When does Kanban fail?

Kanban is one of the best known and most effective strategies used in the workplace today. It was first developed in the 1940’s and has become a very popular strategy in manufacturing and other facilities around the world. When reading about Kanban, it is easy to find endless articles and stories about how much it can help your company. While all of this is true, the reality is that there are times when Kanban fails as well. Taking some time to learn about how and when Kanban fails is important for avoiding difficulties in your implementation.

Failure to Understand Kanban

The first, and likely most common, reason that Kanban fails is because the people involved with it don’t really understand what it is. You can’t learn the ins and outs of Kanban by reading a couple articles online. This is a complex and detailed system that requires some effort to be implemented successfully. For example, many companies try to implement Kanban thinking that it is simply another waste reduction program, so they let the focus expand well beyond workflow processes and control. This can quickly become too involved and not have sufficient focus to succeed.

Ignoring Work in Progress Limits

One of the most important aspects of Kanban is that it limits the amount of work in progress that takes place at any given time. Companies often have trouble getting beyond their belief that the more work that is being done at any given time, the better. Without proper work in progress limits in place, it is almost impossible to maintain a successful Kanban program.

Inaccurate Kanban Boards

The Kanban board is supposed to be the centralized location where people can go to see all the work that is being done, needs to be done, and who is responsible for it. A good Kanban board is essential to the success of a program. Unfortunately, Kanban boards often become very inaccurate over time. In some cases, only major milestones are added to the board, so the smaller tasks are left off, which becomes disorganized. In other cases, the board will have only information about what should be happening in a perfect environment, rather than being updated to reflect the reality of what is being done in a facility.

Lack of Buy In

There are many things that can cause Kanban to fail. In order for Kanban to succeed in the long run, everyone must be on board and willing to follow the strategies (either because they agree with them, or because it is mandatory). If any key players aren’t willing to do this, it will be very difficult to ensure everything is successful. In the end, all Kanban failures are caused by one or more people not following the established methods of this system (either intentionally because they think they know better, or out of ignorance). If you are thinking about implementing Kanban in your facility, make sure you and all the other key players understand what it is, and agree to follow the standards properly.


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