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Kanban is a Japanese inventory management system that focuses on just-in-time (JIT) production, reducing waste, and improving efficiency. It utilizes visual cues or cards (called “kanban” in Japanese) to signal when new inventory or production is needed. By streamlining inventory procurement and minimizing stock on hand, the system enhances productivity and minimizes waste in the manufacturing process.


The phonetics of the keyword “Kanban” is /ˈkänˌbän/.

Key Takeaways

  • Visual Tool for Managing Workflow: Kanban is a visual management tool that helps teams optimize their workflow by providing a clear view of work in progress and the tasks required for completion. It typically uses cards on a Kanban board to represent tasks, which are moved through designated columns to show progress.
  • Continuous Improvement and Flexibility: Kanban focuses on continuous improvement and flexibility, enabling teams to adapt and change their process as needed to better respond to changing demands or to improve efficiency. By regularly reviewing and analyzing their work process, Kanban practitioners can identify bottlenecks and opportunities for improvement, driving incremental changes instead of large-scale overhauls.
  • Managing Work-in-Progress and Balancing Workload: One of the core pillars of Kanban is limiting work-in-progress (WIP) to ensure that tasks are completed efficiently and team members are not overwhelmed with work. By setting a WIP limit for each step in the process, teams can better focus on completing tasks and the overall workflow is less prone to bottlenecks or excessive multitasking.


Kanban is a critical concept in business and finance as it provides a visual management tool and workflow optimization strategy, primarily utilized in lean manufacturing and agile project management. This Japanese term, meaning “signboard” or “billboard,” operates on a pull-based approach, where resources are only used according to demand. In essence, it promotes the efficient allocation of resources, reduced waste, and enhanced productivity. By employing Kanban, businesses can improve their processes by focusing on workflow transparency, effective communication, and continuous improvement, resulting in better financial performance, reduced lead times, and enhanced customer satisfaction.


Kanban is a renowned process management tool, which originated in Japan, primarily used for enhancing efficiency and organization within the manufacturing sector. Its primary purpose is to strike a balance between the demand and supply of different products or materials, ensuring optimal inventory management and a streamlined production process. The essence of the Kanban system lies in simplifying task assignments by displaying the status of all ongoing work, thereby allowing managers and team members to visualize the entire workflow in a standard format. The resulting transparency allows for better communication, faster response times, and adaptive decision making based on the availability of resources and the completion of previous tasks.

Kanban has grown in popularity not just in manufacturing but across various industries as a flexible approach to managing projects. It is instrumental in minimizing the lead time for production, improving the predictability of workflow, and fostering continuous flow within operational channels. Central to the Kanban method is the concept of “pull,” which dictates that resources should be employed only when required, thereby averting potential waste caused by excessive resource allocation. By implementing Kanban, organizations can avoid overburdening their workforce, proactively address bottlenecks, and keep a sharp focus on the entire process, ensuring that resources are used effectively and working seamlessly together. This ultimately leads to customer satisfaction, as products and services are delivered in a timely manner with a high degree of quality.


Kanban is a visual project management and inventory control system that originated from the Toyota Production System. It helps improve efficiency, reduce waste, and balance production according to demand. Here are three real-world examples of companies using Kanban in their business and finance operations:

1. Toyota: Kanban was first introduced by Toyota to improve their manufacturing process. Toyota uses the Kanban system to maintain a steady flow of car parts and materials throughout their factories. The process involves visual cues, such as physical cards or bins, to signal when more stock is needed. This helps Toyota minimize inventory and production waste, while also ensuring that the right components are always available on the production line. As a result, they have been able to create a highly efficient production system that optimizes resources and reduces costs.

2. Siemens Healthineers: Siemens Healthineers, a global healthcare company, uses Kanban extensively in their manufacturing process to streamline the production of medical devices and equipment. Their implementation of Kanban allows them to have better visibility of their inventory levels and improve their supply chain efficiency. By employing the Kanban system, Siemens Healthineers can manage and respond to fluctuations in demand more effectively, which helps them reduce waste, save money, and deliver high-quality products to their customers in a timely manner.

3. Starbucks: Businesses in the foodservice industry, like Starbucks, use the Kanban system to manage their inventory and ensure they don’t overstock or run out of supplies. At Starbucks, baristas use Kanban to manage the flow of coffee beans, cups, lids, and other materials needed to make and serve their products. Visual cues, such as containers for each item, indicate when it’s time to reorder supplies. This helps Starbucks manage their resources in an efficient manner, reducing inventory waste and ensuring they always have the necessary items on hand to successfully run their business.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a workflow management system, originally developed in Japan, that supports inventory control and lean manufacturing processes. It emphasizes visualization of work progress, limiting work in progress (WIP), and balancing demand with production capacity to improve efficiency and adaptability.

How does the Kanban system work?

Kanban works using visual cards, called Kanban cards, that represent tasks or materials within a production process. As tasks move through various stages of completion, the cards advance across a physical or digital board with columns to indicate progress (e.g., ‘To Do’ , ‘In Progress’ , ‘Completed’). This helps teams visualize and manage their work in a flexible and adaptive manner.

What are the key principles of Kanban?

The four key principles of Kanban are:1. Visualize work: Displaying work progress on a Kanban board.2. Limit work in progress: Restrict the number of tasks in progress to optimize workflow and prevent bottlenecks.3. Manage flow: Continuously monitor and optimize the process by addressing issues that slow down progress.4. Continuous improvement: Analyze the system’s performance and make iterative improvements.

How does Kanban help improve efficiency and productivity?

Kanban helps improve efficiency and productivity by providing transparent visibility of work progress, identifying bottlenecks, ensuring a balance between demand and capacity, and supporting continuous improvement by detecting areas for optimization.

What is a Kanban card?

A Kanban card is a visual representation of a specific task or material within the Kanban system. It contains essential information such as task details, priority, deadlines, and assignees. Cards move through the Kanban board, allowing team members to track progress and manage work more effectively.

Can the Kanban system be applied to non-manufacturing industries?

Yes, the Kanban system can be adapted and applied to various non-manufacturing industries, including software development, project management, and even personal task management. The primary focus remains on visualizing work, limiting work in progress, and fostering continuous improvement.

How does the Kanban system differ from the traditional waterfall project management method?

The primary differences between Kanban and the traditional waterfall method lie in their approach to work management. Kanban is a flexible, adaptive system that visualizes work, limits WIP, and emphasizes continuous improvement. In contrast, the waterfall method is a linear, structured approach that requires projects to pass through sequential stages with little room for adaptation or adjustment.

Related Finance Terms

  • Just-In-Time (JIT) Manufacturing
  • Work In Progress (WIP) Limit
  • Lean Production
  • Value Stream Mapping
  • Pull System

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