Kanban practices entail workflow management methods for defining, managing, and improving services that deliver knowledge to work. They aim to help an organization visualize their work and maximize efficiency.
Any organization that aims at ensuring the success of its work should incorporate Kanban practices in its system. Kanban practices have a lot of advantages that tend to benefit an organization. This article covers the Kanban process, its board, and practices that you should consider to ensure your company’s excellent performance.
What is Kanban Process?
According to Wikipedia, “Kanban is a visual system for managing work as it moves through a process. Kanban visualizes the actual steps through that process.” The goal of Kanban is to identify potential bottlenecks in a company’s process, and fix them so work can flow through it cost-effectively at an optimal speed or throughput. A bottleneck is a work stage that gets more work requests than it can process at its maximum capacity.
Kanban process is a non-disruptive evolutionary change management system. Hence an organization improves the existing process in small steps. Implementing many minor changes (rather than a large one) reduces the risk to the overall system. The evolutionary approach of Kanban reduces the resistance of the stakeholders and team who participate in the Kanban process.
The first process in the introduction of Kanban is to visualize the workflow. The process uses a Kanban board which entails sticky notes or cards and a whiteboard. Each card on the board demonstrates a task.
The simple visualization of workflow in the Kanban process, leads to transparency about the distribution of work and existing bottlenecks, if any. Incorporating the Kanban board in the process shows elaborate workflows depending on the workflow’s complexity, and the need to visualize and examine specific parts of the workflow, to identify bottlenecks to remove them.
What is a Kanban Board?
Kanban boards visually identify work at various stages of a process. They use cards to represent work items and columns to represent each stage of the process. The coordinate teams performing work moves cards from left to right to show progress.
A Kanban board may be broken into horizontal “swim lanes,” representing different work processes for a manufacturing process. Simple boards have columns for “waiting,” “in progress,” and “completed.” Complex Kanban boards subdivide in progress work into multiple columns to visualize the flow of work across a whole value stream map.
The work of all Kanban teams rotates around a Kanban board. While physical boards are common among some teams, virtual boards are crucial in agile software development tools for easier collaboration, traceability, and accessibility from various areas.
Regardless of whether a team’s board is digital or physical. Its function is to ensure a team visualizes their work, standardizes their workflow, and identifies and resolves all blockers and dependencies. A basic Kanban board has three basic workflows: in progress, to do, and done.
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However, a team can map their workflow depending on their size, structure, and objectives to meet their unique process.
The Kanban methodology relies upon full transparency of work and real-time communication capacity. Therefore, Kanban board can be seen as the single source of truth for the team’s work.
Kanban Best Practices
The Kanban method is based on seven basic practices to create an emerging set of positive behaviors in an organization and achieve better agility in providing services. An organization applies, reviews, and improves the practices relentlessly. Kanban practices entail:
Unlike in the construction of physical products, the inventory isn’t visible in the knowledge work process. It does not take up space, and an organization doesn’t account for it. An organization that doesn’t visualize the work in progress doesn’t see the ques or points of improving it.
A Kanban board is a typical way to visualize the work and the process through which it passes. A Kanban system defines the commitment and delivery point. The visual signs must be visible to limit work progress at each stage between them, thus implementing a pull.
In addition, to visualize the work process and work items, there are many other things to visualize to ensure success.
An organization must visualize everything that helps them make decisions and visualize signs and controls that indicate when they should act on a problem. As the team deepens their understanding of Kanban, they incorporate more visual controls. These include services, demand management criteria, policies between activities, more detailed design of work items, service objectives, metrics performances graphs, etc.
Some basic elements cannot be missing on a Kanban Board. From there, each team evolves its visualization basing on context, problems, and needs.
2. Limit Work in Progress
Limit work in progress is the best known Kanban practice. Limiting work in progress is key to implementing a pull system. An organization that limits a process’s capacity knows when there is the free capacity to work from the previous process.
