How can Kanban be relevant for me regardless of framework?

In this short introduction you will get to know how Kanban can be relevant for your work, regardless of the Agile framework you are using. We will look into what Kanban is, why we should use it and how you can apply it starting today.

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a method for evolutionary change. This means that changes are done gradually by implementing simple principles and techniqes. In this post you will get to know the 4 principles and 6 techniques that you can gradually introduce to your way of working

Visualization
From sports and psychology we know that visualization is a technique we can use to reach our objectives. For example we have simulators for training personell to steer merchant marine ships or flights, for our work many of us know Kanban boards and some of us have even use simulation tools such as flowlab.

When we use visualization at work we can see the world through the same glasses, and it gives us a common view of where we are headed.
A common view allows for a common understanding and simplifies communication and it is easier for us to identify impediments. When we talk about visualization that could be any type of visualization, the intention is to co-create and reach a common understanding.

Flow of work
Kanban focus on Flow and Limiting work in progress. Traditionally we are mostly concerned with ensuring 100% resource utilization. Meaning we focus on ensuring people are not IDLE, AND we focus less on WORK being IDLE. 

In Kanban we focus on Flow of Work and optimizing the flow of work first. There are several techniques you can use to optimize flow of work. 

One important aspect is to know what must have happened to the work for it to be complete?

Questions we could ask are;

  • Where does work come from?
  • What kind of work do we have?
  • What actually happens to work before it is delivered?
  • How do we visualize our work to ensure fast feedback?

Customer Value
When we visualize our work and optimize our flow of work. We increase our ability to deliver customer value every day. 

So Kanban is about visualizing work, optimizing flow of work and we will learn more about the mechanisms we have to do this in a bit.

What Kanban is - Summary

Kanban is a method for evolutionary change with focus on Visualization and Flow of Work to deliver customer value every day

Why Kanban?

Now we know what Kanban is, but we need to understand more of the reasons why. In Kanban Queue Theory is a central topic.

For example, most of us have been stuck in a traffic jam on our way to or from work. When stuck in a traffic jam we are experiencing 100% utilization of the road. Even when the road is 80% utilized we will experience some delay. But if the road is utilized only 30% we experience a good flow in the traffic.

If we compare this to our daily work, and our workplace focus is to ensure 100% resource allocation, we might frequently experience that if you want to schedule a meeting with a co-worker you might have to wait 2-3 days or weeks, sometimes even more, to get a free slot in the calendar. We are stuck in the jam and our work will have to wait. What typically happens is that we start on new things since we anyway have to leave the work we started to wait for available resources.

Henrik Kniberg demonstrates this in what he calls the resource utilization trap – see the video below;

The key learnings are

  1. 100% Resource Utilization = Zero flow.
  2. Optimize flow first. then resource utilization

Recent years there has been more research on this topic and Morten T. Hansen has written about this in his book «Great at Work»

He researched the connection between focus, effort and results or outcomes.

In his book he shows that there is a huge difference between doing a lot with less focus and doing less with high focus. The difference on results is 70% between the two examples.

Key learning;

  • Limit Work in Progress / Focus and obsess
Why Kanban - Summary

When we optimize our Flow of Work and Limit our work in progress, research shows that we can improve our results with as much as 70% compared to a situation where we accept more and don´t focus on finishing.

How to Kanban?

Knowing the benefits you can achieve by using Kanban, i am guessing you are eager to get started, but how would you do that?

In Kanban we follow 4 Key Principles;

  1. Start with what you do now
  2. Choose incremental evolution
  3. Respect established processes, roles and titles
  4. Encourage leadership at all levels

And 6 Techniques, but to get started, you should focus on the first 3 Techniques as this might be sufficiently challenging to start with;

  1. Visualise work
  2. Limit Work in Progress by establishing WIP LImits and trigger the PULL Mechanism (Try the ping-pong game to understand PULL)
    WIP Limits can be set per person, per team or per status
  3. Manage Flow of Work, keep focusing on finishing before starting new tasks. “Focus and obsess”

Once you manage these techniques you can start to look into technique 4,5 and 6, but for now this should keep you busy for a while.

Scaling Kanban

David J. Anderson has established a model called Kanban Maturity Model. This model is used to evaluate an organisations maturity in their Kanban implementation.

On level 0-2 the implementation is Fragile.
Level 0 – Focus is on Personal Kanban and WIP Limits.
Level 1 – Personal Kanban is aggregated to a team board
Level 2 – The work process is defined, portfolio kanban is established, there are consistent WIP Limits which are activity based.

Why Kanban - Summary

Follow the 4 Principles of Kanban, implement the first 3 Techniques to get started and use Kanban Maturity Model to assess your organisations maturity level

Ready to try out Kanban?

If you are ready to try out Kanban I would recommend that you start with yourself, establish a personal kanban, work on the principles, try out the techniques and expand from there.

  1. Establish Personal Kanban
  2. Understand the Kanban Principles
  3. Try out the 3 first Techniques
  4. Expand to your group/team/organisation

Not sure exactly how to do that? Watch this short video by Jim Benson

Book References
On Personal Kanban

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