Kanban: Understanding Kanban Method

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Only after understanding how the flow of work currently functions can you aspire to improve it by making the necessary adjustments. To visualize your process with a Kanban system, you will need a board with cards and columns.


Each column on the board represents a step in your workflow. Each Kanban card represents a work item. This way you can easily track progress and spot bottlenecks. If there are no work-in-progress limits , you are not doing Kanban. Limiting WIP means that a pull system is implemented on parts or all of the workflow.

Such constraints will quickly illuminate problem areas in your flow so you can identify and resolve them. The whole idea of implementing a Kanban system is to create a smooth healthy flow. By flow, we mean the movement of work items through the production process. We are interested in the speed and the smoothness of movement. So, managing the flow is about managing the work but not the people. So instead of micro-managing people and trying to keep them busy all the time, we should focus on managing the work processes and understanding how to get that work through the system faster.

Ideally, we want fast and smooth flow. This would mean that our system is creating value quickly. This way we can minimize the average cycle time for production and avoiding the cost of delay but in a predictable fashion. This is why the process should be clearly defined, published and socialized.

People would not associate and participate in something they do not believe would be useful. When everyone is familiar with the common goal, they would be able to work and make decisions regarding a change that will move you in a positive direction. In order for the positive change to happen, succeed and continue, one more thing needs to be done. The Lean philosophy supports the assumption that regular meetings are necessary for knowledge transfer feedback loops.

Such are the daily stand up meetings for team synchronization. They are held in front of the Kanban board and every member tells the others what he or she did the previous day and what will be doing today. There are also the service delivery review, the operations review, and the risk review meeting. The frequency depends on many factors, but the idea is that they are regular, at a strictly fixed hour, straight to the point and never unnecessarily long. The ideal average length of a stand up should be between minutes, and others may reach up to an hour depending on the team size and topics.

The way to achieve continuous improvement and sustainable change within an organization is through shared vision of a better future and collective understanding of the issues that need to be overcome. Teams that have a shared understanding of theories about work, workflow, process, and risk are more likely to build a shared comprehension of a problem and suggest steps towards improvement, which can be agreed by consensus.

Team Kanban

Nowadays, many organizations use the Kanban method in order to be more agile and bring order to their chaotic work processes. Simply said, it helps you get more work done. The basic idea of Kanban is visualizing every piece of work on a board. This way, the Kanban board turns into a central informational hub. All tasks are visible and they never get lost, which brings transparency to the whole work process. Every team member can have a quick update on the status of every project or task. Once you build a Kanban board and you fill it with cards, you will see that some columns will get overcrowded with tasks.

This will help you spotlight bottlenecks in your workflow and tackle them properly. For example, you can get a sense of how big tasks should be so your team can move them forward in a timely manner. If you take a look at the basic Kanban principles you will easily understand that it can be used by any team in your organization from marketing to HR. On the contrary, it suggests that you should pursue incremental, evolutionary change and try to improve continuously.

It allows teams to change priorities, re-organize or switch focus really fast. One of the main advantages of Kanban is that it requires teams to focus on their current tasks until they are done. This is possible thanks to the concept of limiting work in progress. Limiting WIP fosters teams to collaborate in order to complete work items faster, which on the other hand eliminates distractions such as context-switching and multitasking.

With the development of technology, Kanban has been also continuously improving. Digital Kanban board solutions have been developed to overcome the problems arising in remote teams. Most of the enterprise-sized companies and even more startups have many remote employees. Teams are often distributed all over the world. They are not able to work on a physical whiteboard and thus need a digital one, they could access from anywhere and be more agile.

Kanban boards in the cloud are the most effective way to get everyone on the same track as they provide access to all of the information from any device at any time and show actions live. Moreover, Kanban software allows for a sophisticated analytical process to help you track performance in details, discover bottlenecks and implement the necessary changes. Digital boards are also easy to integrate with other systems and can give an extremely valuable perspective of the whole process, save time and increase efficiency. The online Kanban solutions gives you the opportunity to automate some parts of your processes and save valuable time.

With custom automatons any typical workflow can be made more efficient. A Kanban system is more than sticky notes on the wall. The easiest way to understand Kanban is to embrace its philosophy and then apply it to your daily work. If you read, understand and resonate with the four core principles, the practical transition would seem logical and even inevitable. Visualizing workflow, setting WIP limits, managing flow, ensuring explicit policies and collaborative improvement will take your process far beyond you could think.

Remember to organize regular feedback loops and all these pieces together will reveal the true power of Kanban. Trying to learn what is Kanban could be hard at first but now that you know what it is, you can make the most out of the main benefits of Kanban:. This website uses cookies to give you the best and most relevant experience.

Click accept to agree to our use of cookies and Terms Of Use or customize your preferences. Cookies are text files containing small amounts of information which are sent to your browser and stored on your computer, mobile phone or another device when you visit a website. Two hours is enough to cover the theory adequately and allow for reflecting and summarizing.

Each team gets paper of different colors, scissors and other materials the full list of materials is at the bottom of this page. They will cut, shape and tape these together to form pizza slices according to the given recipe. Kanban always starts where you are, from an existing process. At the start of the game we let the teams to get to grips with the paper pieces and constraints by building as many pizza slices Hawaiian as possible.

Present a ready-made slice of Hawaiian pizza to the teams and explain what goes into the pizza: a slice of pizza base paper triangle , tomato sauce red marker , three slices of ham pink Post-Its and three slices of pineapple yellow Post-Its. The tomato sauce covers the pizza bottom nicely and the toppings are carefully cut and distributed evenly across the pizza.

