What is Kanban: The definitive guide to understand.

In this post, I will explain to you “What is Kanban” and how to use Kanban to have a smooth production with the right inventory and establish a real pull system.


you will be the most prepared guy/girl about the topic not doing confusion among Kanban, Kanban Card, Kanban Board, Scrum, Agile etc…


Kanban Definition

Do you want to listen to something ridiculous?

The first teacher I had told me that Kanban meant Card.

Do you agree with him?

Try the following test now:


Are you wrong?
I know what are you thinking…
They told me that the meaning of Kanban was “card” or something else?
Here my references:
  1. Kanban Means Signboard or Billboard in Japanese (Wikipedia)
  2. Kanban Means Signboard (Allaboutlean of the great Prof C. Roser.)
  3. Kanban Means Signboard (Lean Lexicon – See the book below)


I think you now have a clear reference list on the Kanban Definition.

Is not it?


Let us move on What is Kanban and how to use it with a true story.


No Kanban = Constant Emergency

I used to be an area supervisor …

During this experience,

I was spending a lot of my time by looking at parts all around.


I was full of stuff and what I was constantly missing was the part I needed

Sound familiar?

At the end of the day, my feelings were:

  • Frustration
  • Time wasted
  • Nervous

Sound familiar? 🙂

I was guessing how to solve this problem that drove me crazy !!!

One day the company told that they were hiring a Lean Consultant to help us to solve our problem with a Lean Tool named KANBAN.

I was puzzled …

I was thinking: “What is Kanban?”, “How Kanban could solve this problem?”

and moreover …

I am the supervisor I do not need the company to waste the money in this Lean Expert they have to buy what I need!

(By the way, there is a great video about why you need a Lean Sensei)


I started surfing on youtube with the keyword:

  • What is Kanban
  • What is Kanban System


I have to admit,

in the beginning, I was confused because on youtube I was finding other videos related to the project management by cards.

So now let me state something strong.

KANBAN for Manufacturing is different from KANBAN for Project Management.

Please do not confuse them!

My ideas were confused and I was waiting for this expert to come.

In the meantime,

I was always in the same bad condition:

  • A lot of materials on the shop floor
  • Missing what I really needed
  • Frustrated and Nervous


What is Kanban explained by the Lean Sensei.

The day arrived …

He came with his jacket and necktie.

I was hating him.

He started his conversation by asking me:

“What is your problem?”

I was full of problems, with a big delay in all of my promises and with missing materials so I almost shouted:

Sorry! But I have not time to waste with you, I have to work

(Sound Familiar 🙂 ?)


He showed me the following image and I was frozen!

No time for improvement


He saw my face and showed me another image:


LEAN LAB -comic ENG ep2


Do you want to know something?

I felt so stupid and I was so in a bad situation that I told myself:

What can I loose? Worst than this! Let me try to listen …

And so I did …

He explained to me some basic concepts:

  1. Kanban is System (a methodology) and you cannot do on your own, you need a team
  2. Kanban means signboard :-). You can give the sign in different ways (cards, electronics, spaces)
  3. There are 8 rules to follows and he told me to see the following video


My mind was interested.

I challenged him:

OK! This a good theory but I am sure that Kanban does not work with our products.

He started laughing 🙂 🙂 🙂

He gave me a list of video to see with real applications and benefits of using Kanban.

Here there is the list for you:

I was stunned!

I decided to try!



Kanban: How to Implement

Let me start with a survey …


In my experience, the most difficult aspect was the people and the culture.

Do you know what?

I remember when I was not so happy with the Lean Expert.


why should they be happy?

In brief my step by step approach:

  1. Call the team and ask them if they are happy with the current situation
  2. Ask them if they want to try something different
  3. Listen to them
  4. Train all the team members before to start
  5. Start with the 1 SKU that cause you problems
  6. Try and adjust
  7. Once understood and having benefits, leverage to another SKU

As you can imagine it is not so simple and you need:

  • Vision
  • Understanding the tools
  • Patience
  • Leadership
  • Willingness to try, fail and adjust.

Believe me!

The first time is a nightmare.

All the team members were tempted to come back to the old way.

I have to admit that I was tempted, too :-).


Here there are another couple of videos you could use for training:

after a couple of months of hard work, we were successful!

The Benefits of Kanban

It seems incredible!

After the testing and learning period, we were so happy and the Kanban System seemed to be the new normality.

If I should summarize the benefits I should say:

  1. Materials always available and massive stock reduction
  2. Visual Control of the production
  3. No more conflicts and frustrations.


Do you want to know more?

We are leveraging the Kanban System to other SKU’s and we are working very smoothly.

When am I very satisfied?

When people of others team ask my team:

“What is Kanban?” and they told them “Follow me I will show how it works and this Lean Tool change our way to work!”


After this post, I am sure you understood What is Kanban and how to implement it.

Just to summarize:

  1. Kanban Means Signboard
  2. It is a tool to realize the Just in Time
  3. Teamwork and People are essential in Kanban Implementation

In collaboration with Lean Experts, I created a Kanban Course in 5 Modules with a detailed step by step guide to implementation.

You can download the first module for free!


COMMENT BELOW NOW with your experience 🙂