What are the principles of Kanban?

The Kanban system got its start back in the 1940’s when Toyota Motor Company began their efforts to better match their inventory with the customer demand. This ‘just-in-time’ approach was accomplished using visual systems, working with suppliers, and much more. The term Kanban means ‘signboard’ or ‘visual signal’ in Japanese and has shown to be a very effective option for workplace improvement. There are four main principles surrounding Kanban that everyone should be aware of.

Continuous Improvement

This is likely the best known of the principles of Kanban. Continuous improvement strategies will help ensure a facility is constantly working to eliminate waste, improve efficiency, and generally improve the way things are done in a facility. While not all continuous improvement efforts are related to Kanban, it is an important principal to follow from the very beginning.

Visualizing Workflow

One of the most important principles of Kanban is visualizing the workplace. In order to be done properly, there must be many visual ques that will help people throughout the facility understand what is needed in each given area, and when. Whether a company uses physical cards to signal the need for supplies, or it is done using computers, having a visual workplace is an important part of any successful Kanban strategy.

 Limit the Work In Progress

Having too many items sitting in the work in progress stage is an example of waste that should be eliminated. In fact, having workflow process that allows for items to be waiting for extended periods of time in the production process is quite wasteful. Making sure that all parts and other supplies are efficiently used while moving quickly through the process will help to avoid waste in the facility.

Focus on the Flow

When done properly, Kanban will help everything to flow nicely throughout the facility. This means that parts and supplies will enter the facility, and very quickly be moved into production. From there, they will progress through the system until the final product is produced. This final product should be finished as close to the time when a customer needs it as possible. When this occurs, your Kanban strategy is operating properly. Of course, there is always room for continuous improvement.


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