Kanban is a concept rooted in simplicity but holds the potential to revolutionize the performance, culture, capability, and maturity of teams and organizations. While it may appear to be a small change, Kanban has the power to transform businesses in profound ways.
In this blog post, we will explore the essence of Kanban and how it serves as an approach to change management, enabling organizations to introduce improvements to their existing processes.
Understanding Kanban as an Approach to Change
Kanban is not just a software development or project management lifecycle or process; it is a way to bring about change within an organization. The fundamental principle of Kanban is to start with the current processes, map the value stream, and establish work-in-progress (WIP) limits for each stage. By generating kanban signals, teams can pull work through the system, ensuring a smooth flow.
While initially popular in Agile software development, Kanban is gaining traction across various methodologies, even in more traditional approaches. It is being embraced as part of Lean initiatives to cultivate a culture of continuous improvement.
The Power of Limiting WIP
One of the key aspects of Kanban is limiting the work in progress. This restriction ensures that any blocked work item receives immediate attention, preventing the entire process from grinding to a halt. By focusing on unblocking and restoring flow, Kanban encourages the collaboration of the entire team and the wider organization in problem-solving.
Visualizing Work with Kanban
Kanban employs a visual control mechanism to track work as it progresses through different stages of the value stream. This can be done using a whiteboard with sticky notes or an electronic card wall system, or even both.
The transparency provided by this visual approach fosters cultural change within the organization. While Agile methods offer visibility into WIP and completed work, Kanban goes a step further by exposing the entire process and its flow. It sheds light on bottlenecks, queues, variability, and waste, enabling the organization to enhance performance and reduce cycle time.
Encouraging Collaboration and Continuous Improvement
Kanban promotes collaboration within the workplace by offering team members and stakeholders visibility into the impact of their actions or inactions. The early case studies have demonstrated that Kanban encourages behavioral changes and cultivates greater collaboration.
With improved visibility into bottlenecks, waste, and variability, teams engage in discussions about process improvements and actively implement them. Consequently, Kanban facilitates the incremental evolution of existing processes, aligning with Agile and Lean values. Rather than demanding a radical revolution, Kanban encourages gradual change agreed upon by consensus among the workers and their collaborators.
Delayed Commitment and Improved Agility
Kanban's pull system also encourages delayed commitment regarding the prioritization of new work and delivery of existing work. Through brief and regular meetings, teams prioritize tasks based on available capacity. This approach allows for flexibility, managing expectations, shortening cycle times, and minimizing rework as priorities are less likely to change.
Predictability, Reliability, and Quality
By limiting WIP, Kanban provides predictability in cycle times and ensures more reliable deliverables. Additionally, the "stop the line" approach to impediments and bugs promotes high levels of quality and reduces rework significantly. Kanban's impact on cycle time predictability and quality is invaluable to organizations.
Kanban's impact goes far beyond its seemingly simple premise. What started as a gradual evolution over several years has yielded profound psychological and sociological effects, transforming organizational culture, capability, and maturity. Kanban's mechanical approach of limiting WIP and pulling work has surprising effects on how people interact and collaborate. As organizations continue to embrace Kanban, it's clear benefits will become evident, while the journey of its development.