Typically, a kanban board is a physical chart located in a central area of a manufacturing plant. It is designed to keep project goals and tasks highly visible for all team members. Kanban boards are arranged in rows and columns, with each column or row representing a specific goal, project, or team member. Cards or tickets are placed in this grid system to represent steps or tasks related to each of these goals. Simple projects may require only a dozen cards, while complex projects may involve hundreds of kanban cards.
Kanban boards are a common tool used in lean manufacturing. During lean, or just-in-time manufacturing, companies strive to minimize waste in terms of materials, equipment, and time. Manufacturers who utilize this strategy focus on ensuring that every dollar and minute spent in production results in a profit. Kanban boards, which are named after a Japanese term for billboard or sign, help these companies optimize scheduling and task lists.
The cards used on kanban boards are often color coded so team members can easily sort through tasks. High-priority jobs may be written on red cards, for example, while a specific employee may look for green cards to find his responsibilities. The cards may be self sticking, or may fit into slots built into each board. As tasks are completed or adjusted, the card is moved off the board or placed in a separate section. New tasks can be added at anytime simply by adding a new card.
Some companies use virtual kanban boards instead of physical ones to facilitate communication. Manufacturers rely on special project-planning software to create these boards, which often closely resemble their physical counterparts. Users can add or remove tasks with the click of a mouse, or even drag and drop cards to different parts of the board. This type of application serves as an effective way for team members in different locations to work together on a project.
Kanban boards are designed to eliminate roadblocks in manufacturing and keep all team members on the same page. They serve as a continuous reminder of tasks should be completed to meet the goals of the company. Employees are not left confused or unclear about the order in which tasks should be performed, so they are better equipped to perform their jobs. Like lean manufacturing, kanban boards are designed to eliminate waste and maximize productivity and profit.