Kanban method: Management method with Japanese origin
If you are working in a big company, it’s unlikely that you may not have heard about Kanban. Either you may have had indirect contact with colleagues that were using this method, or you may just have heard the expression “Kanban”. Once developed in Japan by Taiichi Ohno the Kanban method is one of the most popular management methods to set up efficient and functioning lean manufacturing.
To fully understand the basics of the Kanban method it is crucial to briefly learn a bit about the Kanban history. Therefore, the next section will introduce you to the founder (Taiichi Ohno) and sums up the most important thing in Kanban history.
Kanban history: Inefficient and slow production progress was the starting point
Taiichi Ohno was an industrial engineer at the Japanese car manufacturer of Toyota which even in 2021 is one of the biggest companies in the world. As the demand for cars rose Ohno, the company and his colleagues had to deal with certain difficulties regarding the efficient and customer friendly manufacturing of their cars. As it seemed unlikely that the demand would fall it was clear that there must be groundbreaking changes on how the whole production process is set up.
Some characteristics of the Kanban method were observed in the production of spitfires in the second world war and other input came from studies Toyota did about shelf stocking studies in supermarkets. In case you ask yourself what the Kanban method has to do with supermarkets:
> A supermarket customer takes the product they demand just at the time it is needed and later the product get refilled. This simple thought had the potential to revolutionize the way cars were manufactured, as especially the correct availability of essential car parts was slowing down the output rate.
Based on this simple idea, Taiichi Ohno developed Kanban (which stands for “billboard”). Kanban should optimize the manufacturing and supply-chain processes for Toyota and as Kanban is used worldwide today you may say that the change was successful. Also, the Kanban method is not just popular in industrial companies. Knowledge about Kanban is also helpful in an agile context, as production and supply-chain management are usually supported by computers and machinery these days.
In the next section you will read about the usage of the Kanban method and how it affected companies around the world positively.
Kanban method in use: Easy but effective
A main reason for the Kanban methods success was the alignment of material consumption and given inventory levels especially in producing companies. To keep the production in motion Ohno followed the idea, that each and every part of a car must be available just in the moment an employee needs it. As computers weren’t in use back then, the Kanban method used simple techniques to organize the whole process of manufacturing. At Toyota for example a special signal told suppliers when a consumer needs a certain material and started a whole process of delivering and restocking.
After a few implementation tests, the method was applied in Toyotas main manufactory in 1953. As it was so successful Ohno developed the Kanban method further and further and of course other companies with similar problems gained interest in using this kind of method themselves.
The practicability of the Kanban method was convincing and started a new era of how management techniques are used. In the late 1960s the Kanban method was taught in many parts of the world and gained popularity. With the numerous innovations throughout the time the actual Kanban method was expanded with even more efficient techniques to manage manufacturing and supply chain processes.
Since computers support such processes the main elements of the Kanban method found its way to software development. A good software to control manufacturing and supply chain processes can’t waive all the positive effects Kanban has brought and is a crucial part of development nowadays. Therefore, knowledge in Kanban (best proven with a certificate) is a highly demanded skill by HR.