Why should I care about Lean Kanban?

Foto qué aporta Kanban: persona moviendo tarjeta

Have a look back to the near past.

How many times did you restructure your organization or redefine your roles and responsibilities?

Why did you do it?

To adapt to the new business environment, isn’t it? To become more agile. To reduce bureaucracy and costs. To be able to respond more quickly to customer needs. To …

Nowadays, companies, both more and less agile, are looking for effective means to manage changing priorities, increase productivity, improve visibility in ongoing work, improve team morale, get faster time-to-market, become more lean.

However, a study by Towers Watson shows that only 25% of change management initiatives are successful over the long term.

According to the 8th Version One Report about the State of Agile,  53% of the companies suffer from inability to change the organizational culture, 42%  admit they experience resistance to change, 35% say that the barrier for them is the attempt to fit agile elements into non-agile framework.

In XXI century revolutions lead to resistance rather than improvements

Organizational change has always been hard. However, adopting a drastically different approach to work nowadays is bound to meet a resistance, active and passive, and fail.

Kanban is a method for managing organizational changes. It helps organizations improve gradually by means of focus on flow and delivering customer value. The first two Kanban principles are:

Start from what you are doing now
Pursue incremental and evolutionary changes.

Changes occur when the majority of the people in an organization want them happen.

“Kanban is like water”. [D. J. Anderson; adapted from Bruce Lee’s “Be like water”] It does not prescribe particular practices or roles, because implied routines create resistance. Instead, it enables the development of the most adequate solutions through transparency and shared visibility of where problems, waste, and bottlenecks appear in the workflow.

If you cannot see it, you can hardly control it

The greatest concerns about the adopting agile are the Lack of up-front planning (30%), Loss of management control (30%), and Management opposition (28%) .

Managing a variety of projects and services bases on abstract numeric information requires extraordinary mental skills and deep context understanding.  When correct decisions have to be taken quickly, there is not a better ally for the brain than a visual Kanban board that shows you at a glance the state and the urgency of each undertaken work, the resources occupation, and the blockages in the workflow. In addition, the same information is available in real time for management, team and other stakeholders that can contribute to defining the right approach.

Transparency and visibility are essential to Kanban. They are crucial for quickly spotting workflow problems and redundant work, as well as for achieving positive effects like shared vision of the work, collaboration, self-organization, and result-orientation.

Moreover, combining visual control and transparency with the fifth Kanban core practice Implement feedback loops, helps organizations take advantage from their own experience, become learning organizations.

Feel the power of your real data

Your customer needs a quick estimate to make a Go/No Go decision for an order; a project has to estimate budget and time to get a Carte Blanche for development.

Estimation takes time, and is (always) wrong.

Kanban suggests taking advantage of your real data. More precisely, know the delivery time (lead time) distribution of your types of work and classes of services, as well as the capacity of your team. Then use them in a combination with the particular context for a reliable planning and sustainable business.

The cumulative flow diagram is an essential real-time management tool for any team, warning of potential delays, accumulation of unfinished work, and unsteady flow.

Kanban metrics are pragmatic, focused on the fitness of the work for its purpose :

  • From customer perspective: on time delivery, predictability, service quality
  • From organizational perspective: meeting due dates, resource utilization, performance
  • From business perspective: efficiency, sustainability, adaptability


Balance demand and capacity

Limiting the work in progress in a kanban system ensures that the undertaken work does not exceed team capacity, avoiding in this way people over-burdening and unbalanced workload.

On the other side, defining classes of service delineates the type of demand, the priorities and the rules for treating each type in accord with the business objectives.

Putting it all together facilitates serving the different types of demand  with the available team capacity.

Stop starting, start finishing!

Multitaskers experience 40% drop of productivity, and make up to 50% more errors” .

Kanban Core Practice Limit Work in Progress (WIP) directly addresses the multitasking problem. Limiting WIP for the entire kanban system ensures a smooth flow, improves the overall performance and the product or service quality.

The focus on the Minimal Marketable Feature (MMF) makes breaking down the work into smaller components. Successfully finishing features that add value to the customer, increases customer satisfaction, and brings valuable feedback to the ongoing work, which helps completing it well on time.

Kanban is your means to Lean

The need of new working and management methods is well recognised by technology organizations. Therefore, we read and speak about Modern Management Methods, 2nd Generation Agile, Lean-Scrum, Lean Product Development, etc.

Kanban is a Lean approach to improving work.  The Kanban system is a pull system that visualises the value stream, the work in progress, the work types and the risks.

The Kanban core practices Limit Work in Progress, Manage Flow and Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally  are about maintaining continuous flow that delivers value to the customer and its continuous improvement.

Is Kanban appropriate for my organization?

Speaking about methods, we, consultants, usually give answers like “It depends. If your organization is of type A, your projects of type B and C, your  client expects  D, then the appropriate methods for your context are M and N“.

With respect to Kanban, the answer is a lot simpler: if you want to gain the benefits of Kanban, start applying it. It works well in both small and large teams, CMMI and agile companies, development projects and operations.

To wrap up, leading an organization to a better state requires proper management of the organizational change, developing the capability to successfully manage changing demand, keeping a sustainable pace of work, learning from experience and evolving gradually.

Kanban addresses all these aspects and and works well in any context provided that evolutionary improvements are sought.

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