source https://kanbantool.com/kanban-guide/kanban-history
Taiichi Ohno argued that the Toyota production chain could follow the same model. The rate of one production process would be used to identify demand for the previous process, all the way through the production chain. Cards were used to prompt actions – for instance, a card in an empty raw materials container suggests that these raw materials should be restocked.
Figure 2 Toyota Production System (TPS) – source: toyota-global.com
The basic concept initially applied in the automotive industry has now been updated and is now used in various businesses internationally. We now see Kanban prominently in knowledge work, especially in software development and other IT related industries. It was David J. Anderson, a well-known Lean thinker, who originally explored the use and application of Kanban to software development in 2004. His 2010 book, Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business, was a tremendous success and led to his founding of the Lean Kanban University.
Anderson explained that Kanban is not to be mistaken for software development or project management process. He argued that Kanban is seen and used as a method or technique to help an existing software development or project management process improve gradually. This can be seen in today’s business processes, as the Kanban is no longer strictly associated with the manufacturing industry. Today, the use of Kanban has been adopted in the Agile Scrum methodology by companies in various industries including:- the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), media, software development, banking, investment and other sectors.
The method was a natural fit Agile methodology, as for them with its emphasis on making continual incremental changes and increasing delivery speed. The same attitude and methodology behind the “Just-in-Time” methods used by manufacturing for restocking purposes could be utilized here using that same system to manage and coordinate tasks in respect to the resources available to the team at hand.
Systems are firm believers in Agile methodologies. We have been using this
system for many years, reaping the benefits of delegating tasks according to
the demand for the task and the relevant resources for it. Being a software
development company, eBusiness Systems has developed its own unique Kanban
board which is integrated within our comprehensive Business Management Platform,
eB-ISP. It allows users to see what tasks are pending not only by them, but
also by the whole team, allowing members to know what the company is working
on, so that the company can pull the same rope for a common goal. Our Kanban
board is also integrated with our shared calendar, which facilitates sharing of
tasks that require the use of shared resources. Knowing which resources are
being used at what time allows for an efficient use of time and better task
Contact eBusiness Systems now to help you streamline your business processes through the use of our digital online Kanban boards which are a powerful team building tool allowing for staff across the organisation to share task lists and keep abreast with work-in-progress.