Monday, January 25, 2016


The Japanese word for “sign” or “signboard” is kanban. It is a visual means of requesting a resource, e.g. supplies, inventory, maintenance, doctors, etc. In many practices, inventory management is a perpetual problem.  It seems like it is always “feast or famine”; balancing “stock-outs” and expired “over stocks.”  The problem is not the person in charge of inventory. The problem is the system.  And, it isn't just about inventory levels, it is about managing all resources.

One example of a kanban would be an inventory card with the name, location, amount, supplier name, etc. being written on it that would be placed at the reorder point of the particular unit on the shelf to signal reordering. Lean organizations often use “two-bin” kanban systems such as an empty microscope slide box set aside at a specific location (a kanban post) that triggers replenishment of the slides at the microscope in the lab from a central supply area. It could also be a file holder on the exam room door that holds patient records which indicates there is a client and patient in the room ready to be seen, “pulling” the doctor or tech to the room. Or, it could be the plastic, colored flags mounted next to an exam room door that request an action take place in the room such as a doctor is needed, the exam room needs cleaning, or the exam room is ready for a new patient. Kanban is part of visual management, and just-in-time philosophy that we discuss later.

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