Kanban: Beyond the Board with the Kanban Method

Insights | 31 July 2017

You might have noticed a growing trend: if you have a good idea, someone seems to say, ‘Put it up on the board’ or ‘Grab a sticky note and put it on the Kanban board for all to see.’

Now that sounds great, but what next? Is that really what this Kanban hype is all about?

I’m not disagreeing that visualisation is powerful; in fact, visualisation is one of the core practices of the Kanban method, but I get disappointed if that’s all that Kanban is seen to be – just a board to post ideas.

So… what really is Kanban? How can it be used?

Kanban is more than just a board…

The Japanese word ‘Kanban’ equates to ‘signal card’ or ‘sign/visual board’. Kanban systems were originally developed in the late 1940s at Toyota as part of the Lean movement to improve manufacturing efficiencies by focusing on the concept of just-in-time.

Today Kanban boards have become popular when working in agile ways, yet the true value of Kanban is not just about boards or even improving flow in the short term but in creating lasting and ongoing change to organisational processes.

David Anderson’s book, KanbanSuccessful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business (2010), focuses on evolutionary change based on the Kanban Method of principles and practices.

Kanban Method Principles

The Kanban Method is founded on 4 core principles or simply put: how you need to think and approach everything.

  1. Start with what you do now
  2. Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change
  3. Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities and titles
  4. Encourage acts of leadership at all levels in your organisation

Kanban Method Practices

Whereas the principles are the ‘how to think’, the practices are the practical ‘what you need to do’. The six core practices are:

  1. Visualize (the work, workflow and business risks)
  2. Limit Work in Progress (WIP)
  3. Manage the Flow
  4. Make Process Explicit
  5. Implement Feedback Loops
  6. Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally

The Kanban method accomplishes work by introducing constraints to optimise the flow of value. Initially it may sound counter-intuitive: limit the number of items I am working on currently? In effect, Kanban applied appropriately reduces the impact of task switching (think downtime due to interrupting concentration on a specific task) and multi-tasking.

Ever been in the situation where you are feeling like you are working on lots of things at once, but nothing is really getting finished? In this context, Kanban is about finishing what I am working on now before I start working on more items. Flow is supreme.

Yes, there is more to understand about the Kanban method…

The Kanban method recognises the need for clearly defined boundaries for people to operate within; these should be developed collaboratively and evolve over time. Feedback loops and reviews are an integral component, as is experimental improvement.

But beware – the power of the Kanban method is not to take just one or two of the principles and practices; it is about collectively applying all the Kanban practices and to continually evolve.

If you need to help your team improve lead time and reduce bottlenecks, to deliver value on time – without overshooting budgets or time considerations then join us on our 1 Day Kanban in Practice course. For more information call 1300 70 13 14.

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