KANBAN – What it is and how it’s used

Kanban is the Japanese word for billboard or signboard. In lean manufacturing, it is a scheduling system introduced by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, with the goal of improving manufacturing efficiency.

Kanban boards are now an effective tool to help you visualize both the entire workflow and the actual work passing throughout the process.


  • Improves cycle times;
  • Enhances responsiveness to change;
  • Reduces waste and helps improve the efficiency of the production process;
  • Gives full visibility into the production workflow, while speeding up the feedback process and keeping employees informed and engaged;
  • Identifies potential bottlenecks and allows an easier and faster implementation of preventive/corrective measures;
  • Helps to focus on the right tasks and easy prioritization;

Kanban is an excellent tool to promote improvement and works great in limiting the buildup of excessive inventory at any point in production.

There are two important types of kanbans:

Production (P) Kanban: When received, authorizes the workstation to produce a fixed amount of products. The P-kanban is carried on the containers that are associated with it.
Transportation (T) Kanban: Authorizes the transportation of the full container to the downstream workstation. The T-kanban is also carried on the containers that are associated with the transportation to move through the loop again.

The Kanban philosophy and Task Boards are also used in Agile project management to coordinate tasks in project teams. Currently, an electronic Kanban is getting more and more frequent, in opposition to the old – but still very useful – cards or post-its ones.

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