Why you can't do Kanban!

Kanban training

Last week I’ve got a chance to attend to Kanban training session conducted by Marcus Hammarberg. Coauthor of the book Kanban in Action.

He started with a very simple but effective game which helped us to understand how to collect metrics about our process and how minor changes can have a huge impact in the final results. And then he went through some key principals of Kanban. Followed by more details about Kanban by asking some questions about what we are currently doing and our processes. And finally we had a retrospective. Whole training was a 3 day session.

We all might be familiar with some sort of Kanban in our day to day work and I use Kanban for a little over 4 years now. But by listening to his words I realized that what I knew about Kanban and its philosophy is just a bit of it. Here I’m going to write some notes about what of learned for later references. Maybe when I use these learnings in future I can revisit these notes to see what was my initial understanding of Kanban.

Why I chose “Why you can’t do ‘Kanban’” as a title? There is a very interesting reasoning behind it. Let me explain a little bit more.

He is definitely a great coach. What I learned from Marcus is that Kanban is not a process or methodology, at least not like what Scrum or others are. It’s just a tool and a power full one. We can apply Kanban to an existing process in our organization and that helps us to visualize process and find bottle necks and problems in that.

That’s why you can’t ‘Do Kanban’ but you can ‘Use Kanban’.

Kanban was originally developed by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota around 1940s but later introduced and adopted to software development industry. Nowadays we can see most agile teams are using some sort of Kanban boards.

Kanban can be as simple as a board divided into sections, with some cards indicating the work in progress and waiting. By doing work cards move forward on the board to the last section which usually indicates that particular task has been done. But with this simple visualization you can get lots of information about work in progress and process health which would be difficult to find out otherwise.

Having Kanban boards we can identify problems and bottle necks in our process by looking for smells and sickness patterns on board. With these information we can quickly take a corrective/preventive action instead of waiting for certain schedules to analyze information which is common in iterative processes like Scrum and might be too late!

In Kanban we can alter the flow by changing WIP (Work In Progress) limits on board. It was very interesting to see how simply touching WIP limits can have a huge impact on statistics and effectiveness of process. So next time if I face some issues with process flow I may consider taking another look into WIP limits. Maybe by slightly changing them we can fix those bottle necks.

That’s all for now. If you think it’s interesting to know more about Kanban, go and get the book and see how much it can help you to squeeze out all Kanban can do for you.

Note: These are all my personal views and understandings and have nothing to do with anyone who is referenced in this post. If it’s correct I take all the credits and if it’s not who cares?!