The Four Principles of Kanban

4/27/21 10:30 AM

kanban is a method of lean manufacturing used to improve operationsIn the last few decades, manufacturers have worked relentlessly to maintain a competitive advantage in an ever-changing market. Because of this, we have seen the emergence of new ways of operating within manufacturing. One of these methods is called Lean Manufacturing. 

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean Manufacturing was developed by the Japanese automobile manufacturer Toyota. The main goals of lean systems in manufacturing are to eliminate waste, eliminate disruptions, and make the system flexible.

For many manufacturing facilities, lean methods allowed them to greatly increase their profitability, cut costs, and reduce waste within their facility. Lean manufacturing systems are characterized by waste reduction, minimal inventory, high quality, and continuous improvement efforts.

What is Kanban?

In lean manufacturing operations, pull systems are commonly used. In a pull system, work moves on in response to the next production operation. In other words, each workstation pulls the preceding station’s output when it is ready for it. This is in contrast with the typical ‘push system’ that produces items and pushes them throughout every production stage even when there is no demand for them.

Kanban is a manual system that signals the demand for parts or materials. Typically, workers will use Kanban cards to signal that they are ready to receive materials from the preceding operation.

When Toyota began implementing these concepts, they identified four essential principles in order to adequately utilize this methodology. These four principles of Kanban will be outlined in the following section. 

The 4 Principles of Kanban

The four principles pertaining to the Kanban methodology pertain to the following concepts:

  1. Visualize Workflow - The first principle of Kanban pertains to the visualization of projects and work items. Unlike other business process approaches, Kanban does not prescribe a workflow, it only requires that all work items be documented in a way that can be easily visualized by all. Kanban boards are used to display which work items are in process, which are done, and which have not started. Improving visibility in your operations is crucial to identify areas that are in need of improvement.
  2. Limit Work in Progress (WIP) - The main concept in using Kanban and visual boards is to have every piece of work move from one operation to the next in the most efficient way possible. In order to avoid bottlenecks and accumulation of work, managers should set a work-in-progress limit. This limit should equal what can be reasonably performed and managed at a given time. Setting limits will ensure that you identify the top priority jobs that should be completed first and quickly alert everyone when the amount of jobs in one ‘column’ (or operation) exceeds the WIP limit.
  3. Focus on Flow - The third principle pertains to focusing on the flow of production and the process. The Kanban board implemented in the first step provides a great tool to observe how work is moving from one operation to the next. This will highlight any potential bottlenecks and allow managers to focus on interruptions in the normal flow.
  4. Continuous Improvement - The last principle of Kanban is continuous improvement. This is a common theme in most lean manufacturing methods. Unless you are operating at maximum efficiency, you will need to keep improving. As you start implementing Kanban and lean manufacturing principles within your operations, you will need to adjust to keep this improvement.

Using Kanban methods in your production facility will allow you to reduce inventory and the space required to hold work-in-process inventory. In addition, the quality of your items will increase as the Kanban method uses small batch production strategies. This allows workers to identify defects in production more quickly.

It is important to note that Kanban is not a stand-alone system and that it exists within a larger framework. It is not uncommon to use a Kanban/MRP hybrid system where MRP is used for materials planning and Kanban is used as the execution system to signal when materials are needed. 

An Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) software can help manufacturers implement Kanban into their operations. This software is essential for manufacturers wanting to employ lean manufacturing techniques to reduce inventory, eliminate waste, and produce ‘just-in-time’


The shift to PlanetTogether is saving us about 15% in inventory overhead and about 20% in overtime labor expenses. We're not building equipment to stock any longer, we're building to ship.



PlanetTogether’s Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) Software

Advanced Planning and Scheduling Softwares have become a must for modern-day manufacturing operations as customer demand for increased product assortment, fast delivery, and downward cost pressures become prevalent. These systems help planners save time while providing greater agility in updating ever-changing priorities, production schedules, and inventory plans. APS Systems can be quickly integrated with an ERP/MRP software to fill the gaps where these systems lack planning and scheduling flexibility, accuracy, and efficiency.

With PlanetTogether APS you can:

  • Create optimized schedules that balance production efficiency and delivery performance
  • Maximize throughput on bottleneck resources to increase revenue
  • Synchronize supply with demand to reduce inventories
  • Provide company-wide visibility to resource capacity
  • Enable scenario data-driven decision making

The implementation of an Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) Software will take your manufacturing operations to the next level of production efficiency by taking advantage of the operational data you already possess in your ERP system. APS is a step in the right direction of efficiency and lean manufacturing production enhancement. Try out a free trial or demo!

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