The Kanban Process

Kanban literally means a signal card, a visual card, or some form of signboard. The Kanban concept originated in the Toyota organization where it was applied to drive improvement throughout the production processes.

Toyota applied the Kanban process to optimize the level of inventory in use (work in progress), which minimized material holding costs, while simultaneously forcing quality improvement, equipment reliability improvement and the alignment of the production system to the demands of the customer.

Kanban is one of the key concepts within the “Lean” and “Just-In-Time” improvement methodologies.


The Kanban Process & Management Control?

Kanban is a method for implementing control and driving improvement based on creating a clearly visible operating environment. If a quality problem arises, the problem is immediately highlighted, is highly visible, the impacts of the quality deficiencies are immediately apparent. Such a level of visibility demands that the quality issues are immediately addressed and permanently addressed. The net result will be that quality expectations will be met across the scope of the Kanban processes.

In a manufacturing environment Kanban is widely applied to determining the level of products to manufacture, the rate of manufacturing, the manufacturing mix between different versions of a product, …etc.

In the product and raw material storage areas, Kanban demands that there is strict control over the levels of materials stored. Once maximum stock levels are achieved, then an instruction goes out to stop making more product.

Kanban is effectively a “Just-In-Time” methods of manufacturing and process control.

Kanban impacts organizational staff. In a Kanban environment, the tools, equipment, procedures required to perform a process must all be available to the person tasked with performing a job.

Staff need to be fully trained, skilled and competent to perform a task. Where some level of competence is lacking, then this will result in an inferior product or process output. Under kanban such a deficiency will become immediately obvious, thus forcing a retraining and reskilling of the employee.

One of the key strengths of Kanban is that it is a “pull” system rather than the traditional “push” system for managing a process. Under the “pull” system, the customer (i.e. the next stage in a process), demands a product or service. The product or service is then produced to satisfy that demand. The alternative is the “push” system, where a scheduler, plans out the activity levels for the coming days, weeks, even months, then products and services are produced to the plan, irrespective of being required by the customers of the process.


Kanban Process

Develop your understanding of Lean & JIT practices: 
– Total Productive Maintenance
– Design for manufacture
– Set-up reduction
– Operations focus
– Total staff involvement
– Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). Etc. Etc.

Why implement Kanban?

Kanban achieves product and process quality improvement, lower costs of operating, faster speed to market, shorter process cycle times, greater production flexibility in terms of facilitating a wider output mix, faster process change-over times, etc., …. WITHOUT the need to make significant investments in equipment and facilities. Kanban is focussed on achieving better outputs from the currently available resources.

The flexibility associated with Kanban can be a major asset in a competitive environment. As customer demand changes, an organization which utilizes Kanban can rapidly respond to their changing operating environment.


Kanban is “the management and control of process flow”.

Kanban requires a “pull” system of process control. Under the “pull” system, the end customer demands a product or service. The customer demand is met, which then creates a subsequent demand back through the process. Each internal customer in turn placing an order on an earlier stage. As the internal customer demands are met, the ordering works back through to the start of the process, which forces a demand to be placed on suppliers (for example, more raw materials are needed).

Under this method of control, the process is managed by the needs of the customer.


The customer determines the level of process activity.

The customer determines the process mix.

The customer determines when products and services are provided.


The net result is that “value” is created, “value is added” throughout the process at a rate determined by the customer. Only products and services which are deemed to provide “value” to a customer are provided. The waste, which can arise when activity is planned out and performed based on estimated customer demands, does not arise.


How does a Kanban process work?

The “pull” system of control determines the level of activity within the Kanban process. This method of control operates independent of process planners, product schedulers, area supervisors. As a first step the process will be reviewed to ensure there is a full understanding of the actual process flow, this will usually involve documenting the process. Then there will be a review to determine normal operating levels, maximum and minimum activity levels, frequency of shutdown, timing and duration of changeovers, etc..

An analysis of the gathered information will facilitate a determination of the optimum number of Kanban bin locations, the types of bins, bin capacity, etc..

There are two types of Kanban which are widely applied, namely “Conveyance” (withdrawal) and “Production”.


“Lean” & “Just-In-Time”.

Lean Manufacturing, Just In Time Full Details

The tools and techniques of Lean & JIT:

– Basic working practices
– Total Productive Maintenance
– Design for manufacture
– Set-up reduction
– Operations focus
– Total staff involvement
– Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)
– Visual management
– Flow layout
– Just-In-Time Supply

– Pull scheduling & Push systems of control
– Kanban control
– 5S method of control
– Levelled scheduling
– Etc. Etc..


Baldridge Performance Excellence Program   >>>
European Foundation for Quality Management   >>>