10 Things You Should Know About Kanban

click any topic to learn more

1) Every Kanban system is unique

Each organization is unique, so Kanban does not propose a “one size fits all” approach to the work.  Kanban allows the organization to do an honest evaluation of the way it works: the level of demand for work to be done; how the workers deliver on that demand; the rules for when the work is started and how it is handled;  the constraints and dependencies; and ultimately, whether the internal and external customers are satisfied.

2) Kanban is about focus and flow

Predictability requires steady and consistent behavior.  How do you accomplish that in professional services work where there is a high variation and high risk?  Lean Kanban courses teach many approaches to achieving and measuring flow and with flow comes predictability.  Flow also means happier customers.  Kanban limits the amount of work in progress so the most important work is finished first and more gets done overall, all at a sustainable pace without adding staff or budget.

3) Kanban is about evolutionary change -- not revolutionary

The Kanban system starts with simply mirrors the current way work is done.  Then pain points are identified.  Small changes are made to address only those issues.  Small, gradual changes mean a smooth process that gets big results without trauma.

4) Kanban is committed to agility

While Kanban can work with timeboxed iterations, Kanban is primarily a flow-based system. It optimizes coordination and communication so work can flow more smoothly.  Its managed commitment points and limits on the amount of work in progress assures a focus on the most important work. If market conditions change, Kanban has the super flexibility to shift the selected work.

5) Kanban is grounded in reality

While other systems seem to support wishful thinking and guesses, Kanban is big on measurement, validation, and facts about actual performance. The Kanban Method incorporates the scientific method. When a problem or deficiency is detected, an experiment can be tried through a deliberate process. Most importantly, with Kanban we acknowledge the current reality (including problems) without finger-pointing and instead focus on how the entire system can improve.

6) Kanban is a living system

The Kanban Method is designed to be expanded and extended.  Kanban enthusiasts and thought leaders worldwide have developed new techniques that have resulted in a vast body of knowledge.  Kanban approaches now cover topics like product validation, portfolio management, depth charting, capacity allocation, motivational models and much more.  Kanban is continually modified and extended in collaboration with the broad Kanban community.

7) Kanban is a risk management method

Using Kanban, an organization can look at its current work and develop a risk profile.  What are the associated risks for the different types of work?  What does this mean for how the work is handled?  Because of Kanban’s attention to feedback loops and measurement, there is quick validation of results and performance in high risk areas.   As a side benefit, Kanban’s handling of risk is so easy and comfortable that workers at all levels can start thinking in terms of organizational risk when they make decisions.

8) Kanban balances demand with capability

Demand, the request to do work, can be managed!  We call this “shaping demand.”  There are several methods we teach to improve how work requests are handled.  We also have ways of reducing delay and other factors that eat into productivity. The Kanban Method specifically addresses the challenges of professional services work including the high variation environment of technology businesses.

9) Kanban isn’t only for software development or IT

Kanban works for all professional services, which are organizations that produce work that is NOT a physical item.  The delivered work might be digital or it might be a service.

Organizations using Kanban include: education, legal, sales, marketing, HR, design, media, film production, military, customer support, financial, research, insurance, government agencies, and many more.

10) Kanban works at scale

Large organizations are using Kanban with thousands of employees, enterprise wide, including many remote offices.  Lean Kanban offers a recommended approach to scaled Kanban called Enterprise Services Planning. Rather than creating a giant master board, Enterprise Services Planning scales by connecting many separate kanban systems.