Skip to main content
Key Takeaways

Lean Mean Inventory Machine: Just-in-time (JIT) optimizes inventory by purchasing materials only when needed, preventing the cost and resource drain linked to excessive stockpiling.

Historical Shift with Toyota: Originating with Toyota in the 1970s, JIT revolutionized manufacturing by reducing excess inventory and fostering a culture of continuous improvement and efficiency.

The Visual Kanban Connection: Kanban, a method used alongside JIT, enhances process visibility and teamwork, improving supply chain efficiency through visual management tools.

Economic and Eco Wisdom: JIT not only improves manufacturers' cash flow and reduces storage costs but also supports local economies and reduces the carbon footprint by favoring local suppliers.

Small Giants Benefit Too: Small businesses gain competitiveness with JIT by minimizing overhead costs and aligning closely with market demands, making it a powerful strategy for efficient resource management.

While the safety of having extra inventory on hand feels great, the drain on your resources can be real. And, there's a better way.

Just-in-time (JIT) inventory management is a method of optimizing the procurement of materials to align with production schedules.

JIT helps manufacturers and retailers avoid overproduction, save on storage costs, and deliver quality products to their customers by ordering materials on an as-needed basis.

Let's get right into the big question, then we'll move on to the more nuanced aspects of this topic.

What is Just-in-Time (JIT) Inventory?

Just-in-time (JIT) inventory management is the practice of purchasing materials on an as-needed basis.

So, customer orders are the trigger to purchase raw materials.

Organizations can keep a lean inventory and remain flexible in responding to peaks and valleys in customer demand without incurring unnecessary holding costs.

For companies who want to reduce working capital and increase the efficiency of their production line, JIT represents an opportunity to become more flexible and responsive to market trends, with far less up-front investment than traditional inventory models.

It’s a pull system that prioritizes current demand to avoid the pitfalls of excess inventory.

To put it in simple terms, JIT inventory management is like cooking a meal by buying ingredients only when you're ready to cook, ensuring freshness and avoiding unnecessary storage or waste.

Pro tip

Pro tip

A robust cloud based inventory management system is critical to making the JIT method work.

History of JIT

Japanese car manufacturer Toyota is widely considered to have pioneered this method.

In the 1970s, Toyota responded to mounting market competition by completely re-imagining its production process with lean manufacturing principles and only purchasing parts when new orders came in.

For this reason, JIT is sometimes referred to as the Toyota Production System.

An image showing a Toyota assembly line in the 1970s.
Toyota assembly line circa 1970. Source: Toyota Global

For this revolutionary, just-in-time system to work, Toyota had to enlist buy-in from everyone in the organization and ensure that it organized every facet of the production process to support JIT manufacturing.

Communication became a priority along the assembly line, and teams committed to continuous improvement in response to feedback.

It took Toyota nearly 20 years to perfect JIT, and they’ve maintained this philosophy ever since.

If we explore just-in-time inventory management within the context of Toyota, it would look something like this:

Rather than purchasing thousands of airbags and then paying warehousing fees to store them until needed, Toyota would wait until they receive customer orders for new cars and then purchase the airbags necessary to fulfill those orders.

The Kanban Method

Often associated with JIT inventory management is the Kanban method. The word “Kanban” is Japanese for “visual board” or “sign.”

When Toyota first launched its JIT strategy, they helped teams visualize the supply chain and lean manufacturing process by creating a wooden board that divided activities into three columns: Requested, In-Progress, and Done.

Cards communicating progress would be passed along the assembly line and hung on the board as activities progressed from one stage to the next.

Image of a Toyota worker in front of a wooden Kanban board set up for factory production management.
A physical, abacus-style Kanban board used by Toyota. Source: Toyota Global

Since then, the Kanban method has become common practice within the Lean and Agile communities.

Today, while some teams continue to find it helpful to have a physical Kanban board in their office, most teams prefer a shared virtual board to enhance collaboration between remote team members.

How Does Just-in-Time Inventory Work?

The handy flowchart below illustrates how the JIT inventory system works. The production cycle begins when a customer places a product order.

From there, the manufacturer orders the necessary raw materials (or products) from their supplier. The supplier fulfills the order and sends it to the manufacturer. The manufacturer then begins assembling the order on the production line.

Once complete, the product is shipped to the customer, and the cycle can start again.

just in time inventory infographic
In the Just-In-Time Inventory process, the manufacturers orders materials or products only after the customer places the order for the product.

Benefits of Just-in-Time Inventory Management

Just-in-time is the opposite of just-in-case manufacturing, in which companies choose to bulk up on storage so they have it on hand in the event of a surge in sales.

There are several benefits to adopting a just-in-time approach, primarily the avoidance of overproduction, reduction of storage costs, improved cycle times, and having a line of sight that results in continuous improvement.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the main benefits of JIT manufacturing.

