Author: Berriprocess Agility

Upgrading your project management process step by step with KMM

Nowadays nobody doubts that adopting an agile approach to project management is the only way to survive and thrive. In the previous article “3 Kanban tactics for taking control over your projects and increase organizational agility in less than a year” we describe what Kanban practices you can integrate in your management routines to achieve greater organizational agility; namely, to make your organization work aligned around a purpose, respond rapidly and adequately to changes in your projects, resolve obstacles quickly, meet deadlines and customer requirements continually and in a sustainable manner.

The Kanban Project and Portfolio Management poster visualizes how your project and portfolio management practices develop together with the capabilities of your organization. The steps we describe follow the Kanban Maturity Model  – a guiding map for companies who seek a gradual approach to greater agility and resilience.

Let us see them in some more details.

ML1 Team Focused – Get visibility and coordination of teamwork

ML1 diagram
A ML1 organization is focused on developing the skills of the teams to work transparently and collaboratively on their assignments.

Visualize development flows

If the entire team is working on a given project, the team board visualizes the state of the modules (deliverables/ features) that are part of the project. In case that different specialist teams are involved in the project, e.g. industrial engineers, software developers, and mechanics, the Deliverable board visualizes the state of work conducted by a given specialist team, and a Project/ Product level board would be used to visualize the overall state of all project deliverables.

As maturity increases organizations start using a Multi-project board at which each ticket represents a project. In addition, the horizontal and vertical axes of the In Progress area are used to visualize how close a project is to delivery (horizontal axis) and to its due date (vertical axis).

Feedback loops

Teams at a ML1 organization typically make daily Kanban and periodic retrospective meetings. The Project/Product managers conduct project monitoring and planning meetings, usually weekly or bi-weekly. Team Leads or entire teams take part in them. On a regular basis the Project/Product Manager participates in a Multi-project monitoring (status) meeting.

Feedback loops ML1


Flow-related metrics are not typically used at ML1.


The visibility in the teamwork, the agreed initial policies for doing the work, and the feedback obtained at regular short time intervals are all essential elements to improve team coordination and performance.

Nevertheless, from customers perspective, the product quality and its on-time delivery depend completely on the skills, motivation and the ability of the team to handle the issues and changes that appear in the course of the project development. Some teams would manage to fulfil their customer requirements, even if this requires extra effort and long working hours. However, many will suffer from unexpected problems, or dependencies on other teams or suppliers. Therefore, customers typically see a ML1 organization as unpredictable and unreliable. From inside, team members often complain from overburdening and inability to cope with changing priorities and meet project deadlines and budget requirements.


ML2 Customer-Driven – See end-to-end project workflow; Start cutting sources of delay

ML2 Diagram

At ML2 you connect teams, visualize and manage the end-to-end project workflow, define and handle appropriately different customer demand, and you take the first actions to reduce delays and budget overruns.

Visualize and manage  development flows

The In-Progress area on the team kanban board shows the stages of the process. This gives you instant information about the progress of each work item. In addition, teams start visualizing blockers, rework and work item aging. Thus, they resolve project issues quickly and hence reduce delays and extra costs.

Having visibility in the state of work and the impediments in the workflow at team, project and multi-project level provides you valuable feedback for planning and making decisions related to any issue that affects a single or several projects. Teams get better in coordinating their activities across projects and develop stronger understanding of the customer. Using a tool like Kanbanize, will give you this information in real time, that is the entire project team will be quickly aware of the actual situation of the project and will be able to propose appropriate actions.


Flow-related data supplies useful information about the real capability of the system, the characteristics and the volume of the demand. You get a quantitative understanding of how much it really takes you to develop a deliverable of certain type (e.g. component, documentation, incident), or an entire project. This is the objective input you need to get better in estimating and scheduling.

You also become aware of the impact of blockages and dependencies on others on the completion of project deadlines and budget. This deeper understanding of your process motivates the introduction of basic policies for managing work across states, teams and business units. You also come to establishing common criteria for prioritizing work considering the customer needs and the capability of the system (compound of the people and machines that develop the project work).

Understanding the causes for the blockers and their impact on the project delivery time and budget is the first step to introducing effective risk management too. Your organization can already think of how to prevent at least the most frequently occurring sources of delays and budget overruns.

If you seriously aspire to see that your projects meet their schedule and budget constraints, your teams are capable to adequately respond to changes in customer requirements, and achieve this consistently, ML2 is your starting point.

