Kanban: a Lean & Agile Framework

Agile is everywhere now. And, the awareness around Agile is permeating most industries and environments such as volunteer organizations, educational institutions, and governments. Agile frameworks such as Scrum, XP and OpenAgile are tied closely to the Agile Manifesto which has four values and twelve principles. To get the most out of an Agile framework implement both the being and doing of Agile. And then consider adding some Lean practices to make it even better.

I Understand Agile, What is Lean?

Many decades ago, manufacturing was difficult, inconsistent and very expense per single item. Through some remarkable achievements in the automobile industry, the cost per single item dropped significantly, quality went up gradually, and overall satisfaction improved as well. The origins of Lean are tied to Lean Manufacturing through much work done by Toyota and others.

Lean is focused on the system or flow of the work. It only involves a short list of principles but they are very powerful when done right. Some examples include:

  • Design a simple manufacturing system
  • Recognize that there is always room for improvement
  • Continuously improve the lean manufacturing system design

Kanban is a simple Lean framework that can be used for many industries and purposes. In a previous post, I described the 3 Simple Steps to Start Using Kanban.

Five Core Properties of Kanban

Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business by David J. Anderson describes five core properties for Kanban. Each of them are simple and powerful. And together, it is a framework for continuous improvement and learning.

  1. Visualize the Workflow – Take whatever steps that you currently use and make this apparent and accessible to all. This is simply achieved by building a step-by-step chart on a wall with sticky-notes and columns to display the flow of work. This allows for people to clearly see what is currently going on, ask questions, and look areas to address.
  2. Limit WIP – Restricting the amount of work-in-progress (WIP) is a powerful technique to complete work. An easy way to start this core property is to identify bottlenecks in your workflow and then to gradually decrease the amount of work in that step. Then the group can pull a new work item into that step once there is a free slot.
  3. Manage Flow – This core property helps the group to see the entire workflow and watch how it moves and where it doesn’t. It is about noticing areas of effectiveness and areas of waste. Then you have the ability to build on your strengths and reduce the amount of waste. This is about managing the system, not the people.
  4. Make Process Policies Explicit – Now the flow is visible, the amount of work-in-progress is restricted as needed, you are managing flow of work, and next it is time to create clear rules on what is allowed in the system. This may include describing what it means for something to be considered complete and ready for the next step.
  5. Improve Collaboratively – The groups or teams work together to improve their use of Kanban, the most effective and unified they will become. Plus, this can lead the team to become self-managing and high performing.

By implementing all the core properties (and it can occur gradually over time), Kanban is an effective and light Lean that is connected closely to Agile.

Kanban is Light and Effective

Kanban is an incredible framework for learning and innovation. Since it is focused on system-wide improvements and collaborative solutions, Kanban lends itself to provide great value to many individuals and groups. And it is super simple to implement.

Kanban does not have any roles or ceremonies, which is a lighter framework than Scrum or Extreme Programming. Instead, Kanban focuses on the system of work and its ability to flow easily and without obstruction.

Kanban Resources for Further Learning

Keep in mind that both Lean and Agile frameworks help work to be more effective and help individuals to be happy at work.

Warm regards,

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