Show the oven plate and explain how it works. There can be a maximum of three pizza slices in the oven at one time. Cooking time is at least 30 seconds. No adding or removing of slices while baking! Then ask the teams to produce as many pizzas as they can while trying to avoid waste i. At the end of the initial round, introduce Kanban and the core practices of Kanban:. Next, explain the scoring system and let each team calculate their score.

Collect the scores and write them down in a matrix teams vs. At this point you can also ask the teams to pick names for their pizzerias. Ask the teams to visualize the workflow and make the process explicit by introducing storage for production materials pizza bottoms, slices of ham etc. Don't try to optimize the workflow now, just document it as it emerged during the first round. The teams can use the materials at hand, e. Ask the teams to limit their work in progress.

Kanban Presentation - Kanban in four easy steps | Kanban Tool

Did they have materials piling up and becoming waste at the end of the round? What would be a sensible WIP limit for that step and for the other steps? How about the pizza quality? Did the teams cut corners perhaps literally? Pizza bottoms should be the same size and well covered with tomato sauce, and the toppings should be nicely cut and distributed evenly. Ask each team to bring forward their best pizza s.

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Then ask the room to choose the most beautiful specimen. Now run a new one round with your newly established Kanban system. At the end of the round run a debrief and count the points. When you have presented the extensions to the game and answered any questions the teams may have, allow the teams five minutes to discuss and extend their system to account for Pizza Rucola and the orders.

Allow the teams some minutes to discuss and improve their system.

Kanban Project Management: Everything You Need to Know

Tell them to play around with the workflow and try different WIP limits. Ask the teams to look back on the game, draw the flow on a flipchart or whiteboard including WIP limits and make it look nice using paper materials and pizzas produced during the game. With the physical production of the Pizza the workflow is always present, and by drawing the workflow we create a model that we can use for reflecting on the current process.

Remember: all models are wrong, but some are useful. The workflow is a simplification and can never match reality perfectly, but it allows us to study and understand our work. Note that the workflow can be represented in multiple ways. The fact that some pizzas go into the oven with toppings and some without can be described using tags, swimlanes, non-linear workflows, directed networks, cadences alternating between hawaii and rucola in the oven or a number of other methods.

Over the course of the game, each team created a workflow that made sense in their own context of people, resources and bottlenecks.

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While it is likely that other teams could pick up a board and make it their own, it doesn't mean that any one of the boards is necessarily "more right" than the others. Throughout the game, the built-in bottlenecks caused queues to pile up. This is intentional.

The History of Kanban – How It All Started

During the game the teams introduced limits on the work in progress WiP to make sure that they produce the right things and to avoid losing points for unused materials. The participants experienced that WiP limits are more than simple limitations: they drive and change the behavior of people. People tend to interact more on the overall production, communicate more and help each other when needed.

Kanban works best when work is flowing nicely through the system. Normally you would increase the flow by measuring and minimizing the lead time. Unfortunately this takes too much time away from the facilitator, and so in the Pizza Game we use a scoring system that is set up to penalize inventory and trigger similar flow-optimizing behavior. In the first rounds of the game there is a tendency to prepare small stockpiles of materials in advance. In later rounds the team learns to keep inventory down and maintain flow by tightening the WIP limits.

Measuring the flow in the Pizza Game can be very instructive, but you will need a co-facilitator to do this. After the first round, each team documented their workflow by marking it on the table. Any changes to the system were made immediately on the table. We also set a common quality standard by selecting a Reference Pizza. How did this help the work?

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How about roles? Did people have clear roles? How did they appear? Who allocated the "resources" in this simulation? What did we collect feedback on?

Kanban 101 - What is Kanban?

Ask the teams to think for a moment about what kinds of feedback loops there were in the game, and write these on post-its. You can either collect all post-its on a board, or ask people to give examples. During the debrief, ask them what would have happened without each specific type of feedback.

The game consisted of four rounds, with time for inspecting and adapting in between. Who did the inspecting and adapting? What information was it based on? What did people in the tables talk about during pizza production? Yes, you are supposed to do exactly that. The unused slices of ham, pineapple, rocket salad and pizza bottoms on the table will of course give you negative points at the end of each round. If the team knows how much time is left, they will start ramping down the process ahead of time, in order to minimize waste.

While minimizing waste is good, we want the teams to do it while work is still going on. In practice, something between five and seven minutes seems to be fine. If you magically "fix" a bottleneck for the team by handing them extra resources, they don't learn to actually identify and cope with bottlenecks by themselves. Instead they learn that they can complain about the bottleneck and have it magically removed. It takes a bit of time before the system resettles and the new bottleneck emerges. In the four rounds of the game, we don't really have time for more than one, perhaps two changes of this kind.

All teams are different and lack of visible pressure is not necessarily bad. Observe what is happening and gently strengthen good behavior and suppress unwanted behavior. That said, if you feel that the teams are not doing their best, try to create a bit more competition between teams. You could also ask the teams to measure and improve the lead time. Make it visible, make it explicit. Point out the quality difference to all teams and ask them to agree on the quality level. They could for example nominate a joint QA person to examine and accept pizza deliveries, or draft a Definition of Done, or make a Standard Reference Pizza.

Teams quickly figure out that scissors are a bottleneck, and some proceed to rip toppings by hand.