What is Kanban?

Kanban is a process management technique which can be used for a wide range of different things. It was developed using the Toyota “just-in-time” system, but it isn’t restricted to just manufacturing scenarios. In its simplest form, Kanban can be seen as a production system where new requests come in at one end and completed products come out the other. In the middle is where all the production steps are taken. The brilliance of the system is that it puts each step in an easy to review format which will allow any problems or bottlenecks to be quickly identified.

If, for example, the Kanban concepts are applied to a software development group, the front end may be feature requests from other departments. These departments feed their requests into the Kanban system, where they are received by the analyst. The analyst will review the request to see if it is possible, get clarification on what exactly is needed and generally gather together all the needed resources. Once completed, the analysis will hand the feature request off to the programmer who will develop the feature and pass it on to the tester. The tester will confirm everything is working properly and push the new feature out to the users as a finished product.

Benefits of Kanban

There are two main benefits of using a Kanban system, which are that it identifies problems as soon as possible, and it pinpoints any bottlenecks in the system. Using the example of a software development process, a problem can be identified as soon as it occurs by having each step done in order. If the analysis finds that the request for a new feature is impossible, they can stop the process immediately. If it makes it through to the programmer, he may find that the analysis did not allocate sufficient resources, and can turn it back for additional review. Finally, the tester will discover any problems with the coding and have them fixed before it is released.

Discovering bottlenecks in the process is also much easier because of the linear format of the system. If, for example, the software development group is getting 20 new feature requests per month, but the testing team can only complete 15 tests in that time, there is a bottleneck. No matter how quickly the analysts can approve feature requests, or how fast the programmers can code them, the end result will be only 15 requests per month are being completed. Additional testing resources will have to be allocated in order to complete more projects.

Kanban is a simple to understand process which can be used in virtually any type of production system. From manufacturing physical goods to software production or even most types of services. It can be useful in figuring out where additional resources need to be placed, and identifying ongoing issues so they can be addressed directly. Kanban is fairly simple to implement and can be one of the most effective ways to manage processes without having to reinvent the wheel. Give it a try with one simple process and it will quickly become evident that it can help improve most any process.

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