Only in very large organizations or complex projects with long life cycle you might need to start from ML1. In any case, if your problem is long project delivery times, you have to know what impedes project progress while time keeps running, and you have to learn to manage these issues. If you lack visibility in the state of the project work, you should visualize all aspects of the work you carry on and make sure that thisinformation is available in real time. If your customers complain from delays, you have to know how much it really takes you to deliver a given type of work. Not how much time you estimate, but how much it really takes, including all the interruptions and time for rework, i.e. from the moment you start working on it until it is finally delivered to the customer.

Metrics ML2

Feedback loops

The focus on managing the end-to-end project workflow, the usage of flow-related metrics, and the better understanding of your customer demand and system (team/organization) capabilities define the topics for your meetings and reviews. As a result, you take control on your projects, improve the cross-team communication and coordination, and see that project delays and budget overruns get reduced.

Feedback loops ML2

You and your people can make it. You desire to deliver projects on time, see customers happy and feel that you keep under control everything you do as a team, as an organization. You are the people who best understand your work. You have the guidelines and tools for putting the right practices in place. And you all are going to be proud and happier working in an organization that values the understanding of your customers, maintaining steady and sustainable flow, obtaining fast data-and-facts feedback, react quickly and adequately to changes and learn systematically from your processes and experience. Take initiative. Make your project work flow.


ML3 Fit-for-purpose – Balance workflow across project/product lines

ML3 diagram
ML3 builds on what you have developed at ML2. At ML3 you get full control on your projects thanks to several key practices:

Visualize and manage development flows

  • You start using full kanban systems with agreed criteria for accepting and managing work items, and this helps creating a sustainable and predictable flow.
  • You use triage and class of service policies that allow you to shape demand, making sure that all customer expectations are met and you have acquired the desired flexibility to adapt to unexpected changes in the project context.
  • You visualize parent-child and pair-to-pair dependencies and use their understanding to make appropriate decisions at all levels. You can adjust the practices for managing internal dependencies and apply them  to managing your suppliers and reduce the uncertainty in subcontracting part of the project work.
  • You get a deeper understanding of your processes, their transaction and coordination cost, the cost of defects, cost of delay and flow efficiency. This allows you to start defining pragmatic actions to see improvement in economic results.


  • Your workflow is stable and your flow-related data allow you to rely on your schedule and respond with confidence to customer questions about delivery time.
  • You introduce additional metrics that help you identify process improvements that will increase flow efficiency, product quality and economic results
  • You define and use KPIs to make sure you manage well your customer expectations
  • You use indicators of organizational health to ensure long-term sustainability of the adopted practices and cultural values

Feedback loops

  • The communication across the entire organization is seamless and fast. Teams and business units act in an aligned manner.
  • All feedback from the kanban boards, data analysis and system reviews is used for making informed decisions.

Feedback loops ML3


  • You get better at addressing risks and responding to uncertainty thanks to your deeper understanding of how your organization works as a system, your real capability, what your customers expect and how the market behaves.
  • Your purpose-driven culture is sustained by effective practices and tools and together they strengthen your business outcomes.
  • Your customers are happy because you adjust rapidly to changes in their requirements and deliver good product quality on time
  • Your people appreciate that “they can go home with no worries because the process is under control and they know where to continue from the next day” (words of a client of ours)


ML4 Risk-Hedged – Improve project portfolio economics

At ML4 you will visualize better dynamic capacity allocation to take more control on your project portfolio. You improve your risk identification, analysis and prevention skills. In addition, you will take advantage from your deep understanding of your critical processes to eliminate waste and improve process efficiency. Altogether, you will achieve greater economic results that will allow you to develop further your market leadership and ability to reinvent.

The vast majority of organizations are still at maturity level 1, some approaching ML2 or heading towards ML3. Therefore, and for the sake of article length, we are going to get deeper into ML4 in future articles.



Resuming, Kanban is your ally for getting your projects under control. It does not substitute your project management method. However, you can upgrade your project management routines with Kanban practices to address effectively the problems you face in daily basis.

Do not put your projects at risk trying to introduce drastic changes to your management practices at once. Follow the evolutionary approach of the Kanban Maturity Model to achieve improvements gradually, avoiding resistance to change.

Enterprise culture evolves together with the management skills and maturity. Read more about this aspect of organizational development in Kanban Maturity Model – Start Change With Heart.


