Kanban and What Is It?

You're a manufacturer and you want to optimize your production.  The amount of capital you have tied up in inventory is excessive.  The deliveries to your customers are always late or short of what was ordered.  WIP is out of control.  "Chaos" is the most often used word for your scheduling.  

Kanban was first developed in Japan after WWII as a scheduling system for lean manufacturing and just-in-time manufacturing.  The focus is on optimizing the workflow.  

The first step is identification of the current problems or bottlenecks that are present in your manufacturing process.  The four basic principles are as follows:

Understand your existing workflow to bring the production issues to light.

Make small, incremental changes that are designed to meet minimal resistance.

Respect and value your staff's roles and responsibilities so you don't lose what is worth preserving.

Encourage leadership from staff members on the front line.

Lean manufacturing is a key component.  Your goal is to drive out waste at every step of the process.  

One can start with looking at movement - reducing movement of products that are not actually required to perform the processing.  Next is inventory - reduction of all components, WIP and finished products that are not being processed.  Motion can be analyzed whether its staff or equipment excessively moving during processing.  The opposite of excessive motion is waiting - interruptions of production.  Companies also suffer when they produce too much ahead of demand.  Over-Specification is another issue where the product produced is over-specified for the job it was designed to perform.  Lastly, defects can harm the company's bottom line - the hidden costs in inspecting and fixing defects.