Kanban in a Nutshell

Kanban method as formulated by David J. Anderson is an approach to incremental, evolutionary process and systems change for organizations. It uses a work-in-progress limited pull system as the core mechanism to expose system operation (or process) problems and stimulate collaboration to continuously improve the system. One example of such a pull system is a Kanban system, and it is after this popular form of a work-in-progress, limited pull system that the method is named.

Basic Kanban principles

The Kanban method is rooted in four basic principles:

1. The Kanban method starts with the roles and processes you have and stimulates continuous, incremental and evolutionary changes to your system.

2. The organization (or team) must agree that continuous, incremental and evolutionary change is the way to make system improvements and make them stick. Sweeping changes may seem more effective but have a higher failure rate due to resistance and fear in the organization. The Kanban method encourages continuous small incremental and evolutionary changes to your current system.

3. We need to facilitate future change by agreeing to respect current roles, responsibilities and job titles we eliminate initial fears. This should enable us to gain broader support for our Kanban initiative.

4. Acts of leadership at all levels in the organization from individual contributors to senior management should be encouraged.

Kanban – 5 core practices

David Anderson identified five core properties that had been observed in each successful implementation of the Kanban method. They were later relabeled as practices and extended with the addition of a sixth.

1. Visualize

Visualizing the flow of work and making it visible is core to understanding how work proceeds. Without understanding the workflow, making the right changes is more difficult. A common way to visualize the workflow is to use a board with columns and swimlanes. The columns represent different states or steps in the workflow while horizontal swimlanes may indicate different project, department, person or priority.

2. Limit Work-in-Progress

Limiting work-in-progress implies that a pull system is implemented on parts or all of the workflow. The pull system will act as one of the main stimuli for changes to your system.

3. Manage the work flow

The flow of work through each state in the workflow should be monitored, measured and reported. By actively managing the flow the continuous, incremental and evolutionary changes to the system can be evaluated to have positive or negative effects on the system.

4. Make Process Policies Explicit

Set your own rules and guidelines of your work. Understand your needs and make sure everyone follow these rules. The policies will define when and why a ticket is moved from one column to another. Change the rules when work variables change.

5. Use models to recognize improvement opportunities

When teams have a shared understanding of theories about work, workflow, process, and risk, they are more likely to be able to build a shared comprehension of a problem and suggest improvement actions which can be agreed by consensus.