What is Kanban

Kanban is a method for visualising, managing and improving a workflow.   It comes from Japanese Lean Manufacturing, but is now increasingly used in services, knowledge, and software development industries.

Is Kanban Agile?

Strictly speaking, no.  Kanban started way before Agile and came from manufacturing rather than software development.   Many of the underlying principles of Kanban and similar to Agile principles however, and many Agile coaches use Kanban as one of their tools.  Visualisation of work, collaboration/communication, feedback loops (inspect/adapt), experimentation, empowering and self-organised teams are concepts shared across both Agile and Kanban.

What are the fundamental Kanban principles?

4 Principles

  1. Start with what you do now
  2. Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change
  3. Respect the current process,roles, responsibilities and titles
  4. Encourage acts of leadership at all levels

When should I use Kanban?

An Agile framework like Scrum is very useful for product/software development teams where the work changes frequently, there is a high degree of innovation and the team is working (usually) on a single product/system.   Kanban is useful for teams that have repetitive work that doesn’t change much from week to week, day to day. Examples might be a call centre, recruitment, purchasing departments. Work is repeated and high volume. Kanban can be used to improve flow by identifying and removing bottlenecks (where work gets bunched up and slows down) and blockers (which stop the work and prevent it from moving to the next stage in the process).

Advantages of Kanban

Kanban is easy to start and to learn.  “Start from where you are”. You don’t have to create new roles or change the current way of working.   Teams can pick up new ways of thinking gradually and continue to improve once they understand and apply the principles.   Kanban has simple metrics so you can visualise and monitor your work improvements.

5 properties/practices of Kanban

5 Core Properties

  1. Visualize the workflow
  2. Limit WIP
  3. Manage flow
  4. Make Process Policies Explicit
  5. Improve Collaboratively

How do I start to use Kanban

  • Get your team to map your existing flow/way of work, exactly as it currently is on a Kanban board.
  • Ensure that your team understands the Kanban basics.
  • Each day, have a standup to get your team to move cards, identify bottlenecks/blockers and consider how to improve the flow
  • Empower the team to try new things, change the flow, to reduce bottlenecks
  • Use simple metrics to monitor how these changes improve the flow (or not)

Sample Kanban Board

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