The Best Way to Read this Book


We decided to write this book while traveling together on a business trip. Returning from a meeting with a supplier whom we wanted to place on kanban scheduling, we were discussing how resistant the supplier had been to the idea. Our discussion migrated to how most companies and individuals were resistant at first, but that they soon came on board once they understood the benefits of using kanban. We discussed how this resistance stemmed from lack of exposure and the lack of books about how actually to develop and implement kanban scheduling. Twenty miles later we were building what became the fourteen-page outline for this book.

The Best Way to Read this Book

To get the most out of this book, we recommend reading this book in three passes .

  • On your first pass, flip through the entire book and look at all of the chapters, look at its organization, and look at the figures. Get acquainted with the style and flow.

  • On the second pass, read the book chapter by chapter. At the start of each chapter, conduct another quick review of the chapter. During this review, flip through the chapter looking at the major topics and figures. Finish this review by reading the chapter summary.

  • On the final pass, go back to the beginning of the chapter and read the entire chapter. During this final pass, look for the detail behind the topics in the chapter summary. Also, make notes and underline important information in the margins.

Although this process sounds like it might take forever and slow down your reading, the opposite is true. The three-pass process will not only improve comprehension , but also speed up your reading.


We wish to thank the following people for their support in making this book a reality: Sharon Lee developed the audit forms presented in Chapter 8; Loyd Bailie, Sharon Lee, Charles McInnis, and Ron Fardell read the drafts as sanity checks on our logic; Dean Kropp, of Washington University-St. Louis, provided ideas and support.

We wish to thank the companies that allowed us to document their kanban successes in the case studies. We would especially like to thank GDX Automotive for allowing us not only to document a case study, but also to take pictures to illustrate some of the kanban designs in Chapter 5. Their three-phased Lean implementation program, called Common Sense Manufacturing, is making dramatic strides in waste elimination .

We also would like to thank our wives, Karen Gross and Ruth McInnis, for their support during the writing and editing of the book. Their support allowed us to write the book and still maintain our hectic professional schedules.

Finally, we wish to thank you for taking the time to read this book. We hope it gives you the knowledge (and the courage) to implement kanban scheduling in your operation. We know from first-hand experience that the improvement in flow, the benefits of empowering the production operators, and inventory reductions will amaze you.

John M. Gross
Kenneth R. McInnis

Chapter 1: Introduction to Kanban

Imagine a process where the operators schedule the line. Also, imagine this same process having visual indicators that allow you to instantly determine the schedule status of the process at a glance.

Does this sound like a fairytale? Or is this a process that has been converted to kanban scheduling?

A Short History of Kanban

The Japanese word kanban, which translates as "signboard," has become synonymous with demand scheduling. [1] Kanban traces its roots to the early days of the Toyota production system. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Taiichi Onho developed kanbans to control production between processes and to implement Just in Time (JIT) manufacturing at Toyota manufacturing plants in Japan. These ideas did not gain worldwide acceptance until the global recession in the 1970s. By using kanbans, he minimized the work in process (or WIP) between processes and reduced the cost associated with holding inventory. [2]

Originally, Toyota used kanban to reduce costs and manage machine utilization. However, today Toyota continues to use the system not only to manage cost and flow, but also to identify impediments to flow and opportunities for continuous improvement. Interestingly, Mr. Onho modeled many of the control points after U.S. supermarkets ”hence the term kanban supermarkets.

It should be noted that the idea of JIT manufacturing was originally conceived by Kiichero Toyoda, founder of the Toyota Motor Company, and son of Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the Toyota Company, the parent company. [3] [4] However, it was Mr. Onho who developed the strategy of kanban, which became one of the pillars of Toyota's successful implementation of JIT manufacturing. [5]

[1] Toyota Motor Corporation, The Toyota Production System ”Leaner Manufacturing for a Greener Planet, p. 19.

[2] Taiichi Onho, Toyota Production System ”Beyond Large-Scale Production (Portland: Productivity Press, 1988), Chapter 1.

[3] It is an interesting aside that the Toyota Company started the Toyota Motor Company with the money received from selling the rights to produce a weaving loom that had been designed by Sakichi Toyoda.

[4] Onho, Toyota Production System, p. 89.

[5] Onho, Toyota Production System, p. 123.