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KANBAN BOARD: Examples of Kanban Board for Lean Systems

Updated on May 2, 2014

What is a Kanban?

Kanban is a Japanese term that literally translated means “signboard”. It is a system of signalling to the next process within the system on what to do next. The most ubiquitous form of Kanban is the Kanban card. This card contains details of material quantity and instructions on the logistical path that should be taken.


Though it has come to be applied in a variety of areas, the Kanban was originally developed as a production control mechanism aimed at maintaining a high level of production. It was developed by Taichi Ohno at Toyota as a means to control the logistics within the production unit.

Benefits of using a Kanban board

There are many advantages of using a Kanban board:

  • It is easy to visualize the flow of work from one stage to another
  • It limits the amount of work-in-progress leading to faster throughput of complete work
  • One is able to monitor, adapt and improve ongoing projects.
  • Due to the visual nature of work on the Kanban board, you are able to re-prioritize work that has gained urgency and reorganize the whole project flow.

Toyota’s lean manufacturing system developed to a great extent from the concept of Just In Time (JIT) and Kanbans played a major role in supporting the system. As an improvement tool, use of the Kanban helped in exposing hidden problems within the system. As these problem became exposed, the production teams developed counter-measures to ensure that they did not recur.

In fact, the ideal number of Kanban in a lean manufacturing system is zero. The underlying principle is that you should keep on reducing the number of Kanban in the system while solving any problems that are exposed until there is no more need for Kanban. This is an ideal that is difficult to achieve but it is the process of trying to reach it that is important.

Kanban board in project management.

In a project management set-up, a Kanban can be described as a tool for organizing the team members’ workload in such a way that the output flows continuously without overburdening them. It signals what needs to be done, when and in what quantity. It also gives visual status information so that team members can see the results of their efforts.

A Kanban board in a project management set-up is a visual display device for applying the Kanban signalling method for a project. This is a slight variation for the cards that have been traditionally used to signal the status of a project. The Kanban board used in project management uses sticky notes, magnets, plastic chips or colored discs to represent work items. The board usually has three distinct sections:

  1. To Do
  2. In progress
  3. Completed

The work items are placed on the section that represents their status. This gives a clear picture on what need to be worked on at any particular time and promotes a focused approach towards projects.

Kanban board for software development teams

A Kanban board for an agile software development project will normally have six columns that indicate the stage of development. These are as follows:

  1. Pending
  2. Ready
  3. Coding in progress
  4. Testing
  5. Awaiting approval
  6. Complete

Another format that is commonly used is:

  1. Next
  2. Under Development
  3. Done
  4. Accepted by Customer
  5. Live project

Kanban board for marketing teams

Marketing teams can effectively use Kanban boards for the monitoring of their on going campaigns, The teams prioritize their work and complete assignments as per the work load on the board.

Kanban board for HR teams

Due to the importance of the human resource department to an organisation, they is a need for proper coordination of projects. A visual way for managing the workflow can take away the pressure from HR personnel trying to juggle many time-sensitive projects.

On line Kanban boards

With an on-line Kanban board, workflow can be visualized and optimized in real-time. Collaboration amongst team members is enhanced and the general pace of work across an organisation is stream-lined. Most of these boards are synchronized with the with the enterprise software of the company as part of operational modules which are customizable for a variety of in-house uses such as production control.

Inventory control using Kanban

While on a study tour of American supermarkets in the 1940s, Toyota managers had the idea of using the supermarket replenishment system on the floor of their factories. In a supermarket stock replenishment system, the shopper takes just what he wants, while the supermarket replenishes only what has been taken from the shelf.

Toyota applied the supermarket system to factory processes in the same way that a supermarket operates. The basic concept is that consumption triggers replenishment: no consumption, no replenishment.

The Kanban is the signal that a process has consumed raw materials and therefore needs to be replenished. With the Kanban, all processes know exactly how much is needed at any particular time. Inventory locations are able to know what and how much to restock before the materials run out.

Kanban in production control

By using a Kanban, the rate of customer demand, called takt in lean thinking, controls the rate of production. This customer demand is passed along the value stream and must be followed for there to be a smooth workflow.

As the inventory between processes is optimized based on the true customer demand, the production processes stabilize significantly. Instead of processes “pushing” work to each other, the start “pulling” what they need based on the Kanban.

Work-in-progress is greatly reduced as the production units are concentrating on what is needed at the particular time. The production throughput is greatly improved which results in better delivery and customer satisfaction.

Rules for using Kanban

For the Kanban to work effectively, certain rules must be strictly adhered to. This is because lack of discipline in the use of Kanban can lead to worse problems for the company trying to gain from its use. The six rules of using the Kanban are:

  1. The subsequent process collects the quantity indicated by the Kanban supplied by the preceding process
  2. Preceding process produces in the quantity and sequence dictated by the Kanban
  3. No work is done without a Kanban instruction
  4. Kanban must always be attached to the relevant product
  5. Do not make or accept defective work
  6. Continuously aim at reducing the number of Kanban to expose hidden problems


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