Kanban – Understanding it better

Kanban - the basics
Kanban - the basics

What is Kanban?

Kanban is an approach related to Agile  that is very easy to adapt and deserves to be known because it can help you in your Agile transformations.

By default, the Kanban method is not considered like an Agile method because it does not meet the founding principles of the “agile manifesto”; however in IT, it is very easy to adapt and with a good application. Many of us consider that it really has a strong Agile spirit.

You can watch the agile minute video on the subject:

Origin of the Kanban method

Kanban, which is a Japanese word meaning “signboard”, is a method implemented in Toyota factories in the 1950s with the aim of improving flow management.

What could be better than having the ability to anticipate blocking points? What could be better than treating them as quickly as possible and to anticipate a possible drop in activity?

For this, the method recommends the use of a board and stickers (post’it) to represent the tasks in order to have a total transparency on the progress of the work. So with this presentation, you should now see some similarities with Scrum.

David Anderson saw in this methodology the ability to come to the aid of the IT world through its virtues and presented a methodology of the same name for IT.

Here is a simple example of an extremely simplified Kanban board in IT:

 

Tableau Kanban
Kanban board (for IT)

The 4 principles of Kanban

Understand that Kanban is a method that will give you carte blanche to adapt it to your context and that is very scalable.

Here are the 4 founding principles of this methodology, which are good to know.

Start with what you do today

The implementation of Kanban completes your current organization with its board and stickers (post’it). Keep the role of each person, take the work in progress or already defined to materialize it on a wall board.

For information, tools like Trello allow to digitize these boards but I advise if you have the capacity to do it, to favor a wall board to maximize transparency.

Apply scalable changes

When your boards are done, you have to take advantage of them and change the way of the teams work. Take the time for that so that the team better accept the change with this method. If you do too many changes at once, you will quickly have people who will be resistant to change and the risk of failure will be possible.

You have to think about continuous improvement and bring the changes slowly. It’s an important Kanban principle that will help you transform a lot.

If a change doesn’t work as you would imagine, the team could review the change to improve or remove it. Making small continuous changes does not bring a feeling of failure.

Respect the actual roles and processes

This principle is important to understand because changing roles or processes can have very negative effects on the projects in progress.

When setting up Kanban, don’t try to upset everyone’s roles or the processes that are in place. The method adapts to them and not vice versa.

This will setup this new way of working and not create strong opposition. These points can be reviewed later when the method is considered “normal” in the eyes of everybody.

Encourage leadership

Don’t hesitate to encourage leadership at all levels to increase team productivity.

Let’s set up a Kanban board

Now that you better understand the Kanban foundations, here are the steps to follow.

Transparency

As I said above, create a board with at least 4 classic steps: Ready, In progress, Test, Done. If you have other steps in your current processes, don’t hesitate to add additional steps to your board; it is recommended to do that.

Limitation of current tasks

Don’t drown the task board but limit them reasonably. The remaining tasks to be done must remain achievable by the team.

Flow management

It is essential to properly measure the progress of the tasks for each different state. It is often useful to keep a cumulative flow diagram to help you with this task which is to complete each morning (if it is on the wall board).

 

diagramme de flux cumulés
cumulative flow diagram 

Moving rules

It’s important to determine the rules that will allow a ticket to move from one state to another. These rules will be described according to the processes already in place in the company.

Have the ability to improve

It is essential that the teams that switch to Kanban have a clear vision of the workflow, of the processes that govern the rules of this latter and of the risks.

It may be interesting to make models of these 3 topics and display them next to the wall board.

This will allow the team to be proactive and actively participate in future improvements to this Kanban board.

Conclusion

As I said above, Kanban has an Agile spirit, especially if you make it evolve over time as the method recommends.

I had the opportunity to apply it several times and kanban could offer the chance of the team to improve their workflow.

Have you setup this workflow method before? Do you plan to do it soon? Don’t hesitate to share your feedback with us in the comments.

Don’t hesitate to go see all our articles on kanban. It’s really an advanced flow management that deserves to be known.

Useful kanban links:

Kanban articles
Kanban article in french

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About Judicaël Paquet 156 Articles
Judicaël Paquet (agile coach and senior devops) My activities in France and Switzerland: - agile transformation architect - customized agile training - sensitization and manager coaching - agile maturity audits and situations - agile coaching (teams, orga, product owner, scrum master, agile coach) Specialties: scrum, kanban, management 3.0, scalability, lean startup, agile method.

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