When is Kanban suitable?

With Kanban you can save the world! But what is Kanban anyway? The central element of this agile method is the Kanban board (also called Kanban board), which makes all process steps and tasks visible at a glance. It is a visual tool with the goal to show the bottlenecks of a process in order to eliminate them.

What makes Kanban tick?

Kanban itself does not suggest solutions (for that, for example, Kaizen is much better suited, which perfectly complements Kanban). Instead, it shows where the work is piling up and helps to sustainably increase the flow in the process. In other words, it's about keeping the flow and not having a "stop & go" in the process. This helps to avoid inefficiencies and save unnecessary costs. The smaller the individual work package, the faster tasks can be pushed through the board. This allows us to deliver faster and more consistently.

Kanban - an agile method with a long history

Kanban comes from Japan and was developed by Taiichi Ōno in 1947 in the Toyota Motor Corporation. In Toyota production, immediately after the war, resources were scarce and the demand for vehicles was high, as was the amount of suppliers who wanted to serve the market.

In the very beginning, Kanban consisted of buckets and "running" cards that visualized the amount of work in each process area. Only later did it evolve into the board we know today, which visualizes the entire process.

David J. Anderson introduced Kanban at Microsoft and thus in software development. In doing so, he created a completely new way of working for the IT industry: Now it became visible who was doing what at what time! This made it possible to better understand the process of software development.

Kanban and Scrum in comparison

Unlike other methods in the agile world, Kanban suggests starting where you are. In English, "Start where you are." It is an evolution "step by step" instead of a revolution where you have to change everything from the beginning.

In this sense, Kanban is the opposite of Scrum, which requires profound changes: In order to work with it, the roles (Scrum Master, Product Owner and Developers) have to be defined first, as well as the events (Planning, Daily, Review, Retrospective and Refinement) and the artifacts and commitments (Product and Spirnt backlogs, Increment, Spirnt Goal, DoD and Product Goal).

You want to learn more about Scrum? Read our multilingual Scrum Guide or book your Scrum training directly.

This is how easy it is to use Kanban

But now back to Kanban: It allows an evolution that starts with only two simple steps: On the one hand you define the process steps and make them visible in a board, on the other hand you determine a WiP (Work in Progress) limit. Important: This process has to be the "is" process and not the "should" process. In this way, the real process can be better understood and potential improvements that increase efficiency can be made.

Here you can find a great video by Niklas Modig at TEDxUmeå (in English), in which the concept of Kanban is explained very understandably with a use case. Very interesting is the difference between resource efficiency and flow efficiency.

Kanban's own view of efficiency

Usually, when we talk about efficiency, we think about how to organize resources so that they are always loaded or used. When resources are "free" we lose time or money. The focus of Kanban and generally of Lean (Lean Management and Lean Production) is a little different. It is not about having all resources busy. It's about making sure we deliver continuously. The logic behind it: If the process is defect-free, the result is defect-free. Watch the video and share your comments with us.

The scalability makes Kanban particularly powerful

Lastly, it is good to know that Kanban can be scaled in width and in height. This makes it possible to follow the development of tasks and work packages in the different levels and process steps.

For example, in SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) one of the forms of scaling of Kanban is found, where you can find Kanban boards with different sizes (scope) of the work packages in the hierarchy. The work packages "fall" or "travel" from left to right within the Kanbans and from Kanban to Kanban to "down" when they reach a certain size (scope) which is already predefined. The Big Picture can be found here and with us you can get certified with Leading SAFe! 

You can find a webinar about Kanban in our Youtube channel. You can book your Kanban training directly on the Serview website!


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