Teodora Bozheva
Accredited Kanban Trainer & Consultant
Co-author of the Kanban Maturity Model


Related posts:

P.S. Follow us for more pragmatic guidance on developing agility of project organizations.

3 Kanban tactics for taking control over your projects and increase organizational agility in less than a year

It is crucial for us to complete our project milestones. We cannot afford any delay.
We must have our projects under control.

– PMO Director of a large company

This is what a PMO Director of a large industrial company told me recently in a conversation regarding their approach to project and portfolio management.

I myself used to manage software development projects and I have been consulting project companies for more than 15 years. Time passes but we keep seeing the following problems in the organizations:

  • Lack of visibility in project work status
  • Late identification of problems and risks and therefore, late reaction
  • Project delays and budget overruns
  • Lack of coordination between project teams
  • Frequently changing priorities and inability to respond to them
  • Wrong estimates, lack of predictability
  • Low product quality, lots of defects and rework
  • Customers requesting better products and services
  • Too much effort needed for obtaining project status information, re-planning, etc.

I am pretty sure you recognize at least some of these challenges and you seek a way to resolve the daily project issues rapidly, so that you can dedicate more time to developing your business. Furthermore, you wish to make space in your daily routine for doing sport, spending time with your family, and have enough sleep… Understandable desires!

Visualize your project team(s) working in a well-coordinated manner. Visualize your organization working in harmony. Visualize your customers happy after receiving the right information about the status of their project and eventually obtaining the requested product or service on time. Visualize yourself focused on how to grow the business and also having enough energy for your leisure time.

Integrating Kanban practices in your project management methodology can take you to what you aspire. This does not mean that you have to make a radical change in your project management.

Managing projects and portfolio with Kanban is not about substituting your project management method with a new one. It is about complementing it with Kanban practices that help you cope with the most painful management problems.

A number of companies have used Kanban to obtain visibility in the real status of their projects, establish clear priorities, align business units, speed up delivery of customer value, achieve smooth and predictable workflow, and develop a culture of transparency, collaboration and focus on business purpose. You can find the case studies of some of these companies on our web site. Making the right steps they saw improvements in less than a year.


3 Kanban tactics for taking control over your projects

The Kanban Project and Portfolio Management poster resumes the three essential routines that will take you and your organization to your aim:

  • Visualize and manage development flows
  • Feedback loops – Introduce the right feedback in your project and portfolio meetings
  • Metrics – Use the right metrics and process understanding for managing the project flow

Using kanban boards to visualize the development flows at every level at which you take decisions brings awareness of the actual status of the project work. Signaling priorities, blockers, rework, capacity and real workload of your teams (system) alert you about risks of delay, overburdening or unsatisfiable product quality. You need this feedback on-time to be able to resolve issues quickly and effectively correct the course of your project towards its deadline.

However, visualization only will not resolve all the challenges in your project management. Although visual boards show important aspects of your work, you will also need data to manage project progress and achieve predictable and balanced flow of results.

The flow-related metrics and data will help you answer questions such as how long does it take us to develop a work item of type A (e.g. a plan, a component, a feature)? What is the impact of a given blocking issue on the project delivery time and budget? With the current capability and workload when do we expect to start and deliver a certain project?

For sure, your project management process includes periodic work reviewing and planning meetings. The Kanban cadences incorporate the systems thinking approach to managing work across the entire organization and seeing work in progress as inventory, even if it is invisible knowledge work. They are focused on providing frequent feedback about unforeseen events, changes to project requirements and/or priorities, system capability, and impact of internal and external dependencies. Integrating them with your current project meetings allows you to make coherent decisions and re-align the team(s) and the organization around project objectives and/or strategic goals.

Overall, ingraining these 3 Kanban tactics in your project management routines strengthen the abilities of your organization to work aligned around a purpose, respond rapidly and adequately to changes in your projects, resolve obstacles quickly, meet deadlines and customer requirements continually. Briefly, they develop your organizational agility.


An evolutionary approach to upgrading your way of project management

As said before, you do not impose new habits all of a sudden. Evolving from where you are to where you aspire to be is a journey. A number of organizations have experienced it and we know the potential barriers on it as well as how to overcome them.

Evolutionary approach diagram

The Kanban Maturity Model (KMM) provides guidance that help you avoid drawbacks and ensure a smooth and inspirational progress of your transformation.

