Kanban and Quad Biking

I’ve recently been using a newer language to describe the model I apply when introducing Kanban to teams, which has been generally working well. I now talk about:

  • Studying – understanding the current system structure
  • Envisioning – creating a common mental model of the system
  • Limiting – bringing the system under control
  • Sensing – having an awareness of the system’s performance
  • Learning – improving the system’s capability

imageAt the Kanban Leadership Retreat in Reykjavik this week, I talked about sensing and was teased by Daniel Vacanti about how fluffy it sounded. (To be fair, I was giving as good as I got). Later that evening in the bar, I was chatting with Katherine Kirk, and I realised why it sounds fluffy. It’s because sensing is not just about the mechanics of measuring the process the capability of a system. Its also about the human aspects of a system, which are too easily forgotten. So for now I’m going to stick with it.

And that brings me to quad biking.

The day after the Leadership Retreat, a small group of us went quad biking over the Icelandic landscape. Its an amazing way to see the country and highly recommended. While I was driving over the rocky ground, I realised it was a great metaphor for sensing.

To begin with, it takes a bit of time to get used to driving the bike. More control is needed while learning the basics. When driving at speeds up to 70kph, however, you’re never actually in full control. The more firmly you try to gain control, the more likely you are to lose control. I soon realised that by gripping and steering too tightly, I was getting thrown about too much when I hit a large hole or rock. By holding more loosely, relaxing, leaning back and going with the flow, I could sense how the bike was behaving and move accordingly. By doing so, I learned that when going round tight corners, pushing the steering to force the bike round was hard work and ineffective, but leaning back and pulling the steering was a lot easier and more effective.

This is why I like sensing as a word to describe the way I work with kanban systems. While establishing a cadence and measuring are key ways that we can understand capability, sensing describes a more instinctive awareness of how a kanban system is performing, and conveys the way teams are able to adapt, anticipate and experiment as they explore the limits of the system.

Katherine Kirk has also taught me about equanimity, “a state of mental or emotional stability or composure arising from a deep awareness and acceptance of the present moment.” Sensing a kanban system involves having equanimity when  dancing with the system.

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