Some kanban questions from a keen learner, and my answers

· December 7, 2015

I sometimes have the good fortune to get questions sent to me via email. Often they are very thought provoking and makes me put some (or in this case considerable) effort behind to be able to get a intelligent answer. Also, I try to share my answers on line to increase the learning possibilities.

I try to answer those questions when I get the can, especially when I see that the person really wants to learn. A really good example of that came to me the other day, when Jocelyn wrote me. He’s about to attend a course on kanban and was required, before the course, to conduct an interview with someone who knew the topic.

Here’s Jocelyn’s questions and my answers to follow

Benefits of Kanban

If Agile methodology is a bag of tricks what are the benefit of KANBAN? How does it adapt to various sectors and particularly the agency model?

I don’t think that agile is a bag of trick as much as a mindset. If you read the Agile manifesto you’ll notice that there’s very little there about HOW. It’s mostly “we prefer this more than this”. HOW to implement that is left out.

Scrum, XP and other methodologies are applications of those ideas and gives you some more information on HOW to achieve that.

Kanban is a bit similar to me. It’s just some principles for how to organize your work. I sum them up in:

  • Visualize your work
  • Limit work in process
  • Help work to flow (faster and smoother) through the process

(Note that there’s a difference between kanban and The Kanban Method (tm) that is a organizational transformation method.)

Kanban is just a couple of very simple generic principles, without much guidance on HOW. There’s tons of way to apply them and many have become de facto standards in the kanban-community, such as stand up meetings, kanban boards with columns for your process steps etc. etc.

But this is just examples, on how to apply the principles. We all have to find the way that works best for us.

Especially in the last step Help work to flow there’s a myriad of ways, tools, ideas and applications that you can use. You might look into the ideas behind Lean and apply them. Or you might learn from Theory of constraints. Or borrow tools from agile, scrum or XP. Or make up your own applications like mob programming for example.

Also, I’m now just talking about the team level. The real gain from kanban comes when you start to let it affect the way that you do work over the entire value chain; from idea to “use in production by real customers”. This is where kanban can transform your entire organization and where The Kanban Method focus. I’ve seen truly remarkable changes happen by just following these principles and ideals. The Kanban Method have another set of guiding principles in addition, that gives a little more details on HOW:

  • Start with existing process
  • Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change
  • Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities and titles
  • Leadership at all levels

The good news is that it means that kanban is applicable to any process, organization or business. The lesser good news is that you’ll have to discover many of the HOWs for yourself. There’s not a single solution that applies to everyone. Kanban states this at the outset. But there’s many things to learn from in the kanban community.

Expected improvements

Are there any significant insights into how much a business can expect to improve operations by?

To me the biggest improvement is when you start to see the cooperation beyond the team level. This is really what kanban is for.

The focus on lead time (from idea to production) is what is most focused on in lean / kanban and once that is established and understood truly remarkable changes can be made in how often an organization can deliver improvements.

Also this mindset have a tendency to spill over into process improvement in general.

The main idea here is that many small changes often is better than few big changes seldom. Things like continuous delivery or Lean startup shows this to great effect. It basically changes the way you can do business giving you a competitive advantage over others, since you can change, adapt and innovate faster.

Important to learn

Also what is important to learn, and some questions i you should ask during the training… : )

Oh Lord…. The main thing to understand, in my opinion, is that under the term of kanban hides many ideas and tools. What you choose to focus on is of course up to you.

It seems that many people into kanban inevitable looks into Lean. I can highly recommend This is Lean by Niclas Modig and Per.

There are three books on Kanban itself that each treats the subject from different angles:


I first of all hope that I made it in time for your course…. Secondly that my answers were helpful. And thirdly that you get a kick out of kanban just as I did when I first was introduced to it.

Happy learning. Happy Kanban-ing!

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