The KMM defines 7 levels of organizational maturity. With respect to project management, maturity level 0 refers to cases when an individual manages their own project work. Organizations typically start from introducing practices for managing team work (maturity level 1, ML1). Then, continue with coordinating one or more teams in an end-to-end project workflow (ML2). ML3 is about aligning several project/product and service lines and balancing the workflows across them in order to continually meet customer expectations in a sustainable manner. ML4 organizations develop strong skills in risk hedging, flow efficiency optimization, dynamic capacity allocation and portfolio management. Therefore, they achieve improved economic results while keeping high level of customer and stakeholder satisfaction. ML5&6 are about building culture and skills for market leadership, congruence, and reinvention.

At each level appropriate Kanban practices are combined with relevant cultural values to ensure that the achieved improvements in the management abilities, organizational culture and business outcomes last long.

Download the Kanban Project and Portfolio poster. It visualizes how your project and portfolio management practices develop together with the evolution of your organization.

Read Upgrading your project management method step by step with the KMM for more details and insights.

Follow us to learn more about developing agility of project organizations.

Related posts:

Teodora Bozheva
Accredited Kanban Trainer & Consultant
Co-author of the Kanban Maturity Model

Organizational Maturity Levels (KMM) – Maturity Level 0 and 1

I am sure you have heard of the Kanban Maturity Model, also known as KMM, but if you do not already know it, do not worry. We will prepare a series of related posts where we will explain one at a time each of the maturity levels by which companies scale to become an organization “Fit-for-purpose”.

The KMM has created thanks to the experience of more than 10 years of its creators, Teodora Bozheva and David J. Anderson working in different organizations in various sectors and countries. It brings together the most relevant practices by which organizations can be guided to achieve improvements, meet customer expectations, avoid and solve challenges such as resistance to change, set too ambitious goals or not know how to continue advancing on their path to agility.

It consists of 7 levels of maturity in total, the first of which is level 0 known as “oblivious” in which the people of the organization are focused solely on their personal tasks, there is no team vision. It is also appreciated at this level that there are always people with very specific knowledge who do not usually share with others what they know since they are focused on their work coming out. They don’t know they have to understand the process. But we are not going to focus on explaining this level 0 since we are interested in moving beyond this level.

ML0: my way

We move to level 1 from where in most organizations begins, known as “team focused”. According to the KPMG’s latest annual report “Agile Transformation From Agile experiments to operating model transformation”  2019, we can highlight that 74% of respondents apply Agile in their organization at the team level; seeing very far to apply it at the organization-wide level.

At level 1 we are already talking about team tasks, although it is true that there is still no culture of full collaboration. A team kanban board is already used at this level where each person’s tasks are visualized so that it exists and the principle of transparency and that it facilitates collaboration. At this level, there is almost always someone who “pulls the cart” such as a Team Leader or responsible.

As a general rule, the main objective of this level will be to create a common understanding that it is not to start work, since if we start without finishing the system collapses, that is why we start using avatars that point out the work of each person, you can use  WIP limits (Work  In  Progress) both per person and per team, start visualizing initial policies so that all team members know how to act on any unforeseen or change of priorities, and some metrics are being used that, for the moment, will only measure people and their jobs (workflow management metrics, locks, when a job starts, when it ends …).

As for the meetings that are usually held at this level is the Kanban Meeting, daily, informal and “stand up meeting” in which to talk about the problems that exist to continue with something that same morning, or some change of priority by the entry of an emergency; and on the other hand the Team-level Replenishment Meeting where you talk about tasks that can enter the board once a week and which have problems; it’s about reviewing and re-feeding the board so that the team has the job well defined.

At this level, it also usually happens that you start thinking about customer expectations, something interesting. For last, it is essential that Middle/Senior Level Management is involved to continue the path to agility and thus continue with best practices to move to level 2 known as “customer-driven”.

ML1 unconnected teams

Do you want to continue to know the maturity levels?

In another post, we will explain the next level 2 of maturity “customer-driven”. Follow us on social networks so you do not miss the new posts.


Isabel Villanueva Izquierdo
Accredited Kanban Coach


Kanban Maturity Model – Run the Engine of Change (Practices Map)

Developing the desired culture of your company and achieving greater business outcomes requires actions, effective actions.
Therefore, we lead organizational change with values and we apply appropriate Kanban practices to make culture stay and demonstrate higher customer satisfaction.

