How to Create a Lean Business Using Kanban

If efficiency is your goal, then Kanban is hands-down the way to go. It follows the concept of continuous improvement, and can push your development cycle to its full potential. In Kanban, you’re encouraged to improve everything about your normal business processes, all the way from development to the shipment of your final product.

The solution is simple. You are to eliminate any factors or elements that waste time, money and investments. Through constant revisions, you cut out anything that doesn’t bring value to your business or to your customers.

Kanban is most commonly used in the software development and manufacturing industries. Software development teams and IT project managers often use of Kanban boards to visualize the flow of a project. But don’t let that fool you — it’s a flexible project management system that can be used in just about any industry.

If you want to tighten up your business, improve productivity and cut down on excess waste in your production line, then you’ve come to the right place.

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How to Create a Lean Business Using Kanban

With the help of Kanban methodology — or Kanban boards, as they’re called — you can greatly improve the efficiency of your business.

Kanban is a native Japanese concept that was first used by Toyota as part of their “just-in-time” (JIT) production system. They implemented it to boost communication between production departments and to ensure there was no wasted or duplicated effort.

You see, Kanban is all about visual management, thanks to the project cards used on Kanban boards. The translated word “Kanban” actually means “visible record,” or close to it, and it makes perfect sense why. With a Kanban board, you’re encouraged to process a great deal of visual information. Boards can be used differently, but the basic concepts are the same.

The board itself represents the project workflow, with different channels added to represent the status of all the work currently being worked on. Smaller tasks are placed on the whiteboard (or Kanban board) using sticky notes, or cards, and they are moved along as work progresses, to represent the flow of actual work. Today, modern Kanban tools are all online and cloud-based, but they employ the same basic principles.

A board gives you a full, visual overview of what’s going on at your business. It also helps organize each of your projects and makes it easier to manage staff, since you can see who’s working on what, and for how long. The name of the game here is transparency and accountability. Actually, make that two names.

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Adapting Kanban to Meet Your Needs

What’s excellent about a lean system — and the Kanban principles — is that it’s so lightweight and elegant that it’s easy to implement and adapt to custom processes in a variety of industries and a multitude of tasks.

If you’re truly interested in adopting Kanban for your business, it’s a great idea to look at some ways other companies have deployed the system. Big names like Pixar, Spotify and even Zara have used Kanban to improve their production processes and final products.

Pixar adopted Kanban and lean manufacturing primarily to improve communication between their team members. Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar Animation, wanted everyone to be given the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns as a form of constructive criticism.

But the system was also adopted to encourage the Pixar development team to put together each film in order. Essentially, that’s the core principle that you should take away for your own business. When you’re adapting the system, you want to ensure that your production chain is organized and in the proper order.

That is, you don’t want a simple concept or idea being pushed to the production team until it’s truly ready for primetime. Don’t cut corners, and don’t skip important steps in the development process.

Most importantly, always start with the basics. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been working with Kanban for years, or this is your first time implementing the system. Sit down and map your process out so that it reflects your company’s reality.

What Can Kanban Boards Do for Your Business?

Kanban can do a great many things to improve a business.

For instance, Hewlett Packard deployed a Kanban system in their Printer Firmware Division back in 2006. After some serious improvements, the company attributed a 400 percent productivity increase — out of a total 800 percent — to their new system. They also experienced a drop in lead times from 21 months to just 3.5 months, improving their production rate.

Here are a few final thoughts on why Kanban can be a valuable asset to your organization:

  • Kanban is extremely versatile and flexible, and it can scale to meet the needs of any project or task.
  • It’s a project management system that is basic but powerful, so it’s easy to grasp for newcomers.
  • In general, Kanban inspires and encourages communication and collaboration between teams, employees and even departments.
  • Kanban boards offer a visual representation of active processes and allow you to easily identify bottlenecks — or sources of contention and delay.
  • It helps present information to your teams in a much more organized and efficient manner.
  • By frequently assessing cards and revising your processes, you can eliminate tasks and problems quickly that would otherwise waste resources and time.
  • Kanban is widely considered to be one of the most effective pull systems, and it’s easy to understand for everyone.

Of course, there are so many more benefits of using Kanban, but these are the most crucial.

We highly recommend adopting Kanban for your own business, especially if you spend a lot of time assessing and scrapping current work. There may be a problem or bottleneck in your production chain that you’re not correctly identifying and dealing with.

That’s exactly why Kanban is considered “lean.” Eliminating excess is one of the main tenets of the system. Only then can you truly embrace the full potential of your team.

Sarah Landrum is a marketing specialist, freelance writer and blogger. Her career blog, Punched Clocks, is all about creating a career you love and are happy in. Subscribe to her newsletter and follow her on social media for more tips on growing your career and your business.