If you are looking for a great planning tool to help you plan activities in your day to day operations, then this article is definitely for you.
Before we go ahead and talk about the kanban tools available in the market, let us first understand what Kanban is all about. Also, let’s look at its interesting story of origin.
Modern-day Kanban is associated with the Toyota Production System, but the term Kanban was widely used in the 1600s in Japan. Japan was recovering from a devastating period and several small-sized shops started flourishing in the lanes of Japan. Fisherman selling fishes, artisans, shops selling clothes were becoming a popular sight. In this competition, to attract customers to there shops, Kanban was first used. The idea was simple. The shop owners wanted to communicate about the services offered by them in the simplest form. This would help the people passing by the streets to understand what the shop had to offer and would also serve as a medium of attraction. Thus, Kanban was born. “Kan” in Japanese means signs or signals and “ban” means board. Therefore, Kanban translated to signboards. Yes, Kanban was simply signboards that were communicating about the services and attracting customers inside. Thus, this is where the roots of Kanban lies.
Kanban and the Toyota Production system
Modern-day kanban is associated with the production system used in Toyota. Taiichi Ohno, who is known as the father of the Toyota Production system first used Kanban in the car manufacturing sector. The idea for implementing kanban came from a very unusual source, a supermarket! Yes, that’s right. Let us think for a moment of our visit to a supermarket. What are the steps involved? First, we notice a particular stock at our house running low or depleted, lets say milk for example. Next, we schedule a visit to the supermarket to replenish the milk at our home. Inside the supermarket, we look for signs that tell us where we might find the packets of milk. We then go the shelf and pick up packets of milk. The storekeeper in turn keeps a check on the shelves and as soon as he notices a particular shelf running empty, he immediately places an order and restocks the shelves. Let’s rewind and look at the visual signs: empty milk packets at home signals guiding us inside the supermarket to the milk shelves and the shelves in the supermarket that are running low. These are all visual signals telling us that a particular action needs to be taken.
Taiichi Ohno wanted to implement a similar system in the car manufacturing sector. In the process of car manufacturing, there are nearly 30,000 parts and components that are required. Taiichi wanted to achieve a Just-in-time inventory with the help of the Kanban method. In a just-in-time inventory method, order for the parts required will be placed only when it is running low and required. There would be no requirement to maintain inventory. An order would be placed when a component is running low, and the supplier would then make and deliver the component and it would be immediately used in the production process. Thus, we can understand that Kanban is a system that involves signs and visual signals. We can now look at a more formal definition.
Kanban is a workflow visualization system. It stresses on managing the workflow with the help of visual cues. The main component in the Kanban methodology is the kanban board. This is a board that depicts how and on what projects the kanban teams are working.Work flows through the kanban board starting from the product backlogs to the final delivery points.Every day, before starting the work, the team gathers around the kanban boards and discusses about the work that is to be completed, the backlogs, and the bottlenecks. Kanban board helps in identifying the bottlenecks in the work process.
Kanban is different from agile. We have often heard the terms agile, kanban, and Scrum being used together in sentences. Let’s understand what these are.
The simplest way to define it would be: Agile is a process of working while Kanban and Scrum are process improvement methods. Kanban helps teams to become more “agile”. In a formal definition, Agile is a software development technique that implements continuous interactions. In this process, parts of the software are developed and delivered on a continuous basis, unlike the traditional waterfall model.
Is Kanban only for software developers and the manufacturing sector?
No, the application of Kanban is limitless. Kanban is a great tool for personal planning. Everyone can implement and use Kanban in their day to day lives. Let’s take the example of a teacher or professor. He or she can use a Kanban board to efficiently keep track of the status of the syllabus, the portions covered, and the topics to cover. When a topic has been completed, the teacher can move it out of the kanban board. Similarly, a new topic can be added to the backlogs. He can place W-I-P limits to set a limit on portions in each stage. Similarly, a doctor can use a Kanban board for keeping a track of his appointments. Thus, the application of Kanban is not restricted to the manufacturing or software development field. Everyone who wants to use a planning tool can use kanban.
The best kanban software in the market.
There are a wide number of players in the market. However, after extensively using a lot of them , I have narrowed it down to Trello and Kanban Project. The reason for this is because none of the tools were offering extensive features in their free version. Thus, if you are looking for a free kanban tool without having to face any restrictions in the free version, then Kanban project is the go-to tool. Also, Trello, which is a popular task management tool lacks swimlanes which is a major let down. Thus, after considering all these factors, Kanban project tops my list in the best kanban software in 2020.