What is Kanban?
Kanban began as a pull-driven manufacturing system inspired by the Toyota Production System and Lean methodology:
- Kanban was formulated as a set of software development practices by David J. Anderson
- Work is demand-driven and resources to complete the work are pulled into use only as they are needed
- Systems and processes are continually improved
- Bottlenecks in processes are identified and resources applied to relieve them
The Four Principles of Kanban
- Start with what you do now
- As a team, we all agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change
- Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities, and titles
- Leadership at all levels
Start With What You Do Now
Kanban does not specify any particular roles, processes, activities or measurements – it starts with existing practice and focuses on generating continuous and iterative improvement to those practices over time.
Agree to Pursue Incremental, Evolutionary Change
Large scale changes are risky and are generally met with a high level of resistance within the organisation. Kanban takes a different approach, by focusing on making small incremental changes again and again to drive improvements and efficiencies to processes and services over time.
Respect Current Process, Roles, Responsibilities and Titles
In general, the primary reason for resistance to change is fear. Most processes have good elements to them, so Kanban aims to preserve the good bits but improve the bad bits, making better or more efficient.
Leadership at All Levels
Anyone and everyone can identify opportunities for improvements, and all roles at all levels are responsible for driving improvements through the organisation.
The Six Core Practices of Kanban
Workflows are generally difficult to observer, particularly with knowledge workers. Kanban approaches this problem by making use of signboards, which are designed to make the workflow and work-in-progress visible to the entire team.
Too much work-in-progress causes organisational overload, task switching, confusion and project failure. To avoid some of these problems, Kanban focuses on the high-value tasks first and also limits the work-in-progress so work is only pulled in when there is capacity to actually do the work.
Kanban emphasizes the need to monitor and manage the workflow as it moves through the organisation, which also helps to show whether any incremental changes that have been made have led to improvements or not.
Make Policies Explicit
In Kanban, processes need to be explicitly defined so that people know what they are supposed to be doing. This allows rational discussions around processes and systems, and a higher likelihood that any suggested improvements will be accepted by the whole team.
Implement Regular Feedback Loops
Collaboration is essential to review products and processes, so feedback is needed to discuss the flow of work, demand, capacity planning and agree metrics and indicators. Frequent operations reviews are used to drive change, with a focus on the processes to be improved.
Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally
Kanban focuses heavily on small, iterative improvements and builds a shared understanding of the workflow and processes.