The Kanban System: A Different Workflow Management Approach

A kanban system is a lean workflow management method designed to improve efficiency, minimize waste, and enhance overall productivity. By incorporating Kanban cards and Kanban boards into their processes, teams can streamline their workflow, reduce bottlenecks, and achieve a smooth flow of work.

The term “Kanban” originates from the Japanese word meaning “visual signal” or “card.” Developed by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota, the kanban system is an essential part of the Toyota Production System and a core component of lean manufacturing principles.

Principles of the Kanban System

The kanban system revolves around the concept of a pull system, where work is pulled through the workflow based on customer demand and real-time requirements, rather than pushed through a production process. 

This system aims to limit work in progress (WIP) and optimize the flow of work by adhering to the following principles:

Visualize the Workflow

The kanban system utilizes a kanban board, which serves as a visual representation of the team’s work items and their various stages of completion.  The board typically consists of three main columns: “To Do,” “Work in Progress,” and “Done,” with swimlanes or rows representing different types of work or teams.

Limit Work in Progress

One of the core principles of the kanban system is to limit the amount of work in progress at any given time. This is achieved by setting WIP limits for each stage of the workflow, preventing supply chain bottlenecks and ensuring that team members focus on completing tasks without being overwhelmed by excessive work items.