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Kanban: what it is and what you need to know

Kanban is a system that manages work as it moves through a process or project. This visual system was created by Toyota in their Japanese production plant and has since been used around the world. It’s used by Agile teams and tries to identify blocks in the process so work can be completed without delay. It offers many benefits to teams, including cost-effectiveness and improved speed. There are various columns used within a Kanban board, and today we’re going to take a look at the benefits this system can offer your business.

The Kanban method

Back in the 1940s, the Kanban system was first used by Taiichi Ohno for Toyota. It was created to help plan their production process, so they could manage their workload and inventory during every stage. Toyota was hoping to improve its efficiency at the time, which they felt was much lower than their rivals in the US. Kanban offers a just-in-time system that increases productivity while also reducing the costs associated with supplies and materials. It can help teams to avoid overstocking items as the process is monitored continually from the start to the end of a project. When bottlenecks are identified earlier on, this can avoid further trouble down the line. Today, Kanban is used throughout the world in a wide variety of industries and is by no means restricted to the manufacturing industry.

Kanban can be used in a very basic form in your company by creating a board that’s divided into columns. From there, the columns will have various cards with task names. You can make this an even more advanced system by adding dates, owners, and attachments to each card. Common columns include ideas, projects that are ready to get started, development, the testing phase, sign off, and then completed work. However, this can also be broken down into just three sections: to do, in progress, and completed. This system can be customised to your company’s needs and will vary depending on the complexity of the project you are working on.

Core principles of Kanban

As with any method, Kanban has its own unique core principles. These are the four foundational principles that make up the Kanban method:

  • The Kanban method wants you to start with what you are doing now and doesn’t encourage you to change anything about your current setup. Kanban should be gradually implemented into your workflow and can be done at a speed that everyone within your team is happy with.
  • Slow or incremental change is encouraged within Kanban. Don’t make huge changes in a rush, which may lead to issues within your business.
  • Kanban requires you to respect everyone’s job position and role, and it doesn’t encourage any changes specifically in this area. While changes may eventually be made as a result of using Kanban, you aren’t looking to disrupt your organisation entirely.
  • Leadership at all levels of an organisation is encouraged, and it wants everyone to work towards continuous improvement. Leadership doesn’t just have to stem from the very top of your business, and ideas can be suggested by anyone within an organisation.

Best practices of Kanban

As well as the core principles of Kanban, there are also core practices that are an integral part of the Kanban method:

  • Visualising the workflow – This can either be completed on physical or electronic boards. Once the workflow is laid out, you can establish what you are currently working on. Many companies just keep this simple by using sticky notes on a physical board, which can progress through the various steps.
  • Minimise Work in Progress – Kanban encourages you to limit work in progress and complete the current task before moving on to another one. Once a task is moved to the completed column, another task can be started. Once you have been using Kanban for a while, you may want to set a limit for the amount of work in progress on the board at one time.
  • Managing and improving the flow – Trying to create a smooth flow is critical to Kanban and will stop work in progress from building up and bottlenecks forming. You can analyse your current system and make adjustments to help make the process flow better with Kanban.
  • Process policies – Kanban encourages you to make very clear process policies. You should define your policies for your team and create a common way of working so that team members at any level understand the expectations for their work. You could use a checklist or another document to ensure these are followed at all times.
  • Feedback loops – Finally, any good Kanban system will have feedback loops, and the Kanban method is very encouraging of feedback. This will help you deliver the best work to your customer every time and resolve issues quickly.

Benefits of using Kanban

There are many reasons a company would opt to use Kanban today. To begin with, it provides a clear process for everyone on your team. It keeps everyone aware of what’s going on within your company and keeps you united towards a common goal. It can also help spread the workload evenly throughout the company, which everyone in your organisation will appreciate. Tasks can be assigned far quicker when using this method rather than other options due to the simple layout of the Kanban board. Team members are also accountable for their work when it’s assigned, which can give them more motivation to complete work in a timely manner and to a high quality.

To sum up

Kanban is primarily used to avoid backlogs in your work processes, saving time and resources in the long run for companies. You can easily see from a quick glimpse at your board where work is piling up, and you can work to understand where bottlenecks are forming. For many team members, they find it extremely motivating to move cards along the board, which is a good reason to get rid of bottlenecks when they form.

Kanban can be used by companies of any shape and size and in any industry. It’s a simple method to implement and requires little specialist equipment or knowledge. You’ll soon find it helps to streamline your processes and reduces the risk of bottlenecks occurring within your project.

Contact the folks at BSPOKE Software today!

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