Lean facility management with the Kanban system

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The Kanban system offers a holistic overview of facilities management, enabling companies to perform efficiently and promptly.

Facility Management with Kansan | LetsBuild

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If you’ve ever been to the Japanese city of Toyota, you’ve probably noticed the startling attention to detail that imbues every aspect of this compact metropolis. Toyota city has birthed many innovations, some of which have evolved far beyond their origins in manufacturing or engineering.

The Kanban system was developed in (and by) Toyota in the 1950s, named after the Japanese term for a board or sign. It’s subsequently been adopted globally by forward-thinking businesses including construction and facilities management companies. Originally, Kanban provided visual definitions for the just-in-time manufacturing processes Toyota was introducing. Since then, it’s evolved into a broader signboard system, allowing sequential management of a project or process. Kanban boards are filled with coloured cards, rather like a Trello board, providing a top-down overview of project management.

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How is the Kanban method defined?

The Kanban method was officially defined in 2007 as a model for the computing industry. It splits a project or process into three distinct stages: requested, in progress, and done. Its focus is on linear stages, where step A always happens before step B. That might sound obvious, yet in facilities management, it’s not uncommon for staff to be inefficiently rushing between jobs in a life-sized game of whack-a-mole. The Kanban method insists on a few key rules, reinforcing the linear nature of effective management. For instance, earlier processes should produce only what later processes require.

To achieve its goal of minimising waste and maximising productivity, the Kanban method demands a holistic overview of projects at the outset. The aim is to deliver a service-oriented approach where the right resources and personnel are always in the right place at the right time.

Facility Management | LetsBuild

How does Kanban apply to facility management?

Facilities management is a long way removed from the automotive production processes that spawned Kanban, but many of the same principles apply. A unified board serves as a live data repository, highlighting where issues may (or will) come up, and enabling pre-emptive solutions to be implemented.

Consider the following issues that might arise around the upkeep of a building, 90% of whose lifetime investment takes place once it’s in operation:

  1. Inefficient planning means scheduled maintenance of a building either isn’t conducted or isn’t conducted to a satisfactory standard.
  2. Staff isn’t given the appropriate resources to ensure facilities are maintained at their current level.
  3. Occupants of the building become disappointed with the lack of management on display and the absence of frontline staff.
  4. Complaints are raised, requiring investigation and urgent correction to get on top of the situation.
  5. Staff is requisitioned from other roles to perform hasty reparatory work, creating an unmanageable volume of work in progress.
  6. Other projects are put on hold by this redirection of staff resources, causing other schedules to slip.

More to read: The Last Planner System® vs. Scrum: Which is the right fit for you?

Now let’s consider how this domino effect could be averted by adopting the Kanban system:

  1. Planning is addressed by creating a visual workflow of all buildings, any required maintenance, and the minimum standards expected by customers/tenants/residents.
  2. The upfront investment is made in the tools, materials, and staffing levels required to maintain these facilities to a standard agreed upon with the client at the outset of each contract.
  3. A schedule of upcoming maintenance is distributed to clients, minimizing inconvenience but also reassuring them that all necessary steps are being taken.
  4. Ongoing communication and dependable work schedules maintain client satisfaction, demonstrating that the facilities management company is a dependable partner.
  5. A lack of complaints means resources don’t need to be redirected away from the original schedule, maintaining a steady workflow where staff can focus on one job at a time.
  6. It’s easier to calculate everything from staffing requirements to required investment levels when there’s a coherent and stable workflow, rather than a reactive scattergun approach.

A live, ongoing process

Often, companies invest in a project and then regard it as completed, when ongoing support is essential. A newly launched website will quickly sink down search results pages if it’s not regularly updated, just as facilities management plans will be derailed if they’re not adjusted to reflect changing circumstances and requirements. As a result, a Kanban board is constantly evolving. A guiding principle is the pursuit of evolutionary change, with incremental tweaks helping to manage scale and maximize predictability.

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For facilities management specialists, Kanban can provide a vital overview of the who, what, where, and when. This service-oriented philosophy will be welcomed by clients whose expectations may have been lowered by rival providers who haven’t embraced the continuous improvement philosophy inherent in a Kanban approach.

Streamlining processes and optimizing efficiency are also central to the LetsBuild philosophy, and you can find out more about our facilities management approach by getting in touch with us to book a demo of our software.

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