Kanban is a method for managing and improving workflow. The goal of this method is to identify bottlenecks in the process through visualization and to improve the flow by removing these bottlenecks. Kanban (“billboard” in Japanese) originated from the 1940s when the Toyota automotive company introduced just-in-time manufacturing – producing according to customer demand and improving the efficiency of the manufacturing process.
The core principles of Kanban:
- Start with what you do now – Apply Kanban to the existing workflow and plan all of the changes gradually.
- Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change – Make continuous small changes to the current process to meet minimal resistance.
- Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities and titles – Kanban itself does not impose any organizational changes. The team should identify any necessary changes together and implement them step by step.
- Encourage acts of leadership at all levels – People at all levels can give ideas for improvement and advance their own way of working. This can’t be done only by managers – everyone’s feedback and insights are important.
Kanban has six core practices. The most important of these are visualising the workflow and limiting work in progress. For visualization, the teams use a Kanban board with cards and columns. Each column represents a step in the workflow and each card a task or an item that needs to be done. The cards are moved from one column to the next as the tasks are worked on. Each column that represents work in progress should have a limit on how many cards can be in that column. Work can be pulled into the next step only when there is the capacity for it. This rule helps teams stay agile, keep the focus, and identify bottlenecks.
The method is widely used in software development, but it is suitable for any kind of business. It helps companies work more efficiently and become more agile and responsive to customers’ demands. Kanban’s main benefit is the increased visibility of the work being done. It helps teams stay in sync with each other and, through that, work better together.