Outcomes follow Practices. Practices follow Culture. Culture follows Values. Lead with Values slogan!

It is important to select practices that are appropriate for the actual organizational maturity and way of thinking and behaving. See the KMM Overview poster to get an overall understanding of the seven maturity levels.

There are organizations in which managers make decisions, assign tasks to workers, and monitor their execution personally. People do their best individually or in teams to complete the requested work and cope with the frequently changing priorities. In such a situation visualizing individual’s work and collaborating whenever necessary helps the team to meet deadlines and customer expectations. The business outcomes, however, depend entirely on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of the people who take part in it.

In other organizations, managers communicate the objectives for the business and involve the employees in defining the appropriate approaches for achieving them. The practices that work effectively in similar situations include defining shared policies and using different means to provide visibility into the entire process of developing and delivering a product or service, including workflow-related data and on-time feedback to customers and other stakeholders. As a consequence, the business outcomes are consistent and predictable. In addition, the entire organization is able to adapt quickly to changes in their business context—and might even be able to anticipate them.

The relationships between culture attributesKanban practices and business outcomes are reflected in the architecture of the Kanban Maturity Model (KMM):

Table culture and practices KMM

Each of the general Kanban practices can be implemented with one or more specific practices. The specific practices are derived from patterns observed in the field and are associated with organizations exhibiting the behaviors and outcomes associated with the corresponding maturity level.
Therefore, to avoid overreaching and resistance, selecting the appropriate specific practices should take into account the actual organization’s maturity.

In addition, to ensure a smooth evolution for an organization, the specific practices at maturity levels 1 through 6 are organized into two broad groupings:
• Transition practices
• Consolidation practices

The transition and consolidation practices together codify the mechanisms for successful evolution in alignment with the Evolutionary Change Model, illustrated on our Evolutionary Change poster. Using the Managed Evolution approach reduces the negative social impact, the organizational risk, and the psychological resistance to changes and adoption of new ways of working

Transition practices serve to stress the organization just enough – as much as to lead to reflection and realization that the current state still can be improved. When an organization aspires to achieve the outcomes that characterize the next level of maturity, it can add transition practices to facilitate that. So long as the intent and the will to achieve the next level of depth in maturity are present, adopting and implementing these practices should meet with little or no resistance.

Consolidation practices are practices that are necessary to achieve the outcomes that define a maturity level. An organization at a lower level tends to resist or repel them unless some preparatory work is done first. More precisely, introducing (or pushing) the Transition practices causes the organization to evolve further and, therefore, pull and implement the Consolidation practices.

The Practice Map poster illustrates all specific practices and values mapped to the 7 maturity levels.

KMM Practice Map poster

How to use the Practice Map poster and the model?
The poster only illustrates the mapping of the practices and values to the maturity levels. You will find the implementation guidelines for each practice in the book. Nevertheless, this poster gives you enough overall guidance about how to approach a particular situation.

For example, let’s assume that you are in an organization that has trained their teams in managing their teamwork with simple kanban boards. Team members find that they organize themselves well, however, the work between the teams is not coordinated; they always receive late the input they need from the other teams and therefore, they have to work late hours to compensate the caused delay. Managers admit that often the project or service would not be delivered on time without the heroic effort of some teams or individuals. Customers complain that product or service delivery is not reliable, frequently delayed and with some defects.

In such a situation, maturity level 1 organization, you might find appropriate the guidance for developing culture and better customer awareness and satisfaction through the practices of maturity level 2:

recorte ML2

Lead the organization’s evolution with values such as customer awareness, respect, flow (from ML2), customer service, fitness-for-purpose and unity&alignment (from ML3).
Introduce practices related to mapping the end-to-end flow (upstream and downstream), defining basic services and work types, visualizing blocked work items, dependencies on another service or system, work item aging and basic service policies, define and use flow-related metrics and extend the team-level meetings with a workflow replenishment meeting.
Apply these practices some reasonable time, observe changes in business outcomes, reflect and take decisions about how to proceed.

Make your organizational change desirable slogan



Teodora Bozheva
Accredited Kanban Consultant
Accredited Kanban Trainer

Kanban Maturity Model – Start Change With Heart

People who have been involved in organizational change initiatives know that culture is the key factor that determines if the change perdures and thrives or fades gradually.

Culture is what people like, value, appreciate, find correct and motivating to do something for it. It is the heart of the evolution.

