Kanban is a task and productivity based tool which allows business owners to get a top level look at the progression of a project. In this article, we’ll be looking at what this concept is and whether it could help you to make even better business decisions.
Even though this concept was introduced over 70 years ago, the realisation of its effectiveness is only recently really beginning to become apparent in some areas.
So what is Kanban?
Originating in Japan in the late 1940’s Kanban was an initiative created by our Japanese friends in order to improve productivity and efficiencies in their factories in the war period. With an increasing demand to create planes and tanks the efficiencies within the factories was key in order to get the equipment manufactured at pace. The whole concept is designed around a pull system and visual management.
To create the end product that the customer is asking for sounds really simple but it’s not. Getting that complete signal from the customer back through every single operation right through to the material input stages takes some dedication, teamwork and stakeholder management to be successful. There is a lot of visual management in place that usually takes the form of Kanban boards to give everyone the visibility of the demand signal and what work is at what operation.
Kanban Boards / Visual Management
Visual management in business is now the norm and you won’t see many successful modern companies that don’t have this in place. Getting the balance right between effective visual management and ineffective visual management can be tricky but we need to remember that any visual management in place must have a purpose to its audience. This could be to give communications on operational performance, identify quality issues that require escalation or help or to identify bottlenecks in a process in order to implement corrective actions.
Sometimes implementing Kanban can be an outcome of a DMAIC project where the scope of the project could involve things like manufacturing inefficiencies and productivity improvements required. The project lead then may use the Kanban tools under the “Implement” and “Control” phases.
Actually purchasing Kanban board is the easy part and generally not expensive – the harder part is to ensure compliance to updating the board from all the key stakeholders. Getting these people involved from the beginning of this project is absolutely key to success. What shop floor worker that has been operating his machine for the past 25 years with no issues, needs someone running an improvement project to tell him how to better do his job? The sales pitch to these people who potentially could be resistant to change will determine the success of the project.
There are many different types of Kanban boards. You can see different examples of Kanban (explained by Kanbanize) here to get started.
This requires the affected people to change the card to signify the demand and workflow for each of the parts. The really big advantage of this sort of system is that you can see at a glance if there is any bottlenecks in the process. This may be something you already know is a problem in your manufacturing process or it could be something new maybe due to a special cause (such as machine breakdown). No matter what the reason, the visualisation of the bottleneck would prompt the conversations around why it is there and what do we need to do to fix it. A good addition to these types of boards is the inclusion of a 3C chart. This then clearly gives the full audience visibility of the recognised bottleneck, who is actioned to fix it and by when (there is no hiding place nowadays!).
Another option for Kanban visual management is to use technology for workflow. This is clearly a more expensive option that a simple cheap board however some larger companies and factories may take the time to invest in this sort of IT.
Some already may have some of the basic IT infrastructure in place to make this quite an easy implementation. Where factories have implemented this, you would see television screens in the key areas (or cells as they may be called) that show all the workflow status and demand at a glance. Although the technology helps with the visualisation, it does not take away from the fact that there is a requirement for the system to be up to date with the actual status of each of the parts.
An easy and modern way that you will see in a lot of factories to do this is by bar code scanning. On the routers for the parts, you will see a full list of bar codes that are unique to each of the operations. It’s really simple and when an operator finishes a process, he scans the router to signify this. Doing this in a timely manner will help show the processing time for the operation and exactly where parts are on the shop floor.
An added bonus to this is around product history and traceability. As this is all scanned in the system, you would have the full manufacturing traceability of the part which can come in very handy if in years to come, you have a quality issue where you need access to the data (this definitely beats scanning batch cards and trying to retrieve the relevant one).
So how does this Impact your Business Decisions?
It’s easy to see that this form of planning allows you a quick look over your entire processes. As a factory owner or business person, this is essential information when it comes to planning your next step. If you were to use this method and other business planning tools, you would be able to look into the future of your business more effectively.
We all know that in business, it’s important to know what’s going on, otherwise you can’t plan for the future. With so many different elements to a project, you may find that it’s tough to stay on track all of the time. If you’re able to spot these bottlenecks and resolve them, then you can allow your business to flow more effectively.
Then, when a big business decision rolls around, you know what your production line, development team or writers are able to provide. If you’re bidding for a big project or looking to enter a certain industry, then this is great information to have on your side.
Before implementation of Kanban, be sure to understand what your desired outcome will be. If you are looking for an easy visual management system that works on the demand from the customer and shows you your manufacturing process bottlenecks at a glance, maybe Kanban is for you.
Arm yourself with all of the essential knowledge that you need to be able to make the smart business decisions that will really benefit your company. Don’t leave yourself in the dark!