1. Eliminates overproduction

When companies overproduce, excess inventory sits dormant while the company continues to pay to house it.

This dead stock takes up warehouse space that in-demand products could better utilize.

In a JIT production scenario, raw materials are ordered when customers place orders for new products.

This helps companies avoid an imbalance in which the product supply exceeds demand.

While JIT effectively eliminates overproduction, integrating inventory management software can further streamline this process.

Explore the comprehensive benefits of inventory management software to understand how it can complement JIT strategies.

2. Decreases storage cost

Imagine a scenario in which Company A employs a just-in-case strategy, producing a bulk number of widgets in anticipation of market demand.

While awaiting these sales, all the widgets must be stored, costing a fortune.

Now imagine Company B adopting a just-in-time inventory strategy. They build their widgets as customers order them.

Once a widget is sold, it spends very little time on the shelf before being sent to the customer, freeing up space for the next widget off the assembly line. In this way, JIT optimizes inventory levels and saves money.

I recall a quarter where our estimated needs led to an overstock of 10,000 units of multivitamins—capital tied up in unsold goods. The switch to JIT was our response.


It was painstaking but necessary, and by quarter’s end, our financials reflected the change—a 20% cut in inventory holding costs. That number was a milestone, the mark of a leaner, more adaptable operation.


It’s not a silver bullet—there were moments of tension when supply hiccups arose—but it taught us to be a more agile and responsive business in the health supplement market.

Katie Photo

Katie Devoe

Owner and Co-Founder at CBD Nationwide

Stay in the loop! Discover what’s new in the world of ecommerce.

Stay in the loop! Discover what’s new in the world of ecommerce.

  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • By submitting this form, you agree to receive our newsletter, and occasional emails related to The Ecomm Manager. For more details, please review our Privacy Policy. We're protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

3. Flexible and adaptive to market needs

Within the just-in-time model, manufacturers can easily adapt to changes in the market, pulling back on the production of certain products as sales wane and beefing up the production of others as sales improve.

The visibility of the entire supply chain and real-time data that JIT provides empowers manufacturers with greater control over the production process.

It allows them space and freedom to respond to ever-changing customer demands.

4. Buying local

Not only is just-in-time beneficial for the manufacturer, but it’s also beneficial for the environment and the communities within which the manufacturer operates.

Since JIT requires that materials are purchased on an as-needed basis, ease and speed of delivery are key to the strategy's success.

For this reason, it makes the most sense for manufacturers to purchase goods from local providers.

By buying locally, the manufacturer receives their materials faster, reduces their carbon footprint, and nurtures the local economy by supporting businesses that create local jobs.

5. Improving cash flow

By ordering materials as needed, manufacturers reduce the working capital necessary to keep the business running smoothly.

Rather than investing heavily up-front in a massive amount of safety stock, JIT production purchases materials once an order comes in.

Return on investment is higher because there isn’t any overstock hanging out in the warehouse waiting to be sold.

We switched to JIT because it enables us to only order when we need to, so we save time, space, and money. The process improves our profit margin because we no longer need so much space to keep stock that we may or may not need right away.

lev tretyakov

Lev Tretyakov

CEO and Head of Sales at Fortador

6. Helps with budgeting

In the realm of budgeting, the just-in-time inventory system proves advantageous.

It allows for a more dynamic allocation of resources, as funds are not tied up in excessive amounts of inventory.

This approach aligns with on-demand consumer trends, ensuring that products are available when needed, thus elevating customer satisfaction.

7. Small business friendly strategy

For small businesses, the just-in-time inventory system can be a game-changer.

It allows them to compete more effectively by reducing overhead costs and focusing resources on immediate production and sales needs.

While requiring careful management, this methodology can lead to improved supply chain efficiency and better alignment with market demands.

Pros & Cons of Just-in-Time Inventory

Just-in-time manufacturing can decrease working capital, reduce carbon footprint, and shrink inventory costs by optimizing the production schedule.

That being said, like all strategies, it does have its shortcomings. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of JIT.

Eliminates overproductionVulnerable to supply chain disruptions
Reduces storage costsDependent on reliable suppliers and communication
Flexible and adaptive to market demandsRisk of low inventory
Increases cash flow and reduces working capitalPotential delays in customer delivery
Environmentally friendly and supports local economiesRequires accurate demand forecasting
Enhances organizational communicationInvestment in technology
Helps with budgetingLimited flexibility for experimentation
Enhances supplier relationships
Increases product quality
Encourages continuous improvement

Pros of JIT inventory

Just-in-time is a lean manufacturing strategy that can help manufacturers avoid many of the most common pitfalls and economic risks associated with production-based business.

