If you’re not new to Kanban, you know how it originated from the automotive manufacturing industry in Japan. From its roots in the manufacturing industry, we know today has since evolved into full-blown process management and improvement technique. It’s no longer just used to manage parts and stock levels or point out production volumes. It’s a method that empowers businesses to create more efficient processes and achieve better levels of success.

In this article, we’ll show you how you can use this methodology in different areas of your business with our board examples for manufacturing.

Why Use Kanban in Manufacturing

While we all know that using a Kanban system helps manufacturing businesses, there’s more to it than signaling when you need more raw materials or supplies from your upstream processes or applying the Just-in-Time method. Manufacturing processes today are more complex than ever and the pursuit of quality is of paramount importance for companies to thrive and succeed. Using it as a process management and improvement framework allows businesses to expand its use throughout its supply chain. Whether it’s product development, supplier relations, or customer service, the possibility of wasteful and inefficient practices remain. It can help spot inefficiencies in processes, monitor performance, and improve the design of process flows.

5 Kanban Board Examples for Manufacturing

New Product Introduction Board

Companies continually seek to provide new and improved products year after year. They join trade shows to launch their new offerings in the hopes of attracting potential distributors, dealers, and customers. We see elaborate designs and product samples but what we don’t see is the thorough process that these companies had to go through to come up with their new products. This is what New Product Introduction (NPI) is about. It’s the comprehensive process of developing a product from conception to production to market release.

While the process can vary between organizations, the concept and goal are the same – that is to create the right product at the right time and the right cost. NPI involves heavy cross-functional collaboration and communication among business units. This is why, a visual process and project management technique, will be helpful to manage all that. It will help point out wasteful activities in an NPI process and reduce unnecessary costs. It can also helps facilitate communication within the team and track progress through each step of the process.

Here’s a sample NPI board that manufacturing teams can use:

New Production Introduction Kanban Board Example

You can use checklists for the tasks under each phase in the NPI process. Note that the example below is not extensive and is only meant to show the functionality.

New Production Introduction Checklist Example

Production Issues Resolution Board

Defects and production issues are not new to manufacturing. But we should always aim for a defect-free process if we want to control costs and ensure quality is maintained. Using Kanban puts a framework for how teams handle defects and production issues. Having a dedicated Kanban board to monitor and resolve production issues makes it easier for teams to treat defects and problems consistently and quickly. Here’s a sample production issue resolution Kanban board for manufacturing teams.

Product Issue Kanban Board Example

You can have separate lanes for levels of complexity. You can also use color-coding to indicate the level of complexity of each incoming issue. Before a card advances to any of the Issue Resolution lanes, it will need to be verified and classified according to its level of complexity.

Product Issue Kanban Board Complexity Example

Whatever problem-solving strategy you use, you can create the Kanban board that fits your process. In our example above, we use PDCA for medium complexity issues and DMAIC for high complexity ones. Low complexity issues that can easily be solved, usually within 48 hours, follow a simple To Do-In Progress-Done workflow.

Portfolio Kanban - Reduce Overburden - Improve Flow

Customer Service Management Board

How are you handling customer service inquiries and complaints? If you don’t have a process to manage all the incoming information, it will lengthen your response and resolution time. This will negatively affect customer satisfaction towards your brand. You may also be missing out on useful inputs to improve your products and services. Using a Kanban system for customer service allows you to stay organized and respond to your customers quickly. It also helps support teams to easily coordinate with other departments to resolve customer complaints or share customer suggestions.

Here’s a Kanban board example for a manufacturing brand’s customer support team. All incoming issues or requests will go to the New Request column. It then gets reviewed by the CS team member and tags it as any of the following: Verified Issue/Request, Customer Feedback, or Business-related request. Note that the Customer Feedback and Business-related Requests columns are treated as non-process columns and won’t affect the Kanban system’s cycle times.

Customer Service Board Example

Verified Issue/Request cards need to be resolved by the CS team. Should help from external departments be needed, the CS team puts it in the Requires Further Support lane and notifies the relevant department. The Customer Feedback column holds cards that contain customer suggestions, comments, or ideas. These can be endorsed to the Product Development or Marketing teams. The Business-related Requests column holds cards that contain inquiries or requests from other businesses, e.g. supplier proposals and partnerships, and can be routed to the relevant business units. You can use color-coding to easily indicate what type of card is being worked on.

Customer Service Card Labels Example

Supplier Management

This Kanban board example is non-process-based but more of a way to manage relationships with suppliers or vendors. In this Kanban board example, the cards represent suppliers that a manufacturing company deals with. We then use the columns to indicate the supplier’s rating based on the performance criteria that the company uses to evaluate their current suppliers. Having set performance criteria to evaluate suppliers regularly helps ensure you’re doing business only with those who can meet your requirements. This will also help you point out any improvement areas about your supplier’s process and performance.

Here’s an example of a Supplier Management Kanban board. We have columns set to show each supplier’s current rating. We also have columns to house cards for past suppliers. We have a mini process flow to keep track of any improvement work that we request suppliers to work on as well as any supplier-related improvement work we need to do internally.

Supplier Management Board Example

You can use card labels or color-coding per supplier. This will help you know at a glance which cards are related to a particular supplier.

Supplier Management Card Labels Example

You can also create card templates and attach your review documents in it. This will help simplify the onboarding of new suppliers to your review system.

Supplier Management Card Template Example

Crisis Management

No business is exempt from a crisis. A crisis management plan is crucial to ensure business continuity. The nature of crises for manufacturing businesses can vary widely. From a natural disaster that cripples the factory to problems with supplier deliveries that hampers production, a strategic and organized response plan must be in place to handle and get through the crisis. Plot your Crisis Management Process Plan onto a Kanban board. This helps you get a full picture of the situation at hand and monitor the plan’s implementation. Here’s a more detailed guide on how to create your crisis management Kanban board for your manufacturing business.

Crisis Management Board Example

Kanban in Manufacturing and Beyond

Kanban started in manufacturing and is now used in other industries. Its process-centric approach to workflow management and improvement makes it applicable to a variety of businesses including healthcare, finance, marketing, electronics, and software development. Our Kanban board examples for manufacturing can also be applied to other businesses. Any process you’re using to run your business can benefit from using Kanban. Using a Kanban board will help you get a clear visual on what’s going well and what’s not and quickly resolve any issues that surface. It will also help facilitate cross-department communication as the information is visible and easily understandable. If you’re new to Kanban, you can explore our easy step-by-step guide to kickstart your Kanban journey and take your manufacturing business to new heights.

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About the Author: Lena Boiser

Lena Boiser is an Agile enthusiast. Starting off her career as a Software Business Analyst in 2010, she eventually performed other roles including Project Manager and IT Business Manager. When she was immersed in Agile methodologies in 2014, Lena found her way through honing her craft and eventually became a Certified Scrum Product Owner. In 2017, after 7 years of working in the corporate world, Lena started her own remote consulting practice. Today, she provides project management and Scrum Product Ownership services to various businesses including software development companies, e-Commerce business owners, and small to medium sized companies. She believes that even teams working remotely can harness the benefits of Agile in order to deliver results for their companies. In her free time she likes to write. One day she could be writing about Agile, the next she could be writing anything about fashion or travel.