Culture follows values.
Practices follow Culture
Outcomes follow Practices

The Kanban Maturity Model maps 34 values against 7 maturity levels to make sure that everyone involved in a change initiative finds their reason to support and cooperate in it.

People working at the front line of a business like having transparency in the real state of work and clear criteria for prioritizing and decision making. They like collaborating with each other as well as being trusted to take initiative and lead the development of their professional ideas.

Line managers value having an objective understanding of the internal process and the customer expectations to be able to deliver fit-for-purpose services. They appreciate working in well-coordinated, aligned, clear purpose-focused organization that also takes care of the balance in the workload as well as between demand and capability.

Senior managers aspire and strive to develop an organization with strong business focushealthy competitivenessdata-driven decision-making habits and long-term survival thinking.

Achieving success in all these aspects is the challenge for a change initiative.
Therefore, the upcoming KMM book includes coaching guidance on how to build trust and improve the cohesion in your organization to make it easier to introduce new ideas and better management practices.

Download the Culture poster to have a summary of inspiring ideas that will help you to make your Agile initiative desirable.

Use the Kanban Maturity Model
to make your Agile initiative
Desirable through Culture,
Feasible through Practices,
Viable through Outcomes
and Managed Evolution.

Start with heart.
Use the Kanban Practices to strengthen values and enable business outcomes.

Read more:
– Organizational Culture & the Kanban Maturity Model
– The Value of Trust in Mitigating Highly Unlikely High Impact Events

Teodora Bozheva

Your KMM Posters

The Kanban Maturity Model is a map for developing business agility in an evolutionary manner. It defines cultural values and Kanban practices that together enable achieving better business outcomes. The Evolutionary Change Model defines the formulae for making progress with an organizational change avoiding resistance and preventing the two typical failure modes – overreaching and false summit plateau.

Three pillars

The KMM posters illustrate the key concepts in each one of the KMM pillars.  Use them to get a better understanding of where your organization is and define an appropriate approach to improving its resilience, reinvention and customer satisfaction.


Poster Culture

Start the evolution with heart

Building the right organizational culture is key for the success of your journey.

The Culture poster shows the values and cultural focus for each maturity level. It also illustrates the practices that will help you build trust, social cohesion as well as the foundation for introducing innovative management practices.

Use this poster to get inspiring ideas for driving cultural change.

Practice Map

Poster Practices

Run the engine of change

This is you companion in identifying the appropriate Kanban practices that will help your organization introduce and strengthen the service orientation, get better comprehension of customer expectations, deeper understanding of processes and achieve a smooth and sustainable pace of superior results.

Practices make culture stay and enable business outcomes.

Use the transition practices to create the desire to evolve further. Apply the consolidation practices to solidify the achieved improvement.

Outcomes and Benefits

Poster Outcomes

Your improvement gauge

This poster summarizes the benefits you will observe in your organization as an outcome of the integrated development of culture and management practices.

Use it to describe your desired state and motivate evolutionary change. Once you achieve your purpose, use it to stimulate further advance in actions.

Managed Evolution

Poster Evolution

Avoid the risks on the road

Successfully running an organizational change is not trivial. Keep the formulae and the model for evolutionary change always at a glance.

Use them to avoid the risks of loss of safety, patience to see results, resistance, overreaching, losing people or bad behaviors.


Poster Overview

What’s in it for me?

Explain the four pillars of the model and highlight the most important aspects.

Use this poster to introduce anybody the Kanban Maturity Model and the Kanban Method.

Teodora Bozheva
Co-author of the Kanban Maturity Model

What Executive Managers Need to Know About the Kanban Maturity Model and Developing Business Agility

Executive management decisions and leadership determine a company’s purpose, behaviors, relationships, work practices and ability to adapt to changes in their business environment quickly with endurable economic impact. Developing a resilient and robust business with fast changes always happening in the market, technological, and social environment is a challenging goal. Therefore, the usual questions C-level Managers ask are related to what developing business agility implies for senior-level managers and how to define the right approach to it.

Three years ago, David Anderson and I launched the Kanban Maturity Model. Since then we have been teaching and helping a number of Kanban coaches to understand it and to apply it in real business situations. The first case studies are already published on our website. I myself have been using it actively in different business sectors such as finance, insurance and the engineering industry.

