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How To Use a Kanban Board

The Kanban board has been used extensively in many Japanese businesses for many decades. Tracing back its history, it was practiced by Toyota in the late 1940s to improve their manufacturing and engineering activities. Actual cards were used by the employees to communicate with the group or workers who come next in line. A Kanban card tells the employees involved in the next step of a process that the preceding step has been completed. It’s like the card is a visual “go” signal. The Kanban system was put in place to standardize cues and refine processes, and this resulted to lower waste and maximized value in the production process.

As early as 2005, the application of Kanban became very popular in the United States. As a tool, it is used in the Kanban method that helps optimize work and process flow. These days, it is used in many institutions and businesses, and the board differs based on how it will be most effective. Its core principles are very much present even as the Kanban method has been redesigned to lean systems thinking. No matter the variations in use or design of the board or cards, Kanban is practiced to allow the whole workforce to visualize their targets, lessen the involved work processes, have more focus on the flow, and continually find areas for improvement. 

Should We Use Kanban Boards?

The most common question after knowing what a Kanban board is its applicability in your own organization. Will it benefit us as it did others? Is there really a need to use the Kanban method or tools in our organization?

With so many aspects to workflow, processes, employees and targets, you could get all the help you need with just a Kanban board.

It’s like getting a simple, quick way to visually manage everything. You have most likely used a post-it note to remind you of the home chores. It’s also likely that on your PC monitor, there’s the virtual post-it that lists the activities you have to complete for the day. Well, that’s visual management – and that’s how a Kanban board works! It is very much the same within an organization where teams are kept informed and on pace with their progress. With Kanban boards as visual aids, the team will be able to understand more complex information. They are kept in the loop about tasks in process, completed tasks, and tasks that need to be done.

The Kanban board is put in one place so it’s not difficult to track any needed information. Everyone in the organization can quickly grasp high-value information. There is a great deal of transparency of how things are going and what issues are at hand, but so much less friction and time-consuming discussion is involved. It’s just one board telling everybody how things are around the office or workplace. It’s like getting the whole workflow optimized with just a few visual explanations. 

So, How Do I Use a Kanban Board?

It all depends on whether you choose a physical Kanban board or a virtual one. Before deciding which way to go, you must completely understand the current workflow and production processes and visualize what happens in each step. Then there is the need to focus on what activities are actually involved in each of these processes. It’s then time to identify which activities could be altered and eliminated. You should also be ready for instances of qualifying progress and determining areas to be measured and improved.

An electronic Kanban board is a system made specifically for the computer. The one thing about this specific board is it can be used in the office or workplace, and it is highly helpful as well for those who work remotely. In the electronic or digital Kanban board, columns are made to represent a specific stage or process. For example, you could have the first column as “start”, the second column would be “in process”, the third column would be “on hold”, the fourth column “completed”, etc. Once columns are in place, you would use task cards that indicate specific activity at each process. Another option for task cards would be to assign specific employees or machines, tools or equipment that are used in the steps, processes or activities. Slots could also be used alongside the columns and task cards as they could indicate the time or period when a step or process is targeted for start or completion.

Of course, the digital version of Kanban boards would require that everyone have a computer and be online for routine checks of how everything is going. But what if you deem it fine to work without computers or the internet? That is fine – just take away the digital component and you still have a Kanban board. It can be made of any material but big enough for every visual element to be comprehensible for the employees or the teams. You can have the Kanban board right in the workplace, indicate the columns and all cards and slots, and there you have it! All that needs to be done is move the cards accordingly, and the whole organization would have an idea of what needs to be done, what’s going on and what has been completed.

Implementing the Kanban board in your business or organization will limit the amount of work in process. It would then help you and your team leaders match their actions to what is required, and only do things that need to be completed. This lessens excess production and waste of paid working hours and increases efficiency among your workforce. Now that you understand the importance of Kanban boards, you can start using one successfully.

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