problems with kanban implementation

Implementing Kanban in your organization may seem easy, but it is a bit tricky indeed. If you start without the necessary respect for details things can go wrong.

Imagine that you have the fastest car in Formula 1. However, you decide to put one of your engineers behind the wheel and tell him to win the race. What are the odds? After all, he will drive the best racing car. Nevertheless, we all know that chances for a triumph аre close to zero.

It is the same with Kanban implementation. If you just say to your team “Kanban is the best method for workflow management, make it work for you”, your staff will probably feel like an experienced F1 engineer with a great car that he doesn’t know how to drive.

So instead of creating uncertainty, make sure your team is familiar with how to use Kanban properly.

Let’s dig a bit deeper and reveal some of the main reasons that may fail you in implementing Kanban in your work process.

Nobody Explained What Kanban Actually Is About

why kanban

The Kanban method looks simple, but many teams fail very early in their attempt to implement it. Before you begin with Kanban implementation, you need to educate your team about what is going to happen.

Many managers are tempted to use Kanban, because of its popularity without even realizing that it is a whole new world. So before adopting it, explain to your team members what are the main Kanban principles and practices.

*Tip – Main Kanban Implementation Steps:

  1. Visualize your workflow
  2. Limit Work in Progress
  3. Manage the Flow
  4. Make Process Policies Explicit
  5. Implement Feedback Loops
  6. Improve Collaboratively

Explain what are the advantages of using such a system. In doing so, you will avoid future resistance and misconceptions about the positive impact that Kanban actually has on their workflow.

Replacing the Whole Process or When Not to Use Kanban

You may be tempted to present a whole new work process when implementing a Kanban system. But the approach of starting everything from zero may cause you a lot of trouble.

The implementation of a Kanban system is a fundamental change. Such changes generate stress and uncertainty. Those two are the main reasons your team’s productivity and efficiency may drop dramatically. This is the exact opposite of what your goal is.

So, how to implement Kanban?

After all, Kanban is all about continuous improvement. So instead of throwing your current process away, map it on a Kanban board and start improving. By doing so, you will able to identify weak spots in your current workflow and remove them.

This way your team won’t be stressed by future uncertainty and you will be able to achieve higher efficiency much faster.

Nobody Respects the WIP Limits

WIP limits kanban

I am astonished by the number of teams that have already implemented Kanban but still don’t apply WIP limits at all. Recently, I’ve heard a project manager complaining that his team’s workflow is overloaded and tasks are moving very slowly to “done” status.

It appeared that their Kanban board is overcrowded at each stage of the workflow. Guess why. They didn’t apply WIP limits with the implementation of the Kanban system.

Applying WIP limits and respecting them is not just a fancy trend in Kanban project management. It is one of the main practices that ensure your teammates are focused on their current work and process assignments faster. By ignoring work in progress limits, you will miss good opportunities to spot bottlenecks in your work process. It is actually one of the most important Kanban implementation steps.

Keep in mind that applying WIP limits may not work from the very first try. It doesn’t have to discourage you. You need to monitor your workflow constantly and adjust WIP limits until you find the optimal configuration for your team.

You Create a Parallel Universe on the Kanban Board

Here is a major mistake when implementing Kanban. Tasks appear directly to the “done” stage without being pulled from the backlog and going through the workflow. Even worse, they don’t appear at all. I have done this a couple of times when I started using a Kanban tool and it totally confused my teammates.

problem kanban board

So, how to use a Kanban board?

If you have a problem with your Kanban implementation process, keep in mind this simple rule.

Visualize everything you do.

This is the purpose of using a Kanban board. By doing so, every team member will have a clear overview of what is happening and who is working on what. It helps to estimate your team’s work capacity and use it to its maximum level.

By hiding work from the Kanban board, you may receive more work requests without having the capacity to handle them. However, your teammates don’t know this, because the Kanban board sends them positive signals about your availability.

The same applies if you hold tasks on the board without working on them. This way team members think you are busy, so they won’t request additional work from you, while you actually have some free work capacity. In order to avoid these misconceptions, you can schedule daily stand up meetings.

This is the time when every team member needs to share his accomplishments, current tasks, and possible obstacles. It will keep everyone accountable and the whole team will be on the same track.

You Don’t Use the Full Capacity of Kanban

Contemporary Kanban software solutions offer a lot of additional tools that may help you improve productivity and efficiency. Not using them is like ignoring your car’s air conditioner while driving through a 40°C degree desert road. You reach your final destination sweaty and exhausted.

For the first few weeks of your Kanban journey, you can ignore the Kanban metrics tools such as cumulative flow diagram, cycle time histogram and etc. You will anyway need this buffer in order to collect enough data for Kanban planning. After this period, however, you need to start using the data as a foundation for future improvements.

Different analytics tools like Monte Carlo simulations, flow efficiency charts and others will give you the opportunity to spot problematic parts in your workflow and make precise forecasts. The advantage is that it is all based on real data, but not on a gut feeling.

You Want to Squeeze All the Juice Out of Kanban Right Now

I have news for you. It doesn’t work like this. You cannot just go to your team/organization and implement Kanban with all of its features from the very beginning. The Kanban method has 132 distinct sub-practices related to the six core ones. All of them are listed in a maturity model that we advise you to follow. With complexity comes resistance, so start slowly. Take this into account.

kanban steps

It should be a step-by-step process. Recently, I had a talk with one of our successful clients. He assured me that the right implementation of a Kanban system is pretty simple. I asked him how he did it with his team and the answer was “Bit by bit. First, I introduced the board. Then the limits. After a few weeks the swimlanes. And so on.”

We all want to eat the whole cake at once, but then we have a terrible stomach ache. It is the same when you try to implement Kanban. Do it bit by bit and you won’t have problems with Kanban.

So Why Kanban Didn’t Work for You?

Realizing the full capacity of Kanban is not as easy as it may seem. After all, it is a complicated system with a great variety of features and tools. However, if you make the effort to discover all the treasures it hides, you may be able to achieve amazing levels of productivity and efficiency.

If you are new to the Kanban method, get familiar with basics before digging deeper. If you think you are advanced, exit your comfort zone and keep learning. After all, Kanban is all about continuous improvement and if you ignore it, you may also fail with Kanban implementation as many others.

Big success starts with small steps. Get started with Kanban the right way using our free Kanban board presets:

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2 thoughts on “6 Reasons You May Fail with Kanban Implementation

  1. Sheila Mitchell

    Some cards in our system got moved to ARCHIVE by mistake – how can we return them to an active board (Under Test)?

    1. Alex Novkov

      Hi Sheila,

      To restore the cards from the Permanent Archive, you need to locate the using the search button on top of your Archive column. Afterward, you just have to select “unarchive” as an action for the specific card that you want to bring back on the board.

      For a more detailed walkthrough of the process, please read the following article: How to archive and unarchive cards.


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