Dating back to 1940 when it was introduced by Japanese industrial engineer, Taiichi Ohno, Kanban is still used to this day as an agile methodology which is most commonly implemented within lean manufacturing. Using a combination of cards, banners, and/or posters which collectively explain the stages of a workload, the approach utilizes visuals to summarize a method.

Implementing Kanban is not a quick win; an effective system often requires a continuous process in order to control the production, time, and quantity associated. By adjusting operations to produce outputs in line with real-time demand and not just estimations, inventory levels can be maintained for a more cost-effective solution that maintains consistency.

Which Projects Can Kanban Be Used For?

Many organizations favor Kanban thanks to its versatility, allowing for continuous change even after a project has begun, adapting to unforeseen issues or additions to a process. The framework works best when a project flows through different stages instead of going over the same section multiple times, providing better results when a project is non-iterative.

It can be aligned with the business needs of various organizations, working across different industries to enhance a project. Kanban is designed to work for projects which have a continuous workflow, where regular projects are carried out on an ongoing basis. As an overarching rule, many of the following criteria should be met in order to successfully implement the Kanban framework:

  • A backlog of stalled work is preventing the smooth running of a business.
  • Workflow is managed but the opportunity to enhance its efficiency is recognized.
  • A team can change its duties immediately if priorities change.
  • Responding to customer requests is a main priority of an organization.
  • Improving existing processes gradually is a more effective approach in comparison to implementing a brand-new system.
  • Your organization prefers to improve existing processes incrementally rather than imposing a radically new system.

Implementing Kanban In Five Steps

1. Visualize the workflow

Unlike many other lean manufacturing frameworks, Kanban works based on visualization so requires a strong idea of the end result before the process begins. A task board should be created and this will contain numerous columns which each contain the different stages of work. Including a list of the tasks that need to be carried out and a progression that can be visualized upon completion, the board will be updated as and when a task is complete, updating the columns to show which stage each task in the project is at. Many companies prefer to use a physical board which can be referred to by all employees, but for bigger organizations, a digital board is a more practical solution.

2. Eradicate long-term incomplete tasks

Limiting ‘work in progress’ tasks is an essential part of Kanban, getting rid of all those tasks which remain at the bottom of a to-do list but never come close to completion. The Kanban framework is all about limiting the number of active tasks that employees have to deal with, creating a focus that maximizes productivity and squashes procrastination. Analyzing the jobs which remain incomplete will allow an organization to remove the unnecessary ones that are not utilizing time well, avoiding the lack of productivity from attempting to work on multiple tasks at once. The Kanban method only works if the amount of tasks carried out is kept to a minimum, allowing time to be spent efficiently.

3. Create explicit policies

To positively impact a project’s predictability, sufficient planning is required to define the software. Each work item should be assigned to a class, splitting between standard, expedite, and fixed date. In many cases, a class may become the priority to prevent the financial burden of a delay arising from items getting lost or not prioritized. By splitting demand into classes, the flow can become more regulated, even if it creates slightly slower lead times in certain areas. Many businesses make the mistake of using predictions to create a bigger output but this can lead to longer lead times and a less consistent result, reducing the value.

4. Manage and measure workflow

Efficiently measuring the Kanban cycle will allow the quality of a product to be enhanced and the time taken to create a quality output established. Depending on the goal, whether that be speed, quality, or both, the mathematical metrics used need to be established to evaluate the workflow’s efficiency.

5. Optimize using the scientific method

The task board can be used to predict any changes in workflow and how these will impact the results, helping establish whether any adjustments are worthwhile in the strategy. This can turn into a scientific approach as the process is based on educated predictions which can be used to create a hypothesis, ensuring all decisions are made with sufficient caution. Once a hypothesis has been created, the task board can be adjusted to see how the change will result in a different outcome and reconfigure how the tasks are prioritized.

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