Kanban Boards have become an essential part of the lean management methodology. These have been around for far longer than many may suspect. Kanban dates these back to the early 1600s in Japan, where they were first used as informative signboards.
“The Kanban name comes from two Japanese words, “Kan” 看 meaning sign, and “Ban” 板 meaning a board. As the streets became more crowded, shop owners started to make custom shop signs – “KanBans” – to draw passersby’s attention and tell them about the kind of services rendered by each shop. Soon after, Kanban sign designers started to compete by artistically crafting their signboards, to make them stand out from other Kanbans on the street – a practice very much still alive today with modern neon designs…. All these Kanban signs had one thing in common – just like modern Kanban cards, they were able to communicate their content clearly and concisely.
In 1956 Taiichi Ōno at Toyota began to use paper cards for signaling and tracking demand in the factory, and named the new system “Kanban”. He had Kanban cards attached to each finished product and once it was sold, the cards would move back to the production line. On return of the cards, the production team were informed that production was required, however, they could only commence production once the threshold number of Kanban cards was reached. In turn, every material used during production had its own Kanban card attached, allowing for the signal to be communicated through the production line and all the way up the supply chain. The system allowed Toyota to improve internal communications to reduce stockpiles and improve throughput. By 1963 this was rolled out in nearly all Toyota processes and served as the foundation for what became known at TPS Toyota Production system.
Kanban Boards were taken to a new level when in 2001 the software industry published the Agile Manifesto as the core to Agile software development introducing concepts such as Scrum and Lean software development. Kanban boards combined with other lean software development and Agile Management methods led to the introduction of columns on the Kanban boards representing the distinct stages of work. By the 2010s web-based applications to manage projects and business processes using the Kanban method were available, further spreading the use of the Kanban methodology.
Wallen writes about his recent experience in discovering Kanban Boards and finding out their potential beyond the ICT industry where these are most commonly found. Within a few days he had reviewed many of the web-based applications available and was able to customise a Kanban board to his particular requirements. His personal use of the methodology enabled him to see its key benefit – “empowering the users, be they developers, designers, data analysts, admins or support”.
Wallen describes a Kanban board as an excel spreadsheet that is divided in columns to reflect the different stages in the workflow and the rows to include the different tasks at each stage. Following his adoption of the Kanban methodology in his own journalistic work, he summarised the benefits of Kanban as:-
- Better visualization of workflow.
- Improved efficiency.
- Improved collaboration.
- Increased and balanced productivity.
- Avoid over tasking team members.
- Increased focus.
- Waste reduction.
- Better time management.
- Empowers users.
- Better resource allocation.
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 Wallen, Jack (2021), Software, Oct 26, If you’re not using a kanban board, you’re not as productive as you could be – TechRepublic