The only email crash course you need to get started with Kanban. You will learn how to reduce bottlenecks, visualize workflows, and get more done with the help of the Kanban method.
Kanban is a workflow management method that helps organizations manage and improve work systems. Learn how to visualize work and improve efficiency with Kanban.
Kanban is a popular Lean workflow management method for defining, managing, and improving services that deliver knowledge work. It helps you visualize work, maximize efficiency, and improve continuously. Work is represented on Kanban boards, allowing you to optimize work delivery across multiple teams and handle even the most complex projects in a single environment.
Originating from manufacturing, it later became a territory claimed by Agile software development teams. Recently, it started getting recognized by business units across various industries.
As more and more people hear about Kanban, multiple questions arise:
Here are the most important things you need to know about the method and its practical application.
The Japanese word “kanban”, meaning “visual board” or a “sign”, has been used in the sense of a process definition since the 1950s. It was first developed and applied by Toyota as a scheduling system for just-in-time manufacturing. On the other hand, the capitalized term “Kanban” is known and associated with the emergence of the “Kanban Method,” which was first defined in 2007.
Initially, it arose as a scheduling system for lean manufacturing, originating from the Toyota Production System (TPS). In the late 1940s, Toyota introduced “just in time” manufacturing to its production. The approach represents a pull system. This means that production is based on customer demand rather than the standard push practice of producing goods and pushing them to the market.
Their unique production system laid the foundation of Lean manufacturing or simply Lean. Its core purpose is minimizing waste activities without sacrificing productivity. The main goal is to create more value for the customer without generating more costs.
The original Kanban System, Source: TOYOTA Global Website
At the beginning of the 21st Century, key players in the software industry quickly realized how Kanban could positively change the way products and services were delivered.
With an increased focus on efficiency and by harnessing advances in computing technology, Kanban left the automotive industry's realm and was successfully applied to other complex commercial sectors such as IT, software development, R&D, and others.
Indeed, what we now recognize as the Kanban Method emerged at the beginning of 2007. It is a result of years of testing, experience, and joint efforts of leading figures in the Lean and Agile community, including David Anderson, Dan Vacanti, Darren Davis, Corey Ladas, Dominica DeGrandis, Rick Garber, and others.
You can start building your Kanban system by setting up the most straightforward Kanban board with three basic columns – “Requested”, “In Progress” and “Done”. When constructed, managed, and functioning correctly, it serves as a real-time information repository, highlighting bottlenecks within the system and anything else that might interrupt smooth working practices.
Let’s discover more about the fundamental Kanban principles and practices.
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The Kanban method is based on six foundational change management and service delivery.
For a successful Kanban implementation, the method relies on six essential practices:
According to the 1st State of Kanban report, the leading reasons for adopting the Kanban method are the need for enhanced visibility of work and continuous improvement. Let’s reveal some more of the benefits of using Kanban today.
Image Credit: State of Kanban
The basic idea of Kanban is visualizing every piece of work. This way, the Kanban board turns into a central informational hub, and everyone is on the same page. All tasks are visible, and they never get lost, which brings transparency to the whole work process. Every team member can have a quick update on the status of every project or task.
Kanban offers multiple ways for project managers to closely monitor and make informed analyses of the distribution of work. With a clear view over the work items completed for a certain period of time, the stages where tasks spend the longest, and bottlenecks are easy to identify. Teams are enabled to tackle these challenges to improve their workflow and, ultimately, their delivery rate.
Promoting transparency, encouraging feedback, and regular review meetings, Kanban practices enable aligning the company’s strategic goals with teams' day-to-day work. This alignment between the business direction and execution enhances the agility of an organization. It allows teams to adapt to changing priorities and reorganizations due to changes in the market or customers’ requirements.
Once you create a Kanban board and start accumulating work items on it, you’ll be able to understand your process in depth with flow metrics. Analyzing the time tasks spend in your workflow (cycle time) will enable you to improve your predictions on how much work you can deliver in the future. Understanding your delivery rate consistency (throughput) will make your forecasts more accurate and your decisions based on historical data.
The intrinsic Kanban practice of visualization is also applied when it comes to mapping and managing dependencies. Starting with what you do now means visualizing the present dependencies and managing the flow between them. Managing dependencies provides both insights into the present state of a workflow and ideas for improvement. On the other hand, it also enables full transparency for strategic management over the workflow and the existing links between teams.
The origin of the Kanban method - the pull system it is based on implies that work is done when there’s a demand. In other words, Kanban navigates you to reduce waste by working solely on tasks that are needed at present. Furthermore, by applying visualization techniques and introducing work-in-progress limits to the process, you will ensure that the end result is fine-tuned to your customer’s expectations.
The most important difference between Kanban and Scrum is that the former is a method, while the latter is a framework. As an Agile methodology, Kanban builds a continuous delivery model where teams release value as soon as they are ready, while Scrum organizes work in Sprints. Applying either one depends on the nature of your process, however, it can be said that Kanban offers a more tailor-made approach while Scrum relies on predetermined rules. Another key distinguishing characteristic between the two is the mindset and founding belief systems of Scrum and Kanban.
|Nature||Kanban is an adaptive method||Scrum is a prescriptive framework|
|Principles||1. Start with what you do now
2. Agree to pursue evolutionary change
3. Encourage acts of leadership at all levels
4. Focus on customer’s needs
5. Manage the work
6. Regularly review the network of services
|Cadences||- Team-level cadences
- Service-oriented cadences
|- Sprint with a fixed length
- Sprint planning
- Daily Scrum
- Sprint Review
- Sprint Retrospective
|Roles||- Service Delivery Manager*
- Service Request Manager*
(*no pre-defined roles are required)
|- Product Owner
- Scrum Master
- Development Team
|Metrics||- Cycle Time
- Work In Progress
- Planned Capacity
By nature, Kanban is an adaptive methodology meaning that it's applicable at all organizational layers. You can use connected Kanban boards to map the management of your portfolios and connect strategy to execution. With the help of the Portfolio Kanban concept, organizations can reap the benefits of Kanban's principles and practices across multiple management levels.
The Portfolio Kanban approach can be used in four different forms:
Portfolio Kanban Scheme
At its core, Kanban is a work method that helps you optimize the flow of value through your value streams from ideation to customer. Although it looks like an easy way to improve your work processes, Kanban is more than visualizing your work. You need to pay attention to detail and get familiar with the basic Kanban terms and artifacts if you want to benefit from applying the method.
Here is a short Kanban glossary that will help you get started.
A Kanban system is more than sticky notes on the wall. The easiest way to understand Kanban is to embrace its philosophy and apply it to your daily work. If you read, understand, and resonate with its core principles, the practical transition would seem logical and even inevitable.
Visualizing workflow, setting WIP limits, managing flow, ensuring explicit policies, and continuously improving will take your process far beyond what you could think. Remember to organize regular feedback loops, and all these pieces together will reveal Kanban's real power.
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