History of Kanban

Kanban, as we know it in Software Development and LEAN terminology, originates from the Toyota Production System and was developed by Taiichi Ohno to improve and maintain a high level of production.

The word Kanban originates from Japanese where “Kan” means “visual” and “ban” means “signal”.


The word “Kanban看板” means billboard or signboard which, today, is known from many production units, service companies, etc.  Kanban was originally a decorated wooden seal representing a manufacturer. These seals were an important branding tradition in the 16th century on the same level as army banners were crucial samurais.


Toyota started studying supermarkets to generate insight on how to do just-in-time production. In supermarkets customers get the needed quantity and quality at the right time. In addition, the supermarket is only fillings shelves with items which they believe they will be able to sell.


As a result of the previous research, Toyota started interpreting their processes as a supply chain where a process is the customer of any preceding processes and the output of preceding processes is the stock.

To increase the effectiveness of the process above, a minimal amount of stock space is desired. In order to achieve this, Toyota focused on using the demand rate from any proceeding process to control the supply rate of the current process. This means that in the figure above, process 2 is limited to only producing the number of items that process 3 is demanding.

The expected demand rate from Toyota customers was used to control the production rate in the underlying production chain at the Japanese factory.


Taiichi Ohno publishes the book “Toyota Production System – Beyond Large-Scale Production” describing LEAN, Lean Manufacturing and Kanban.

LEAN, Lean Manufacturing and Kanban are all terms related to the process of reducing the time spent from order is issued till customer receives the ordered items and pays in cash. These optimizations are conducted by removing non-value-adding steps in the process.


Taiichi Ohno’s book was translated into English and begun to grew in popularity.


David Andersen, independent IT-consultant, described the software development process that emerged in an office on 2nd Avenue in downtown Seattle, USA.  The team was working with software maintenance and had various kinds of stakeholders that needed to be involved at different pace. From this team and their processes sprung the Kanban board, Kanban card and the majority of the Kanban policies which will is described elsewhere in this book.