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Process: Kanban

Frank Blecha
Frank Blecha
3 min read
Process: Kanban

Table of Contents

In the world of workflow management, Kanban isn't just a buzzword; it's a philosophy. Shops that have embraced Kanban, either by a deliberate strategy or a natural shift, really get the essence of process management. A well-oiled Kanban shop isn't just about moving sticky notes on a board; it's about mastering the art of limiting work in progress (WIP), standardizing task sizes, and diving deep into metrics like cumulative flow. Kanban isn't just about avoiding a pile-up of defects; it's about building a culture that prioritizes quality at every delivery stage.

Good kanban shops - optimizing workflow

The shops that run Kanban are the shops that have some processes and have either evolved or devolved into Kanban. A developed Kanban shop is doing actual Kanban well. They focus on limiting work in progress (WIP), shaping work to a standard size, and metrics like cumulative flow. They may have a real or virtual andon cord to stop production when a defect enters the delivery pipeline. The andon cord prevents two things. First, it prevents additional defects of the same type from entering the delivery pipeline. If you have to fix a few defects post-production, you may be able to do so manually, but you'll take a financial hit. Suppose you let the defects continue without stopping the line. In that case, you incur high costs and rework that may delay further deliveries. The second thing it does is promote a quality work culture in your delivery. An andon cord promotes the thought that anyone can stop the line when they see a defect that will impact the delivery. Suppose you enable the concept that everyone needs to look out for defects that may mar the delivery or ruin the customer relationship. In that case, you'll raise the bar for product delivery and quality.

Optimizing the workflow moves your team from a task-oriented to a value delivery-oriented team. Task-oriented teams focus on "I have my thing, and I do my thing, but I don't care how the team delivers." If enforcing WIP limits, you should focus on the entire team. WIP limits promote helping move a delivery item through the flow so that you can deliver faster as a team versus optimizing for individuals. Typically, business goals don't care about individuals. They're worried about value delivery. For example:

  • The client can run the new marketing campaign
  • The analytics team can use the new database
  • The client was able to move into their new office after construction.

None of the above issues talk about individual ticket items a single person may have worked on; they're all focused on the overall value delivery to the client.

Inexpert Kanban

Now, let's talk about the Kanban wannabes. You know them – teams that drifted away from Scrum or another process, claiming they're 'doing Kanban' now. But here's the catch: they're missing the core of Kanban. No standard batch sizes, WIP limits are a myth, and Kanban metrics like cumulative flow? Forget about it. They're shuffling a glorified task list from 'to-do' to 'done.' Running a team like this isn't a sin if you're cool with just moving tasks around. But beware, if a process guru walks in, you might find yourself in a tight spot, unable to showcase any real depth in your process. And if you've got a traffic jam in your workflow, anyone with even a smidgen of Kanban knowledge will call your bluff in a heartbeat. It's not just a Kanban in name; it's about making it the soul of your workflow.

Kanban isn't just another item in the productivity toolbox; it's a transformative approach to project management. When implemented correctly, Kanban transcends traditional task management, focusing on limiting work in progress, standardizing tasks, and deeply analyzing metrics like cumulative flow. This methodology isn't about ticking boxes; it's about fostering a culture of quality and collective responsibility. True Kanban empowers every team member to take charge of quality, ensuring that delivery standards are met and exceeded.

However, there's a flip side. Some teams claim to adopt Kanban following disenchantment with other methods like Scrum, but often, this adoption is superficial. Lacking essential elements like batch size standardization, WIP limits, and critical Kanban metrics, these teams reduce Kanban to just a fancy to-do list. This half-hearted implementation can lead to inefficiencies and a lack of depth in process understanding, making it evident to any knowledgeable onlooker that the team's workflow is more about motion than progress.

In essence, when embraced in its true spirit, Kanban is a powerful tool for enhancing team productivity and ensuring high-quality deliverables. It's a commitment to continuous improvement and value delivery, fundamentally changing how teams work and achieve success.

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