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  • What is Kanban?

    Kanban is a popular Lean workflow management method for defining, managing, and improving services that deliver knowledge work. It helps you visualize work, maximize efficiency, and improve continuously. Work is represented on Kanban boards, allowing you to optimize work delivery across multiple teams and handle even the most complex projects in a single environment.

    Originating from manufacturing, it later became a territory claimed by Agile software development teams. Recently, it started getting recognized by business units across various industries. It is a method to manage all types of professional services, also referred to as knowledge work.

    Using the Kanban method means applying a holistic way of thinking about your services with a focus on improving them from your customers’ perspective.

    Kanban is not a methodology nor a process framework. Rather, it is a management method or approach that should be applied to an existing process or way of working. It is important to understand that the Kanban Method is applied with its principles and practices on top of an existing flow of work and way of working.

    Kanban Definition

    The Japanese word “kanban”, meaning “visual board” or a “sign”, has been used in the sense of a process definition since the 1950s. It was first developed and applied by Toyota as a scheduling system for just-in-time manufacturing.

    On the other hand, the capitalized term “Kanban” is known and associated with the emergence of the “Kanban Method,” which was first defined in 2007. 

    Kanban Origins

    Initially, it arose as a scheduling system for lean manufacturing, originating from the Toyota Production System (TPS).  In the late 1940s, Toyota introduced “just in time” manufacturing to its production. The approach represents a pull system. This means that production is based on customer demand rather than the standard push practice of producing goods and pushing them to the market.

    Their unique production system laid the foundation of Lean manufacturing or simply Lean. Its core purpose is minimizing waste activities without sacrificing productivity. The main goal is to create more value for the customer without generating more costs.

    With an increased focus on efficiency and by harnessing advances in computing technology, Kanban left the automotive industry’s realm and was successfully applied to other complex commercial sectors such as IT, software development, R&D, and others.

    The Kanban Method

    The Kanban Method is based on Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business, by David J Anderson, 2010. The motivation to create the method was mainly to find a way to manage and improve professional service businesses as well as a way to provide a humane change method.

    It is a result of years of testing, experience, and joint efforts of leading figures in the Lean and Agile community, such as David Anderson, Dan Vacanti, Darren Davis, Corey Ladas, Dominica DeGrandis, Rick Garber, and others.

    With the Kanban Method, you visualize invisible knowledge work and how it moves through a workflow. This helps to effectively operate your business, including understanding and managing risks in delivering your services to the customers.

    With Kanban, you and your business will develop an adaptive capability over time to respond better and faster to changes in your customers’ needs and expectations or within your business environment.

    Used with a service focus in mind, Kanban is an effective organizational development tool.

    You can start building your Kanban system by setting up the most straightforward Kanban board with three basic columns – “Requested”, “In Progress” and “Done”.

    When constructed, managed, and functioning correctly, it serves as a real-time information repository, highlighting bottlenecks within the system and anything else that might interrupt smooth working practices.

    Kanban Principles

    Change Management

    These Change Management Principles are common to all Kanban implementations:

    • Start with what you do now
    • Agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change
    • Encourage acts of leadership at all levels

    Kanban is not a big bang transformation going from a current state to some future state. We know from history that those rarely work. Instead, Kanban uses an evolutionary change approach, building on the way of working already in place, seeking to improve it using many forms of feedback and collaboration.

    The Kanban Method engenders evolutionary change through insights gained by the people working with the Kanban board and taking acts of leadership to continuously improve their way of working.

    These acts of leadership may not be what are thought of as traditional leadership. They may be small observations and suggestions for improvement by individuals without organizational leadership roles.

    Service Delivery

    Kanban encourages you to take a service-oriented approach to understanding your organization and how work flows through it.

    This service-oriented organizational paradigm is based on the idea that your organization is an organic entity consisting of a network of services, each of them living and breathing, and evolving.

    Customer requests flow through this network of services. If we are to improve service delivery, improvements should be guided by a set of principles.

    These principles may not be utilized early on by organizations as they may not have developed or evolved a service-oriented or customer service mindset as part of their culture.

    The service-oriented principles are:

    • Understand and focus on customer needs and expectations
    • Manage the work; let people self-organize around it
    • Regularly review the network of services and its policies in order to improve outcomes

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