The Kanban method of workflow management has become an incredibly useful tool for a wide range of businesses, allowing almost any industry to track the current status of vital work, components, and production lines. But what is it, and why is it so useful to most businesses?
What is Kanban?
The Kanban system relies on the concept of visualizing your supply chain and/or production process with a specially designed chart. This chart contains multiple columns, which each represent a different stage of the projects they are handling (each of which has its own row). These columns are usually things like “pre-planning,” “planning,” “in progress,” and “done.”
A Kanban chart can have as few as two columns and as many as thirty, or even higher. Each project you are tracking gets a note or indicator that you move along the columns as each stage of work is complete, showing you where they all are in the production process and how much further they still need to go.
Why use Kanban?
On the surface, Kanban can just seem like a bland way to track how a project is progressing. However, the simple visual format means that you can have countless projects, supply lines, or even specialized tasks all mixed into the same chart. This opens up a lot of room to compare and contrast the way that certain tasks are moving slower than expected.
A Kanban supply chain tracker can be incredibly powerful if used correctly. For example, a lot of production lines rely on a constant stream of industrial fastening products, and it can be hard to track all of the different sizes just by name. Using a visual chart can help you see where each delivery is, identify which ones are delayed or stuck, and try to resolve the problem.
This is one of the biggest benefits of Kanban systems: the more columns you have and the more reliably it gets updates, the easier it becomes to find bottlenecks or areas that are lacking in efficiency. If one project is always lagging behind the others, a company can track down the cause and try to fix it themselves.
Having a visual form of work breaks down complex tasks into something much simpler and means that ‘outsiders’ can get a good overview of how things are progressing without needing to know the specifics of that task. This is useful for things like production lines for industrial fastening products, where the work involves complex machinery.
Limiting In-Progress Tasks
By having a visual indicator of somebody’s current workload, a manager can identify which teams are already starting to struggle and those that could spare a couple of employees to take on another task. Kanban might also help you avoid issues with tasks taking resources away from each other if they are being performed simultaneously.
The more work you give to somebody, the harder it becomes for any of the tasks to get completed. Back-to-back projects are always a lot easier for an employee to handle than multiple simultaneous projects, and it can slow down your entire operation if the wrong person is delayed for too long.
Kanban is occasionally used to help teams focus on the process behind a project, making it a lot easier for them to understand where the goal is and how long it will take to get there. With a Kanban supply chain system, this can be a useful benefit since there are times where an employee might underestimate how soon they can get those resources to a production line.
Having a way to see an entire process from start to finish (whether it is research, production, supply, or testing) can always be a good thing. It makes it much easier for an entire chain of teams to flow properly, keeping up to date with the progress of the previous groups instead of sitting around and waiting for ‘their turn.’
Being able to identify the areas where a production line or supply chain slows down can matter a lot, too. If the source of the delays can be found, then the team responsible can deal with that inefficiency without forcing every other team to stop and check their own work as well.