Primarily, JIT works to ensure that manufacturers are not carrying unnecessary inventory costs by housing finished products that have not yet been sold.

JIT avoids overproduction because products are only assembled when a customer places an order.

  • Eliminates overproduction. Only produce what is ordered, reducing excess inventory.
  • Reduces storage costs. Less need for warehousing due to minimal inventory.
  • Flexible and adaptive to market demands. Can quickly adjust production according to consumer demand.
  • Increases cash flow and reduces working capital. Money is not tied up in unsold inventory.
  • Environmentally friendly and supports local economies. Encourages purchasing from local suppliers, reducing carbon footprint.
  • Enhances organizational communication. Requires tight coordination and communication within the company.
  • Helps with budgeting. More dynamic allocation of resources without excess inventory.
  • Enhances supplier relationships. Leads to stronger partnerships due to the need for reliable deliveries.
  • Increases product quality. Focus on current orders allows for more investment in quality control.
  • Encourages continuous improvement. Fosters ongoing optimization and efficiency in production processes.

Cons of JIT inventory

This inventory management strategy is not without its challenges.

Supply chain disruptions, such as those caused by a natural disaster, can lead to stockouts, directly impacting retailers who rely on a streamlined supply chain for their inventory needs.

The JIT model demands a robust and responsive supply chain management system to mitigate these risks.

For just-in-time inventory management to succeed, manufacturers must have steady, high-quality production, reliable machinery, and suppliers who can be counted on to deliver orders on time.

This way, JIT is vulnerable to factors like machinery breakdowns and supply chain shortages.

When a manufacturer encounters a disruption in the production process, work-in-process goods can stall out part way through, resulting in a backlog.

Since these affected items aren’t finished products and can’t be sold, they incur not only the costs associated with their materials but also the storage costs associated with housing them until production can resume.

This was never more clear than during the early days of the pandemic.

As lockdown restrictions placed regulations on travel and in-person contact, shipments experienced crushing delays. Manufacturers were stuck with an excess of customer orders but unable to fulfill them within a reasonable timeline.

Let's look at each con in more detail:

  • Vulnerable to supply chain disruptions. A slight delay can cause stockouts and impact delivery.
  • Dependent on reliable suppliers and communication. Requires a robust supply chain management system.
  • Risk of low inventory. May lead to issues if demand spikes unexpectedly.
  • Potential delays in customer delivery. Production only starts after orders are placed, which may extend delivery times.
  • Requires accurate demand forecasting. Inaccurate predictions can lead to stockouts or inefficient production.
  • Investment in technology. Effective JIT implementation often necessitates advanced inventory and SCM software.
  • Limited flexibility for experimentation. Less room for creating surplus inventory for testing or promotions.

Implementation was not as easy as we had hoped. With JIT, you keep the raw material for a few hours, which means they get replenished, and a new truck has to arrive to continue with production. Since Fortador has hundreds of components we need to source, with a slight delay, we risk production stopping.

lev tretyakov

Lev Tretyakov

CEO and Head of Sales at Fortador

While weighing the pros and cons of JIT, it's equally vital to explore the complex challenges of inventory management that can impact your overall strategy.

How to Implement Just-in-Time Inventory Management for Your Business

To take advantage of everything that JIT has to offer while avoiding the potential pitfalls, you’ll want to keep some principles in mind:

Know your supply chain

The best JIT inventory management systems run smoothly because of excellent manufacturer-supplier relationships.

Choose reliable suppliers who come backed by a reputation for excellence. It’s wise to create relationships with multiple local suppliers to have more than one option in an emergency.

Keep an eye on inventory

A JIT inventory system is entirely reliant on the visibility of inventory.

Without alerts regarding low inventory, you won’t be able to fulfill orders quickly, leaving money on the table and customers unhappy.

Optimizing the balancing act of inventory (ensuring that you don’t run out while also avoiding carrying excess materials) is the bread and butter of this strategy.

You may need to invest in an enterprise inventory management system with all the bells and whistles to make this happen.

Avoid miscounts

Even the most math-savvy among us aren’t immune to miscalculation.

Software programs that conduct automated calculations will always be more reliable and accurate than manual calculations.

Use technology

The easiest way to stay on top of inventory levels is to take advantage of software that automates monitoring and alerts.

These solutions help you make accurate calculations, predict upcoming needs with robust forecasting capabilities, and gain an in-depth understanding of the current trends in supply and demand.

Be up-front with your customers

Don’t be afraid to educate your customers on how you manage inventory so that you can manage their expectations.

Be honest and transparent with them about how long it will take to fulfill their orders. Make a rule to never over-promise and under-deliver.

8 Steps For Continuous Improvement Using JIT

The JIT method is based on the principle of continuous improvement.

