Word for today: Kanban

Blog, On language, On productivity


Those of you who’ve worked with me before will know that I’m a Trello evangelist: I must have my tasks visible at all times in order to see my workflow and I particularly love getting others in on the game. Trello is an app based on a productivity system called Kanban. Taking my process one step further, I recently read Kanban guru Jim Benson’s book, Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life. And so my word for today is, (drum roll please):



(n) A Japanese manufacturing system in which the supply of components is regulated through the use of an instruction card sent along the production line.

The word came into use in the 1950s  when Toyota began using an engineering process based on supermarket shelf-stocking techniques. The Toyota team had noticed that in supermarkets, grocery items were only restocked according to the shop’s inventory and not according to its vendors’ supply; only when an item was almost sold out, did shop clerks order more. This observation made Toyota engineers rethink their own processes and they pioneered a new system – Kanban – which aimed to match inventory with demand and achieve higher levels of quality.

Kanban, which literally means ‘billboard’ or  ‘sign’ in Japanese, allowed Toyota line-workers to visually manage their manufacturing process through the use of Kanban cards. This visual system allowed them to communicate better about the work that needed to be done and most importantly, it eliminated waste thus maximising value.

Essentially, Kanban is a visual system for managing work as it moves through a process. Its goal is to identify potential bottlenecks in work processes and to fix them so that work can flow through the system in a cost-effective and time-efficient way. Today, it’s become a major tool in software development processes, but I find it works just as well in the world of publishing.

Example sentence: Perhaps you’d like to use Kanban to help streamline your own workflow.

Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content. I am an internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience, specialising in education, lifestyle and literacy.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com


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