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Lean at Heart: Kanban

by Masia Goodman
November 1, 2019

Lean at Heart: Kanban

by Masia Goodman
November 1, 2019 | Comments (2)

What do you see here? An ad? A reminder? What I see with my lean shades is an everyday example of lean--in this case what’s commonly referred to as a kanban card. In our Lean Lexicon we define this as “a signaling device that gives authorization and instructions for the production or withdrawal (conveyance) of items in a pull system. The term is Japanese for ‘sign’ or ‘signboard.’”

Kanban represents a key principle of lean practice. What you see below are examples of traditional kanban cards. What do you see? What makes these more than mere labels?


The kanban helps communicate what, how much, and where. It helps prevent outages of materials without relying on inventory and helps to provide just the right amount, in just the right place, at just the right time by giving you instructions just in time. In essence, this is what the check reminder does. It tells you what to order and where so that you receive your new checks before you run out and it provides this reminder at the point of use.

Like many lean thinkers, LEI’s Deb McGee saw an opportunity to bring lean principles home.  In this article, Deb shares the lunchbox kanban system she implemented to improve the morning routine. 

We are often asked, “How does this apply outside of manufacturing?” Personal Kanban, a wildly popular productivity approach pioneered by Jim Benson, helps demonstrate the applicability of kanban in knowledge work.

In the services industry, one coffee chain uses a rather practical kanban: the lid of the milk that needs replenishing. 

It is important to remember that a kanban is more than a mere replenishment system and that one lean tool does not a lean system make. A kanban serves a critical role within a much larger context.

What about you? Where do you see kanban in your everyday life?

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2 Comments | Post a Comment
Andrew L BIshop November 01, 2019
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Examples from everyday life are important teaching tools!  Introducing visual workplace, point out the lines in the parking lot that save the paint on our cars.  So many visual standards out there that we take for granted.

Teaching two-bin kanban, my favorite “homely” example is the Raisin Bran in our cupboard:  one box is open, a closed box is behind it.  When you open the new box, Raisin Bran goes on the shopping list.   Never too much, never run out!

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Luyen Nguyen November 04, 2019

The personal kanban you show in picture in many task management platform using like Trello...

But now we have more digital tool then think more about digital Kanban "E-kanban" i/o paper

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