The Kanban Framework

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a very visual framework which was already developed in 1947 in the original version at Toyota Motor Corporation.

The goal of Kanban is to continuously improve processes along the product lifecycle. The fact that Ōno worked on its Kanban system until the very end shows that it is an evolutionary system that can be constantly adapted.

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The origin of Kanban

As mentioned at the beginning, the Japanese Ōno Taiichi developed a new, more efficient Toyota production system based on the Kanban method. The origin of the Kanban method is thus not, as often assumed in software development, but in automotive engineering. After the initial implementation, Ōno developed the Kanban system steadily and used his promotion in the 1950s to production manager at the Toyota headquarters, among other things, to visit other production facilities such as Ford and General Motors in the U.S.

According to Ōno, the American production lines, which were strongly influenced by Fordism, were no longer up to date in the U.S., so he worked on improving more agile production lines and refining the Kanban principle more and more until his death in 1990.

With the help of the Kanban method, Ōno wanted to improve production processes and optimize the value chain in the company. In his opinion, all manufacturing and production steps should be controlled and interconnected to ensure a consistent flow of materials and fast production process. Unlike America, Japanese automakers suffered more from logistical challenges and high inventory costs than American assembly line producers. Just-in-time production and consistent supply along the entire production chain was therefore Ōno's main focus.


Definition of Kanban

Kanban is an agile framework that intervenes much less disruptively in a corporate structure than, for example, the Scrum method, which is why Kanban is often used as an agile entry point in project management. In the Kanban process, you work with a continuous flow of work rather than fixed iterations to produce something deliverable.

When layered on top of an existing process, Kanban results in small, incremental changes to the current process and does not require a particular set-up or approach.

In Kanban, one focuses on the completion of entire projects, applying Lean principles such as the "Build-Measure-Learn" cycle and focusing on efficiently working the Kanban cards.

The goal is a steady workflow and clear communication of each task at hand for the team members. By means of Kanban boards, all tasks are clearly structured and prioritized. Duplicate tasks are avoided and existing processes are optimized.


Where is Kanban used?

Kanban is a possible approach in Agile and is mainly­used in software development, but can be used in projects of any industry and far from software development. A Kanban board in marketing or the use of Kanban cards in HR or research are no longer rare. Companies that want to start agile project management or use agile methods in the organization often choose the most widely used agile framework Scrum. However, since the Scrum method has far-reaching consequences in the workflow of the teams, an agile start with Kanban is more appropriate.

As the Kanban definition already points out, this principle is an evolutionary model, which structures the work and

organized according to the pull principle. Each member works with the same control and system. In addition, there are no roles and rituals as in the Scrum process. So there is no need to find a product owner or scrum master first, but every task can be solved within the team.

This all makes working according to the Kanban principle much easier and it works faster in the introduction, because the benefits are directly visible. Each task in the team becomes visible and can be visualized via the Kanban board. This leads to a fast adaptation and a transparent system by means of Kanban board or software.


What is the advantage of the Kanban method?

The principle is based on small, incremental improvements and changes along the value chain. The goal, in addition to increased team efficiency, is primarily increased flexibility through improved workflow.

Through the continuous improvement process, changes are facilitated and approached openly by the team. In addition, Kanban allows for better forecasting of work-in-progress limits.

Physical boards and Kanban cards provide accurate visual status to all team members, facilitating management within the Kanban process. A Kanban board visualizes processes, making it easier to manage agile work.

Just-in-time production is made possible because the workflow of all areas is visible, making required materials obvious. This pull control offers many advantages over other methods because it thus enables lean production based on the just-in-time principle.

Instead of large storage areas and stagnant processes, Kanban focuses on a steady flow of materials, provides clear rules for all involved and indicates early on what is needed next.

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