Book Review Kanban~Just In Time at Toyota

kanbanYou think that a book entitled KANBAN would be about the mechanical aspects of creating and maintaining cards, what should go on them for information, and how to manage the upkeep. You would expect the book to be dedicated to determining batch sizes and replenish quantities. You would assume there would be pages and pages discussing the logistics dance that goes on in ensuring the cards are moved timely.

This book was written with the efforts of Tiichi Ohno so all expectations associated with today’s books are thrown out the window.

So what is this book about? It is about the Toyota Production System, in this book referred to as the “Toyota System”. (For the record I happen to agree “Toyota System” is a much better name.)Logo

It starts by reviewing Toyota’s approach to manufacturing. Then moves into Leveling the schedules. Discusses what Automation’s impact should be on improvements. THEN we get into what Kanbans are. Next are
some discussions about what Man-Hour reductions REALLY are and more importantly what they “are not”. Finally we complete the book with Quality and Safety sermon. In the expanded version I read there were two additional chapters as Appendices. One on linking product flow back to suppliers; the second on the rise of NUMMI as an experiment to instill these ideas into American workers.

What this book explicitly DOES NOT tell you is how to make a kanban and what your system needs to look like.

One of the first books I ever read on TPS was Dr. Liker’s “The Toyota Way”. One of the lessons that I gleamed from that gem was we cannot copy Toyota’s system! We can learn from Toyota, but we must find our own way.

I believe that the Authors’ kept this feeling close to the vest when they wrote and translated this publication. My gut tells me that they knew that Kanbans would change over time so writing a book about only Kanban Cards & Methods, would be good for that point in time, but would not be a forever solution and it would not fit every company. Kanbans are only a countermeasure to a problem and designing a whole system around a tool would be wrong.

My final assumption about this book is that Ohno and his disciples knew that kanban was simply put a way of controlling inventory – best way to control inventory is by not having it – that should be the goal!

This book is going to have a spot in the front of my bookshelf right along-side of Ohno’s classic Toyota Production System.


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