Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kanban 101

Kanban is a less disruptive path to a higher state of organizational maturity.

Kanban inspires a culture, where everyday staff, focus on incremental improvements. This type of culture ensures that an organization can make changes that are tolerable, both right-sized and at the right pace. Over time, organizational maturity grows, and with it, higher performing teams.

The incremental change approach is vastly different from a “Big Bang” approach. A Big Bang approach typically impacts performance to a level where the change initiative is at significant risk of failure. As performance drops significantly, several challenges arise: low employee morale, loss of trust among executive sponsors, or simply, the organization cuts their losses and resorts to the old way of doing things.

Limit the amount of work entering the system.

By limiting the amount of work that enters an organization’s delivery center (e.g. enterprise software delivery), the organization can focus on continuous improvement through its workflow among teams and value stream overall. A domino effect results:

  1. Reduce Work In Progress (WIP) Limits – Lowering the level of work in progress (inventory) has a significant, positive impact on average completion time of individual work items
  2. Reduce Task Switching – As an individual item is completed faster, the need for wasteful task switching between work items is reduced
  3. Reduce Cycle Time – Lower average cycle time means shorter lead time for individual work items
  4. Increase Feedback - Quick turnaround time also means that quality checks are done with a fresh concept”, and the opportunity for error decreases
  5. Increase Quality - Increased feedback improves the quality of the final result
  6. Increase Team Maturity - Increased Quality leads to an increase in overall team maturity and performance, quicker lead time results, teams are further able to lower the levels of work in progress

Kanban is an approach to visually represent a unit of value.

The Kanban Approach:

  • Visualize the work – a visible display of moving work to completion becomes a powerful reward
  • Pull work based on WIP limits – to create a predictable workflow
  • Empower staff to improve processes – simple, visually represented measurements of progress become intrinsic motivators to do the right thing
How does it work?

  • Management and staff have a common understanding
  • Bottlenecks, issues, and defects are easy to spot
  • Explicit mechanisms for root cause analysis and continual improvement
  • Demand is limited, fostering focus, early delivery of value, and making bottlenecks obvious
  • Defect correction focuses on the source of the defect, not just the defect itself
Work Policies continually evolve as the organization matures.

Organizations build policies and modify them as they are incrementally changed through improvement discussions. Teams may define policies at different levels of detail such as work policies (at the workflow level) or team policies that apply to the team as a whole. For example, a team policy is conducting a daily stand-up at 10AM every day. A workflow policy may define entry and exit criteria for a given phase in the workflow.

Kanban allows teams, managers, and the organizations as a whole to become better at measuring.

Kanban provides the tools to predict delivery time, reduce risk, and analyze problems using quantitative methods. Tools such as statistical process control charts, and cumulative flow diagrams will provide robust metrics managers yearn to discover.

If you would like to learn more, visit the links below:
Limited WIP Society -
David J Anderson & Associates -
NetObjectives -
Lean Software and Systems Conference -

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