A comprehensive guide to implementation of the Kanban management method.
Kanban was originated by Japanese carmaker Toyota in the 1950s as a production scheduling and inventory-control system to improve efficiency in manufacturing. In more recent years, writes business-book author Leopold (Kanban Change Leadership, 2015, etc.), Kanban has been seen solely as a way to optimize teamwork. Instead, the author says, it should be seen more generally as “a tool to help you see the weak points in your system and generate better value for your customer.” With this broader understanding as the guiding principle, Leopold cogently and effectively delves into using Kanban through explanatory text and illuminating examples. The book contains six detailed, well-organized chapters, each delineated into logical sections. Each is enhanced by a closing summary as well as several suggested additional readings. The first chapter is an overview of fundamentals for the uninitiated. Here, the author shows how the system evolved from being used in industrial manufacturing to being used in “knowledge work” involving creative thinking, such as engineering. He discusses the general practices of Kanban and includes an understandable description of three Kanban “flight levels”: operational, coordination, and strategic. The second chapter relies not only on text, but also on numerous illustrations of sample “Kanban boards” (workflow charts) to show the method’s practical uses. A key concept emerges: “Less WIP [Work In Progress] means shorter cycle time.” Leopold deftly details some of the subtler nuances of Kanban while showing how one can use it to identify workflow disturbances. Subsequent chapters address using the system on a large scale, forecasting, and prioritization, with a final chapter on a specific Kanban implementation case study.
One strength of this book is its use of nonindustrial examples to demonstrate how Kanban can extend beyond manufacturing; for example, Leopold describes a situation in which more than 200 project employees worked on a sales platform. Coordination across teams created havoc, and a Kanban board “quickly showed what could be done better.” “Gradually,” he says, “the barriers of team thinking were broken down.” Another of the book’s assets is its inclusion of interviews in which actual users answer specific questions about their Kanban experiences. The interviewees provide rich insights into the method’s practical applications. “Forecasting” is likely to be one of the more valuable chapters, as business managers are often asked to estimate output; it covers forecasting requirements and methods as well as measurement criteria. Although this somewhat lengthy section includes numerous formulae, diagrams, and charts, the content still remains comprehensible and actionable. Leopold wisely decides to end the book with a detailed case study of a Kanban implementation in the IT department of the STUTE Logistics Company in Germany. In a forthright manner, the author discusses the challenges and difficulties involved in building that organization’s first Kanban systems. According to the IT manager, “the evolving nature of Kanban…facilitated implementing all of these improvements in just one year.” The study offers engaging, powerful evidence of Kanban’s value.
An eminently readable and highly authoritative overview.