As with many of the other quality management tools, Kanban originated in Japan from the manufacturing industry. Kanban is a visual tool used to manage projects, processes and inventory. It relates in with continuous improvement because it easily demonstrates weakness in the workflow, and where improvements can then be adopted.
Kanban will help an organisation improve their workflows, reduce lead time, and therefore giving more value to customers. This helps with improving predictability and quality of the product or service output.
The use of visualization can be beneficial with processes needing one stage to be completed before progressing to the next. It is also useful as employees will be able to process this a lot faster and realise where there may be a blocker in the workflow.
Kanban does this through the use of post-it notes on a board, which can then be moved through the workflow as needed. This focus on pulling activities through the workflow when needed, rather than pushing them through, means there is only going to items where there is capacity for them.
The three basic stages in the work-flow will be ‘to-do’, ‘doing’ and ‘done’, but these can be altered to suit the focus of the workflow, such as ‘ready’, ‘test’, ‘develop’. It is also possible for the Kanban process to be carried out online using software rather than post-it notes. One way may be more effective to your business than the other, so test it out then decide which approach to use.
Kanban is an incremental approach to continuous improvement, as the steps in it do not disrupt the overall day to day activities. Ultimately, the main goal of Kanban is to have a continuous flow of work activities, without unnecessary slow down or stoppages. In other words, Kanban aims to reduce the bottlenecks within the system, and implement things that stop these from occurring.
This can be done by highlighting the importance of multi-tasking, while also encouraging finishing the work at hand, before taking on anything new. By doing this, there should be a reduction in delays, and time to market as well as helping the organisation continuously improve.
Another core practice of the Kanban process is that the Work in Progress (WIP) is very limited. By very limited, it is meant that once you stop putting items in the ‘to do’ section of the Kanban workflow, the process is eventually going to completely stop.