On this subject we have the pleasure to talk to Alex Novkov, the content lead of Kanbanize, who is seasoned Kanban practitioner and has dedicated his time to educating the world how to be more efficient.
One of the strongest advantages of the Kanban workflow is its efficiency. Teams have the necessary information to prioritize and pull work and complete tasks with little need for manual oversight, or repetitive status updates and progress reports, keeping them working on what they are good at.
In addition, roadblocks are visualized early and transparently, so teams and managers have the time and resources available to focus on solutions and proactively prevent delivery problems.
Kanban is flexible and adaptable enough to smoothly implement those solutions without implementing a whole new system. In fact, Kanban is flexible enough that you can try solutions and occasionally fail as taking risks is a key component of continuous improvement.
Lean management focuses on continuous improvement, and visualizing your workflow with the help of Kanban is integral to this iterative process of continually removing waste, improving efficiency, learning, and adapting. These activities are critical for businesses to survive in our rapidly changing social, economic, and technological environment.
Kanban is a stable foundation for achieving continuous improvement, because the nature of the system requires tasks and processes to be transparent, explicit, and people to take ownership of their part of the workflow.
When the workplace is seen as an organism that flows, instead of a machine that grinds, it becomes easier to visualize and address anything that impedes the flow.
Once your workflow is running and work is moving through the system, continuous process improvement begins immediately.
When starting with Kanban, you need to aim for increasing the efficiency of your process while reducing the number of wasteful activities (such that don’t bring direct value to your customer)
“Waste” is a Lean term that originated in manufacturing, but is also applicable to knowledge and service work. The 7 categories of waste are:
- Defects: The end product is faulty or out of spec, requiring resources to fix or correct
- Overproduction: Making more of a product or process than necessary or required
- Waiting: Tasks or teams that are idle while waiting for precursor tasks or steps to be completed
- Transportation: Moving product or information more than is necessary
- Inventory: Inventory, information, or tasks that are not actively being used or processed
- Motion: In manufacturing, this is unnecessary body motion. In knowledge work, it is often interpreted as excess time spent searching for needed information
- Over-Processing: Doing more work than required to complete a task
Regardless of your industry, evaluate your workflow and look for waste. Do people have the necessary information at hand when they start working on a task? Are there delays in handoffs or approvals? Is the work frequently rejected or revised? Are people idle due to delays in other processes? Is there a large backlog of un-addressed work or tasks?
Using Kanban to reduce waste
Kanban is a highly effective method to reduce the waste in your processes. It naturally decreases idle time and focuses on continuous delivery, helping to eliminate the waste of every process due to the fact that:
- Projects are managed by a pull system. When tasks are “pulled” by demand, it reduces overproduction and helps control inventory and over-processing
- Limiting work-in-progress allows teams to focus on only a small number (1-2, no more than 3) tasks at a time. This focus and attention reduces defects and increases engagement
- Visualizing the steps of your process on a Kanban board allows managers to allocate resources to backlogged tasks and away from excess inventory
- Reduce wait time is easier, because contingent tasks or steps are visualized and can be addressed before delays are incurred
Other means of reducing waste
- Worflow automation. Evaluate repetitive tasks and look for opportunities to eliminate or automate them
- Cultivate your team. Aligning your team with the goal of process improvement helps you gain valuable insight into current wasted resources. Educating and empowering them to identify and eliminate waste is not only effective, it encourages communication and engagement
Continuous Improvement of Efficiency
Improved efficiency is a natural outcome of removing waste, but to keep the momentum and achieve continuous process improvement, you need to maintain a smooth, uninterrupted flow of work from beginning to end. Areas to evaluate for efficiency are:
- Staff. Do we have exactly as many people as we need to do the work?
- Resources. Does all staff have the equipment, training, or information necessary to do the work correctly, consistently, and efficiently?
- Lag time. Does work move smoothly from person to person, team to team, department to department just as it is required, with no waste?
- Over-communication. Are people spending a lot of time communicating or reporting on the status of projects or tasks? Does communication frequently need to be repeated? Are meetings too long, do they start late, do they have effective outcomes?
- Scope, schedule, and requirements. Do tasks and projects tend to change over time, to grow in scope, change in schedule, or shift in requirements? Does your team struggle to get work approved or to meet their deadlines?
Improving efficiency not only reduces costs, but it affects employee satisfaction. Therefore you need to be vigilant whether your team members have everything needed to do their job efficiently. Make sure they aren’t bogged down in repetitive tasks, unproductive meetings, or waiting idly for a new task or a delayed approval.
Using Kanban to improve efficiency
- Using kanban boards increases efficiency by communicating visually rather than textually, so that real-time information is always immediately accessible and understandable to all stakeholders
- A kanban board visually communicates the status of tasks and projects, reducing the amount of time spent on requesting, creating, or delivering status reports
- Visualizes delays or roadblocks, allowing you to anticipate and adapt to maintain efficient flow
- Kanban reflects changing needs or priorities and disseminates new information, reducing time spent communicating scope changes
- Identifies and speeds up approval points to keep processes running smoothly
Other means of improving efficiency
- Daily stand-ups. Having brief, daily meetings with the team maintains connectedness and alignment toward shared goals, smooths communication, and facilitates problem-solving environment. Keep the meetings brief and on-topic
- Ongoing education. Devoting your time to learning about best practices, new software, and innovative techniques not only keeps your skills sharp, but may pay off in new ways to improve workflow and efficiency. Pursue learning opportunities yourself, and encourage staff and peers to do the same
Continuous process improvement with Kanban
For managers seeking continuous improvement with Kanban, there are four important metrics to track:
- Throughput: The total number of cards completed in the reporting period
- Lead time: The amount of time a card spends on your board from being requested to reaching the done column
- Cycle time: The amount of time a card spends in progress
- Blocked time: The amount of time a card spends in a blocked state
- Wait time: The amount of time a card spends waiting on something
Whether you assess your metrics weekly or monthly, it’s important to take a concrete measure of the workflow in order to track changes over time. In your records, note also what process improvements or changes were made in the interim, so that you can measure results.
Using Kanban makes these metrics easy to capture and compare, rather than relying on calendars, emails, or to-do lists. Kanban is the ideal tool to implement and track continuous process improvement, as your workflow evolves and becomes more refined.
The system works at any scale or level of complexity, and consistently improves communication and outcomes, while being flexible enough to adapt to your needs now and into the future.
It will probably never be possible to achieve an entirely waste-free, efficient workflow, which is why Kanban is designed for continuous, ongoing refinement and improvement. Furthermore, in today’s workplace, where technologic, economic, and social change is the norm, the perfect process you develop today may not be the optimal process tomorrow.
Adopt an approach of continuous improvement and use Kanban to reduce waste, promote efficiency, and measure outcomes.
Alex Novkov is the content lead of Kanbanize, a company developing Kanban software. Seasoned Kanban practitioner, Alex has dedicated his time to educating the world how to be more efficient.
Related Posts (in Spanish):
- 5 grupos de problemas que puedes resolver mediante Lean-Kanban
- Analíticas Lean Kanban: Gestión de proyectos pragmática
- Los principios de gestión de proyecto que (casi) nadie enseña
- Se trata de hacer el trabajo fluir, estúpido