Since JIT prioritizes flexibility, it allows organizations to adjust for efficiency and efficacy throughout the production process.

Asking the right questions and creating new solutions to answer them in real-time is essential to just-in-time inventory management.

  • How can your JIT strategy improve cycle times? 
  • Where are the communication gaps? 
  • How can raw materials be procured faster and with less red tape? 

When implementing the strategy, consider following these eight steps for continuous improvement.

1. Review current processes and identify areas for improvement

Begin by reviewing your current processes.

This may include manufacturing planning, personnel deployment, product design, and process design.

Gain a thorough understanding of how your organization is currently managing production to identify where you can become more flexible and efficient and avoid disruptions.

2. Define roles and responsibilities

Consider conducting a Total Quality Management (TQM) review in which you clearly define the roles and responsibilities of your team members, establish load and capacity schedules, and determine how you’ll measure quality control.

3. Implement Kanban

Take a look at your lot size policies and consider whether they’re currently at optimal levels.

Design a Kanban process or pull system in which production and withdrawal can be communicated to influence the assembly line.

4. Nurture relationships

Choose your preferred suppliers and open the lines of communication to discuss items like contract negotiation, order lead times, expectations for delivery, and other relevant metrics.

Nurture these relationships so that you’ll have an established contact with whom you can communicate openly in the event of a challenge.

5. Explore the details

At this point in the process, utilize the information you’ve gathered to fine-tune the details further.

Take a look at your policies, inventory needs, and controls and see where you can tweak them to maximize efficiency.

6. Educate the team

JIT won’t work without buy-in from the team.

Make sure that everyone is on the same page by conducting education sessions. Explain the benefits of the JIT system and ensure that every single team member understands how their role factors into the overall strategy.

7. Refine your processes

Now take a look at your JIT strategy overall.

Are there areas where you can reduce the number of steps in a process? Where can you standardize and automate?

Notice how, throughout these eight steps, there are multiple opportunities to further review, refine, and improve.

This is the heart of a continuous improvement approach.

8. Assess problems and identify trends

In the real world, problems pop up all the time.

When they do, conduct a root cause analysis. Determine where quality control can assist throughout the production process to avoid a similar problem in the future.

Track trends along the way, and frequently loop back to consider how and where these trends could influence your strategy to create further improvements.

Need expert help selecting the right Inventory Management Software?

If you’re struggling to choose the right software, let us help you. Just share your needs in the form below and you’ll get free access to our dedicated software advisors who match and connect you with the best vendors for your needs.

Is JIT Inventory Management For You?

Just-in-time (JIT) inventory management is a strategic methodology increasingly adopted by retailers and small businesses to enhance their supply chain management.

This inventory management method revolves around maintaining less inventory, aligning closely with consumer demand to optimize order fulfillment and inventory control.

By adopting the JIT model, brands can significantly reduce storage space requirements and associated costs, positively impacting their bottom line.

This method offers a practical solution for both enterprise retailers and small businesses.

By focusing on keeping less inventory and responding swiftly to consumer demand, brands can improve their order fulfillment process, enhance customer satisfaction, and maintain a healthier bottom line.

Yet, it isn't without its perils, and brands must keep a cautious eye on potential supply chain disruptions.

Whether it's best for you is ultimately up to you. Hopefully, we've shined some light on this decision!

To stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends in ecommerce, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest insights for ecommerce leaders.

Just In Time Inventory FAQs

Let’s answer a few lingering questions about JIT inventory before you move along.

What are the key inventory techniques used in JIT?

JIT inventory techniques include real-time demand forecasting, streamlined quality management, close integration with suppliers for timely deliveries, and employing Kanban systems to ensure materials are available just as needed.

How does just-in-time inventory affect a company's costs?

JIT can significantly reduce inventory holding costs by minimizing storage needs. However, it may involve higher setup costs for establishing strong supplier networks and investments in technology to manage inventory efficiently.

What are the primary challenges associated with JIT inventory management?

The biggest challenge is its susceptibility to supply chain disruptions, which can quickly lead to production stoppages and stockouts, as there is little to no buffer inventory to fall back on.

How does JIT inventory management differ from traditional inventory methods?

Unlike traditional inventory methods that rely on large stockpiles to meet uncertain demand, JIT focuses on minimizing inventory to reduce waste and costs, requiring precise coordination with the supply chain.

Kyra Evans
By Kyra Evans

Kyra Evans has over 15 years of experience writing about finance, technology, and corporate wellness for many of Canada’s largest brands. In addition to writing, Kyra provides keynotes and workshops in mindfulness and holistic wellbeing to companies ranging from startups to multinational corporations. She writes for an engaged community of more than 30,000 readers on Instagram and TikTok, and her work has been featured by publications such as HuffPost and Authority Magazine. She lives on Vancouver Island with her family.