Have you ever heard of Kanban? This LEAN principle was developed specifically to help achieve a Just-In-Time, or JIT, production cycle. In a JIT cycle, products and goods are produced in exact accordance with observed demand, rather than predicted demand. This means that instead of projecting how many widgets you need to produce in a year to meet what you predict the demand will be, you don’t produce any widgets until they are actually ordered from you. Even at this stage, you limit your production to the exact number of items ordered. Kanban in and of itself is a visual representation system which attaches cards to various stages of the process. A Kanban card is then “pulled” from one stage of production to the next; no action is taken until a Kanban card is pulled. While the basic concept behind Kanban is simple, it can be a little tricky to figure out at first, especially when businesses vary in their size and nature so greatly. Here are a few easy ways you can help ensure the success of a Kanban system in your business.
1. Nothing Moves Without a Kanban
In order to make a tracking system of any kind work, you have to adhere to it strictly. A Kanban system is no exception, and no items should move through any stage of production or distribution without their proper Kanban card behind moved as well. Not only does this ensure the system serves one of its key purposes (letting you visually track operations), it also makes sure you won’t make mistakes by assuming a product is somewhere its not based on its card.
2. Balance, Balance, Balance
Kanban is a zero-waste system, and so everything should be balanced at all times. Primarily, this means that any early operations or supplier stages of production make the precise number of objects specified by the Kanban, no more, no less. Conversely, anything downstream should only withdraw objects in the exact same quantity. As long as you adhere to this rule, your balance will always come out to zero.
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3. Mistake Tolerance: Zero
We run into another “zero” concept in the mistakes and defects department. Defective products don’t allow you to move your card in a Kanban system and don’t count toward your desired totals (obviously). For this reason, items must all be inspected before they move on and take their Kanban card with them. This ensures that you never move defective or faulty products by accident and then have to waste time re-working them or producing new ones later on. The time upfront used for quality control is more than worth it over the long haul for most industries.
4. Employee Know-How
You’ll need to train your employees to move Kanban cards appropriately, or report new demand to whoever is in charge of the Kanban. Even if you know what’s going on with a new system, it can quickly become a mess if other don’t. When adding the system, have a training session for all employees involved. In this session, discuss not only the methodology behind Kanban, but also the benefits, so workers can easily see why they should make an effort to adapt and maintain Kanban card accuracy.
5. Personalize It
Above all, a Kanban system is meant to work for your business and you may need to tweak some things and bend the rules to make it a perfect fit. For example, you might need consider lead times when ordering materials or even in the production process itself so that you can accurately rely production times to clients. You may even need to maintain a sort of hybrid system in the case of exceptionally long order cycles. While Kanban helps to reduce and (in some situations) eliminate inventory, it may be necessary to have partial products completed and then use Kanban for the rest of the process as orders come in. Feel it out as you go along, and don’t be afraid to take leaps of faith to make Kanban work for you.
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