n. 1 a card containing a set of manufacturing specifications and requirements, used to regulate the supply of components 2 a coordinated manufacturing system using such cards
(literally signboard or billboard in Japanese) is a scheduling system for lean manufacturing and just-in-time manufacturing. Kanban is an inventory-control system to control the supply chain. Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, developed kanban to improve manufacturing efficiency. Kanban is one method to achieve JIT.
Kanban became an effective tool to support running a production system as a whole, and an excellent way to promote improvement. Problem areas are highlighted by reducing the number of kanban in circulation. One of the main benefits of kanban is to establish an upper limit to the work in process inventory, avoiding overloading of the manufacturing system. Other systems with similar effect are for example CONWIP. A systematic study of various configurations of kanban systems, of which CONWIP is an important special case, can be found in Tayur (1993), among other papers.
An English-language term that captures the meaning of the Japanese word, kanban, is queue limiter; and the beneficial result is queue limitation. Operationally, then, as process problems are dealt with, the queue limit (or maximum) should be reduced; for example, a former upper limit of five pieces is reduced to four, with queue time in the process reduced by 20 percent.
Kanban is a method for managing knowledge work which balances the demand for work to be done with the available capacity to start new work. Intangible work items are visualized to present all participants with a view of the progress of individual items, and the process from task definition to customer delivery. Team members "pull" work as they have capacity, rather than work being "pushed" into the process when requested.
Kanban in the context of software development provides a visual process-management system that aids decision-making concerning what to produce, when to produce it, and how much to produce. Although the method originated in software development and IT projects, the method is more general in that it can be applied to any professional service, where the outcome of the work is intangible rather than physical. The method was inspired by the Toyota Production System and by lean manufacturing.