Organizations focus on the work in progress and begin to change the mentality from resource efficiency, typical of the traditional company, to flow efficiency. They are mostly concerned with the efficiency of workflow and who is doing what.
An organization that implements and respects the Work in Progress(WIP) limits changes a “push” system to a “pull” system. Where they don’t start new items until they complete the job. Too much partially complete work is a common disease that lengthens the time to market and impedes the organization from responding to changing circumstances.
Organizations require WIP limits if they have a PULL system and benefits from Kanban. Otherwise, they won’t play with post-its and pretend. Too much work in progress is a waste, it reduces quality and increases delivery time making the system unpredictable. Hence prevents an organization from dealing with changing circumstances and opportunities.
Limiting, observing, and then optimizing the amount of work in progress is essential for Kanban’s success. It reverts to the better delivery time for services, better quality, and higher delivery rate.
3. Manage Flow
The Kanban system workflow must maximize value delivery, minimize time-to-time market, and be as predictable as possible. Therefore, an organization gains empirical control through transparency, inspection, and adaptation.
A company must properly manage bottlenecks and blockages to improve system performances. Kanban mainly focuses on workflow. Its main aim is for work to flow as quickly as possible to the client with the highest quality and safety.
An organization always has to monitor queues, blockages, and dependencies. It should additionally ensure that there are visual controls that warn them when something goes wrong.
4. Make Policies Explicit
High-performance organizations make their policies explicit. Human beings are likely to have many assumptions, and these cannot lead a company. It is also common that there are discrepancies between the strategies and objectives of an organization and what is happening. Therefore, an organization must ensure all processes, decisions, criteria, and data are explicit and visible.
Explicit policies restrict an organization’s activities and result in emerging behaviors that can only improve through experiments. A company’s policies must be simple, well defined, visible, and easy to modify and apply by those who provide the services.
The policies include WIP limits, the allocation and balance of capacity, the “Definition of Done” or other policies for work items, that leave the stages of a process, and replacement policies for selecting new jobs when capacity is available.
When an organization doesn’t implement a policy, there is an opportunity for improvement that would not have occurred if it had made it explicit in the first place.
5. Implement Feedback Loop
To bring change to the entire organization, the organization should interconnect all services working with Kanban effectively. Feedback loops demonstrate the pulse that keeps an organization alive and connected. They allow to periodically connect different decision-making levels in the organization, by exchanging information for continuous improvement.
According to David Anderson, the Kanban method has seven Cadences. Cadences are the cyclical reviews that enforce continuous improvement and the effective provision of services. They include strategy review, operations review, risks review, service delivery review, replenishment meetings, Kanban meetings, and delivery planning meetings.
Organizations have to incorporate these elements for continuous improvement with Kanban into the schedule. Implementing the seven cadences doesn’t necessarily mean adding seven additional new meetings. Cadences should be initially part of existing meetings of an organization and should meet their goals. On a smaller scale, one meeting can cover more than one of the cadences.
6. Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally
The Kanban method uses an evolutionary process to allow great changes within an organization, protecting it from extinction. The evolutionary process involves:
- Dealing with differences.
- Selecting to increase the value contribution to customers.
- Maintaining and amplifying the functional changes while rejecting and reversing the ineffective changes.
It’s essential to use models, the scientific method, and metrics to validate or invalidate the models’ application in context.
7. Complex Environment and Adaptive Capability
The Kanban process, principles and general practices are designed to lay the foundations for an adaptive capability with an organization. Adaptability is how organizations cope with and respond to complex environments. Organizations require the adaptive capability for resilience in complex environments.
The improvement of the workflow process of an organization represents emergent behavior. An organization can’t predict its outcome in advance or several steps in advance. An organization emerges future processes rather than design.
Kanban practices allow an organization to create a series of emerging behaviors to improve their service. It provides agility in an evolutionary and non-disruptive way. They exist to help organizations understand the functioning of their work system and lead them to change management proactively.