The observations and experience that we collected this whole time help us to give pragmatic, actionable guidance to executive managers who want to develop their business agility and are committed to lead these journeys.

What is business agility and what does it imply?

Business agility is a hot topic, and I have talked about it with quite a few senior-level managers and business owners. They all share the need to shorten the time to market, the ability to adapt faster to changes in customer expectations or market context, to increase efficiency, and to reduce costs. However, they have a different understanding of what it implies to develop these abilities.

I would categorize their viewpoints in the following manner:

  • Not for us. Managers are agile. Teams have to become Agile too. – These are the managers who believe that all they need is Agile teams and little or no change in middle or senior level management. They think that Agile teams are constructed precisely to cope with changing priorities. Transparent and collaborative forms of work are difficult to accept for this group of bosses. Trey find restrictions and control more powerful than building trust and empowerment.
  • We did it without effect. Agile implementation does not bring benefits to the business. – These are managers of companies that have implemented Agile practices at team level and conduct all ceremonies regularly. However, management culture stays the same. No social change has occurred in the organization. Therefore, these organizations see little or no improvement at business level. They feel stuck, unhappy with the situation but not doing anything about it either.
    The subtle difference from the first and second group is that those who say “this is not for us” do not even think that change at management level might be necessary, while those who think “we did it without effect” consider that they took actions to improve business agility but the Agile methods were not effective.
  • We all have to change. Appropriate change of culture and management practices are needed for business agility. – This is the group of business owners and executive managers who understand that growing business agility requires an integral change of culture and management practices at all organizational levels. This change is part of their business strategy.

The CEO of one company told me the following in my first meeting with them:

“To stay competitive, we need to change the way we manage our projects. This requires change in our culture.
This is the change that I boost from my position. Therefore, we want to start with Kanban”.

Until recently, following the inertia might have been possible in relatively stable businesses. However, for the last couple of months the coronavirus crisis changed the business context significantly. Continuing the old way of thinking and behaving is not an option anymore if the business is to survive and thrive in the new situation.

KMM and Business Agility

Business agility requires developing the capabilities that allow the organization to obtain rapid feedback (from customers, the market, technology state of the art, business and sociological context), define goals and move quickly towards them. This implies strong executive management commitment and appropriate actions that unite, align and focus development activities on the new customer expectations and business purpose.

“The Kanban Maturity Model describes practices which develop culture for business agility.
Senior-level leadership is essential to spark the evolution and achieve success.”

The Kanban Maturity Model is based on four pillars which interact strongly:

  • Cultural values – Establish the basis for introducing practices.
  • Kanban practices – Strengthen values and ensure business outcomes
  • Business outcomes – Demonstrate the outcome of practices and culture.
  • Managed evolution – Guidelines on how to stress an organization just enough to make it reflect, evolve and become fitter in their business context.
Three pillars

Evolving Through the Organizational Maturity Levels and Executive Management’s Role in It

Our experience with the KMM and with guiding successful evolutionary organizational change shows a pattern of actions and effects. Namely, the following one:

  1. Start with cultural values – Trigger conversations about new values and desired behaviours that would bring desired benefits to the organization and its people. Make other managers and staff reflect on what practices are necessary to achieve the benefits.
  2. Introduce appropriate Kanban practices – Select appropriate practices from the maturity level to which the values belong; these practices are proven to prevent resistance, strengthen the values and develop the organizational capabilities for business agility.
    Introduce the selected practices by means of scientific experiments.
  3. Turn practices into habits and continue to step 1.

So, how does one start and what should they focus their actions on?

Every organizational context is different. At the same time, when talking about evolving organizational culture and work practices, challenges are quite similar.

Three years of active validation and further development of the KMM have shown us what cultural values and key Kanban practices develop the organizational skills we observe at each organizational maturity level. You can find the descriptions of the full list of Kanban practices in the upcoming book.


If you have employees specialized in particular tasks and working alone on them, make them focus on the assignments. Help them organize their work as to feel proud of their achievement. Let them see themselves as service providers and take accountability for it.

  • Focus on making individuals start working collaboratively. Help them see that a team achieves better results than a group of individuals.
  • Build their confidence in organizing their work using explicit policies.Everyone has to respect the established policies, including the managers. Substitute the policy “Boss’ requests first” by objective work-related criteria.
  • Make them feel proud of what they achieve as a team. Let them take initiative to improve what they see appropriate in order to improve internal organization and delivered results.

