professional lean, agile & change coach


Kanban (看板) is pronounced  /’kan’ban/ and means ”visual board” – where kan means “visual,” and ban means “card” or “board”. Kanban is a concept developed at and used by Toyota. It is related to lean and just-in-time (JIT) production.

On the surface, there isn’t much difference between an average task board and a kanban board. Each of these boards has various columns that represent the stages that a card needs to go through before it is considered done. The real difference in a kanban board, is not the board itself. The board is just a visual indicator, the same as any task board, and the intention is still to get the cards to the “DONE”-state – that is, delivered to the customer so that they can use the features from that card.

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Leadership in 3 minutes

First; a leader needs to have the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous but what he’s doing is so simple it’s almost instructional. This is the key; he must be easy to follow!

The first follower has a crucial role since he publicly shows everybody else on how to follow. Notice how the leader embraces him as an equal. It’s not about the leader – it’s about THEM! The first follower is calling for his friends to join in. It takes guts to be a first follower. Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms an alone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint then the first follower is the spark that really makes the fire.

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Principle 13: Use Powerful Tools for Standardization and Organizational Learning

“Engineers at the Toyota Technical Center use hetakuso-sekke, which is the small booklet containing the failures experienced in the past.”
Kunihiko Masaki, former President of Toyota Technical Center, Ann Arbor

Despite colossal investments of both human and capital resources, most companies have continued to struggle to make organizational learning a true competitive advantage. Once reason is because their focus has typically been on tools that manage explicit or procedural knowledge, which is, although expensive, relatively easy to do, and easy for competitors to replicate. It is in leveraging “tacit” knowledge, or know-how that is the greatest source of competitive advantage. The focus must be on tools that help the organization change the way things actually get done. This type of knowledge is embedded in people and culture; it is around tacit knowledge that the best learning tools and technologies are built and designed.

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Principle 12: Align Your Organization Through Simple, Visual Communication

“In business, excess information must be suppressed. Toyota supresess it by letting the products being produced carry the information.”
Taiichi Ohno

After all, product development is information flow among many specialists. Stop communication, stop information flow, and you stop product development. Now, instead of “throwing the design over the wall”, engineers are taught to communicate concurrently with a team of upstream and downstream specialists – across functions.

Given that everyone agrees that communication is crucial to good product development, what is left o say on this subject? Actually, quite a bit, including the fact that more communication is not necessarily better. And that sometimes face-to-face communication is not as good as written documents. And that large-scale collocation may not necessarily be all it’s cracked up to be.

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Toyota’s A3 Problem-Solving Tool

A3 refers to standardized communication format, a disciplined process of expressing complex thoughts accurately on a single sheet of paper. A3 is a standardized technical writing methodology to create a report on one side of a standard size piece of paper to guide problem solving and achieve clear communication across functional specialties. There are four types of different A3 forms:

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Hoshin Management at Toyota

Hoshin management (a.k.a. policy deployment) is an effective tool for aligning an organization toward the achievement of broader goals or objectives and allowing that organization to react quickly to a changing environment. In a lean organization, hoshin kanri is generally an annual planning tool that aligns the organization’s long-term vision with its shorter-term activities while also aligning the efforts of people in the organization with the goals of the organization.

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The Ringi System at Toyota

The ringi system is a more formal decision-making process used for handling significant decisions. In the ringi process, a small team of people with the necessary expertise is assigned to analyze some specific issues or challenge and recommend a solution. At the conclusion of the analysis process, the team creates a decision document called a Ringi-sho, which outlines the challenges, the countermeasure, and the potential implications, both positive and negative, of adopting the proposal. The team then meets with all managers who will be affected by the proposal and requests their approval. Sign off on the proposal is traditionally done with a manager’s hanko, a personal stamp used only by managers at a certain level.

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Principle 11: Adapt Technology to Fit Your People and Processes

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Bill Gates, president and CEO, Microsoft

Companies around the world are trying to find ways to accelerate product development, seeing this as a way to improve competitive advantage. In many cases, their efforts to speed up the PD process focus on advanced technology. Successful utilization of such tools and technology depends on the ability to customize them in a way that makes them exclusive and integrates them uniquely to the company using them. This successful implementation in Toyota is due to that it is important to recognize that this occurs only because Toyota has had the foresight and discipline to customize tools and technology to fit within a broader framework, one that includes people and processes.

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Learning DNA

Toyota strongly believes that the capacity to learn is the main source of competitive advantage and that continuous improvement is about learning. Toyota has two major cultural biases with regard to learning:

  1. Learning is tacit. This is the most important one. By definition, you can only transfer tacit knowledge when there are dense ties under the guidance of a skilled mentor. At Toyota, every leader is a teacher – personally training anc coaching junior people in the Toyota Way.
  2. Learn by doing which means trying. You cannot learn by theoretically determining the best way and then executing only the best way. There are many possible solutions, and you can only learn by trying them, enjoying your success, and reflecting on your failures. If you are always trying to figure out the best theoretical solution, you will be in a constant state of waiting, missing many opportunities to learn.

Toyota leaders often refer to this learning-by-doing way of thinking as part of the Toyota DNA. Leaders are guides, encouraging and watching for the right opportunities to impart significant lessons.

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