Kanban Thinking emerged from a realisation that “best practices” are not universal, and that sometimes, continuing to try harder, do better and have more discipline isn’t the right thing to do when those practices are not appropriate. As a result, the challenge became one of how to help people learn and discover their own solutions to the challenges they face when pre-packaged solutions don’t work. The result, Kanban Thinking, is a mental model that guides my thinking, and gives me a framework with which to ask questions when designing kanban systems. This post describes Kanban Thinking in terms of some basic questions.
The starting point is to understand why we are designing a kanban system.
- What systemic problem, difficulty or frustration are we trying to address?
Next we consider how we will know whether the kanban system is doing its job.
Improving the progress of the work might be a positive impact.
- How would investing in our process, its efficiency and reliability make a difference?
Improving the product of the work might be a positive impact.
- How would investing in our product, its effectiveness and validity make a difference?
Improving the sustainability of the work might be a positive impact.
- How would investing in our people, their euphoria and humanity make a difference?
Then we evaluate what interventions we might make to begin evolving the kanban system.
Studying the context allows a better understanding of the current situation.
- What could be done to learn more about customer and stakeholder needs, the resultant demand, and how that demand is processed?
Sharing the knowledge gives everyone a common understanding of the situation.
- What information is important to share, and how can tokens, the inscriptions on them, and their placements, provide a single visual model?
Containing the work, with loose constraints, creates a stable, yet supple system.
- What policies could help limit work in process, and remove unnecessary or unexpected delays or rework?
Sensing the current capability provides understanding of how well the system is performing.
- What measures and meetings might create insights and guide decisions on the interventions required to have the desired impact?
Exploring possible interventions leads to discovery of the evolutionary potential of the system.
- What small experiments could be run to safely learn the impact of different interventions?
There are not necessarily any right or wrong answers to these questions. The intent is that they should lead to dialogue and conversations, which themselves lead to awareness and ideas for how to go about change and improvement.
How do these questions help you? Let me know!