The Fifth Primary Practice of Kanban

I recently wrote what I considered to be the four primary practices of a Kanban System for Software Development:

  1. Map the Value Stream
  2. Visualise the Value Stream
  3. Limit the Work in Progress
  4. Establish a Cadence

During subsequent discussions on the aspect of Continuous Improvement in a Kanban System, I decided that there was a missing fifth primary practice:

  1. Reduce the Kanban Tokens

I originally named this practice “Eliminate Kanban”, but was persuaded that this was probably overly sensational, and as a result potentially confusing or misleading. Its intent is that once a Kanban System is in place, the team should be constantly looking to improve it by creating an environment where the work flows naturally. There is a quote that I believe comes from Rother and Shook which says “flow where you can, pull where you must”. By striving to reduce the number of kanban tokens in the system, a team will move towards an environment where they are more self organising and the work can flow. This can be achieved by either lowering the WIP limits or by collapsing the number of distinct stages.

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12 comments on “The Fifth Primary Practice of Kanban

  1. Sharing tokens across states can reduce tokens due to the ‘sum of squares’ phenomenon, which is sort of like collapsing states, except you get to keep the visual control, the standards, and the statistics.

  2. Go on Karl, after recent discussions how about:
    0. Respect those doing the work

    It can’t hurt and may just help readers remember where all this comes from.

    I truly believe that this is a deeply held belief in the existing Kanban community, we need to work to ensure that as popularity increases we don’t loose this in favour of tools, limits and index cards.

    Cheers

    Dave.

  3. Corollas were fairly popular and selling well. We started with a plan to make 5000 cars. I instructed the head of the engine section to make 5000 units and use under 100 workers. After two or three months, he reported, “We can make 5000 units with 80 workers.”

    After that, the Corolla kept selling well. So I asked him, “How many workers can make 10000 units?”

    He instantly answered, “160 workers.”

    So I yelled at him, “In grade school I was taught that two times eight equals sixteen. After all these years, do you think I should learn that from you? Do you think I’m a fool?”

    Before long, 100 workers were making over 10000 units.

    –Taiichi Ohno

  4. Pingback: Lean and Kanban Collection : Software & Technology @kirkk.com

  5. Probably some of both, depending on where the improvement opportunities were. The more trained people you have, the easier it should be to find people to perform multiskill operations. It could be that all of the new workers were applied to new flow processes that reduced both cycle time and kanban.

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