Van Haren Group

Kanban in 3 minutes

The basics

Kanban provides a way for knowledge work teams to manage their work through visualization, managing the flow of work and continuous improvement. Heavily influenced by Lean, Kanban practices and principles are a great addition for agile teams and organizations to better manage how value is delivered to the customer.

Summary

Kanban is a set of practices that help to bring structure to teams. This helps to organize the chaos that surrounds them by making the need for prioritization and focus clear. It is a way to uncover and identify problems in the work process so teams may solve them in order to deliver faster, more frequent and more

predictable. Kanban is a way to put Lean thinking in practice. By making the work process transparent and actively managing the number of work items that are being worked on.

The Kanban practices are:

–   Visualize everything that is relevant to understand how work flows: our process, the work items, metrics and agreements around how we collaborate. Transparency helps create a shared understanding and focus discussions on which problems to solve. Kanban boards visualize how work flows through the team.

–   Manage the flow of work. Not all work can be planned ahead. Small disruptions can lead to large delays. By managing bottlenecks, reducing wait time and active focusing on what’s

most important we can deliver predictably. Through this practice teams gain insights into what work is most important, how to deliver it quickly and on promise, without having to sacrifice flexibility of priorities.

–   Limit Work in Progress. Just by reducing the amount of task switching done in a team, a 60% faster time to market can be achieved. By limiting the number of items that are worked on at the same time we achieve important benefits. Instead of work being pushed into the team, new work is ‘pulled’ when there is capacity. Only when there is capacity, new work is started. This reduces queues, over burdening of the team and wait time. Kanban teams often use the phrase ‘stop starting, start finishing’ as their mantra.

–   Make process policies explicit. Having transparency around the processes, agreements and prioritization mechanisms helps create clarity.

–   Improve collaboratively. By taking a view of the work and improving with the people who are in the value chain we reduce suboptimization of the team.

Teams benefit from Kanban by enriching their current (delivery) practices with Kanban practices. The current way of working is always the starting point for adopting Kanban. This guarantees an easy to adopt and pragmatic way to evolve the value delivery process for teams and, eventually, organizations.

Target audience

Kanban can bring significant benefits when one or more of the following statements are true:

•   The team has more work than time (overloaded)

•   It is not always clear who is working on what

•   The team always receives feedback late or unpredictably

•   Need for more cooperation and knowledge sharing (many islands with a lot of knowledge)

•   A lot is being worked on, but little is actually achieved by constantly changing priorities

•   It is unclear which activities contribute to the organizational goals

•   Poorly planned, highly urgent work

•   Multiple projects with many stakeholders go through the same team

Parts of the organization that typically implement Kanban practices:

•   IT teams do more than just new product development

•   Marketing, HR, Business Operations, Finance, Control, Legal, Sales

•   DevOps, IT Operation teams

•   Security, Architecture and BI teams (high level of expert knowledge)

Scope and constraints

Kanban has its foundation in Lean and has been enriched with agile practices. Although it was primarily used in IT operations (such as DevOps environments) in early stages of the method it has now grown to be applied in many areas of organizations such as marketing, HR, legal and sales. At the team level as well as program and portfolio levels of the organization.