Lean Part 6: Demystifying Kanban


You may be put off by insider terms like Kanban. It is a cryptic expression that probably has some of you thinking you are outside the special “Lean Club” that speaks and understands the language.

For the past four months, we have dismissed such Lean jargon, instead placing the focus on its common sense applications. Lean is merely a way to do business, and the system of Kanban is no different. A layman’s way of describing is might be: a way to organize chaos through prioritization and focus. The disorder that sometimes surrounds delivery teams and processes can be solved by just bringing to light workflow and process problems.

The rule of thumb in Kanban is if your business value isn’t flowing out the door consistently, it’s not performing to its maximum potential. A stricter focus on flow will reset your mind to value finishing over starting. The steps to implementing a Kanban system include:

  1. Visualizing your current workflow
  2. Applying Work-in-Process (WIP) limits
  3. Making policies explicit
  4. Managing and measuring flow
  5. Optimizing iteratively with data

It sounds like common sense right? But if you’re like most manufacturers, you have probably been conditioned to associate your value with what you have started instead of what you finished. Kanban is an incredibly powerful system to help you manage your workflow process and improve your performance to reach that finish line. Below is a list of questions to help you identify the state of your business as it applies to Kanban. Maybe you are applying some variation of the process already, and don’t even realize it. Ask yourself:

  1. Do you map the process you currently use to deliver work product to the customer on a visual control board?
  2. Do you map every step from conception to delivery to the end consumer?
  3. Do you allow a limited number of work units to be in any given column at a time?
  4. Do you ensure that work does not move into the next step until a space opens up for it?
  5. Do you assign different classes of service to different work items?
  6. Do any high cost-of-delay items get stuck waiting behind a low one just because it arrived later in line?
  7. Do unanticipated items cause other planned work to stop?
  8. If so, what have you done to address this?
  9. How do you measure your success as it relates to delivery?

For help answering these questions or for more information on the application of Kanban, please contact Business Development Advisor, Ralph Brown, at 914-393-9876, or ralph.brown@hvtdc.org.