Kanban is Part of the Lean Methodology

Kanban Is Part of Lean Methodology

Kanban, the complete system of managing work, originated as part of the Toyota Production System. Taiichi Ōno was the industrial engineer at Toyota who created their pull system, which optimized flow and used visual signaling cards called Kanban.

The Toyota Production System, focused on improving value and eliminating waste, became known and appreciated worldwide and was eventually renamed to Lean by MIT researchers.

An East meets West collaboration

The story of Lean and Kanban is a tale of enemies that became friends, and of how conflict can result in collaboration, to the benefit of all. We all know what the relationship between Japan and the USA was like during World War II. What many people are less aware of, is the intense industrial collaboration that followed. In the 1950s these two neighboring countries started a partnership, originating with the Japanese from Toyota going to visit Ford in the US, to learn about their system.

In the late 1970s, the shoe was on the other foot, with the Americans visiting their neighbors and coining what they learned into a new management, manufacturing system - Lean. In 2007 it was reported that as many as 70% of all manufacturing companies in the US were using Lean principles.

The history of Lean teaches us not to waste great business opportunities through bad relations.

What does it mean to use a Lean approach in business?

The goal of using Lean methodology is to continuously improve your business process, through respecting your employees and by eliminating waste. Anything that does not create value is considered a waste, hence you need to focus on actions that produce actual value for the customers. And when you deliver your product often and quickly, the customer can offer you feedback in the same manner. Through this pattern, your business can improve in a way that indeed is continuous!

And respecting your employees in a Lean context means giving them a voice that’s equally as important and heard, like that of managers and stakeholders. Anyone within your organization should be able to bring forth improvement ideas and voice any concerns about the process’s health. One way in which you can encourage, or introduce it, is going on a Gemba walk.

Lean is an umbrella system for Kanban

If you are looking to implement Kanban, then having a good understanding of Lean philosophies will allow you to achieve even greater results. Though rooted in business and engineering science, Lean is above and beyond a way of thinking, a way of approaching work and life. Lean consists of various tools and techniques, but in general, the focus is on:

  • Complete dedication to providing the utmost value to your customer
  • Tirelessly looking at ways of eliminating waste, or Muda, of any kind: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, defects
  • Trust, that people are more important than machines and companies improve through focusing on investing in people’s growth and on valuing their input
  • Improving value across entire organizations, not just in individual teams
  • Process standardization, cleaning, and maintenance through the 5s method
  • Continuous learning and improvement - Lean does not subscribe to the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of thinking
  • Flow optimization and ensuring that employees want to work; an organization’s strength comes from optimized suppliers, employees, customer relationships, and processes.

Applying Lean thinking to your process should make it take less time to deliver your product, do it cheaper and with less effort from the team, and decrease the number of policies and procedures that need to be in place for it all to work. It should make your process leaner!