This is the point at which middle and senior-level leadership becomes essential.

  • Connect teams and enable their cooperation in an end-to-end workflow which develops and delivers a service to a customer.
  • Build the understanding that the team’s job is to deliver a service to a customer or to the wider workflow through which customer value is created.
  • Facilitate the definition of explicit policies which manage dependencies between teams and facilitate decision making for a faster flow of results.
  • Shift the management focus from ensuring that people are busy to assuring flow, i.e. progression of work towards delivery to the customer.
  • Involve the teams in developing the shared understanding of the end-to-end process and what impedes flow. Work with them on identifying, experimenting, and implementing appropriate ideas that improve service/product delivery time and quality as well as issue resolution time and effort.

Creating a fit-for-purpose organization goes beyond creating a team or a group of teams delivering a service or product. It is about the entire organization.

At this level executive management role and leadership starts with defining a purpose and working on uniting and aligning the entire organization around this shared purpose. Effectively, this means the following:

  • Complement the focus on the customer with the understanding of customer needs and manage services as to ensure that they meet their customers’ expectations
  • Encourage and enable that services are managed based on deeper quantitative understanding of flow, demand, and capability, and that decisions for selecting and starting a work item take into consideration available capacity.
  • Develop leadership at all organizational levels so that all business units cooperate effectively. Moreover, in critical situations, the managers are able to agree and execute decisions which allow the business to recover rapidly, adapt quickly and thrive.
  • Build up the culture of continuous improvement which includes improving sustainability, processes, professional development of individuals, relationships within the organization and with customers.
  • Educate decision making based on data and statistics, experiment evidences and causal analysis
  • Focus actions on maintaining all business aspects in balance: employee satisfaction, fulfilling customer expectations, shareholders’ objectives and regulatory authorities
  • Strengthen joint work of employees at different organizational levels to increase trust
  • Develop leadership skills to increase unity and alignment while building a culture of competitiveness and fairness.

At maturity level 5 and 6 organizations are focused on optimizing for market leadership, anticipating the future, reinventing the business and ensuring  long-term survival.

The majority of the organizations are still at maturity level 1 and 2. Therefore, our principal goal is to help them evolve and build the culture that helps them achieve better business outcomes. Thus, in this article I will not go deeper in the description for ML5&6.

You will find more details in the upcoming book.


Related Articles:

Let me know if you have any questions.


Teodora Bozheva
Co-author of the Kanban Maturity Model

How to Drive Process Improvement with Kanban

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)

Reducing Waste

“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 Foto

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):


How to align strategic and process management

Management promotes new products and services to develop a competitive and differentiating business. The Methodology department insists on applying the defined processes to ensure the quality of the results. At the operational level people cannot cope with the continuous change of priorities.

What is the key to achieving a balance between these?



Models and standards like CMMI, PMBoK, ISO 9001 and ISO21500 provide guidance on how to define processes in order to achieve organization’s strategic goals.

Reading the reference models and methods, all recommended practices make sense and it is hard or impossible to find some that are irrelevant. Nevertheless, lots of companies have difficulties to define well-functioning, standard-compliant processes that facilitate the daily work and fit organization’s purpose.

To get results out of the processes work must flow through the value chain. However, the concept workflow is missing in the above mentioned standards. There is no process, role or means for managing the workflow. As a consequence, there is a workfog between the Organizational level and the Process level. Therefore, the Management is pushing constantly to get results done and people applying the process complain from permanent priority changes, lack of understanding of the real status of the work, hard to apply, bureaucratic process, too much fire-fighting, etc.

Kanban manages the workflow and provides the visibility needed to align both strategic and process-level activities. The three levels of management begin to share the same understanding of the current situation, speak the same language and act in a consistent manner.


More precisely managing work with kanban systems provides the following means at each level:

  • Strategic level
    • Visibility and understanding of the status of the work
    • Prioritize work requests based on an understanding of their impact on other ongoing activities and taking into account system’s capacity
    • Establish policies for managing the workflow
  • Workflow level (Projects/Services/Operations)
    • Understand the capacity of the people-tools- processes system
    • Respond to changes at strategic level (strategic decisions, customer needs) by appropriately managing the workflow.
  • Process level
    • Ensure that process provide value for the daily work
    • Integrate processes in a coherent and efficient flow, reducing bureaucracy and other types of waste
    • Focus process improvement activities on real needs for the operational workflow
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