Many years ago, under the guidance of a master of the Toyota Production System, one of the first systems I learned was kanban. Japanese for visual board or sign. Kanban today remains a critical toolset for developing agile systems. Back then, I worked hard to keep to the comprehensive rules of kanban to optimize the flow of goods. It wasn’t easy, but in my long-term career as a business consultant, there were some extraordinary takeaways.
Implementing a kanban system that works necessitates following specific rules. This can be surprisingly difficult. When facing tight deadlines, a shortcut or spontaneous decision making will often trigger short-term gain–and long-term pain. In over thirty years of experience in kanban consulting, these are the ones I have found non-negotiable:
kanban has evolved significantly since my time studying Toyota’s factory floor. However, its essence—guiding workflow and streamlining processes—remains the same.
One of the trickiest aspects of implementing kanban in the digital age is so much of the work is invisible, undertaken by machines–or even in the cloud. Yet, it remains one of the most useful tools for controlling workflow and increasing output, at least when implemented by someone who understands how to apply it.
When applying kanban to modern businesses leveraging data and tech to cut costs and speed up processes, I find these guidelines helpful:
An agile kanban board is typically composed of 4 columns:
Getting started with kanban is easy. It’s wonderfully useful for companies with remote working teams. Whatever the work, it’s important to have a goal—one that is front and center of your kanban board. Without purpose, teams waste a lot of energy and resources. Direction is key. And occasionally, we all need a sign that points the way.