Thoughts on Kanban Thinking

Some thoughts on what I have been referring to as Kanban Thinking

Why create an other brand?

I’m in the camp that believes we need to create more brands, rather than reduce everything down to “common sense” or “good practice”. To paraphrase Alistair Cockburn, every successful team should create its own branded processes to describe the context and the solution.

Why another “Kanban” brand?

By using the name Kanban, I am acknowledging the roots of my current approach in hearing David Anderson talk about Kanban at Agile2007 in Washington DC. I consider that to be as important a turning point in my career as when I first read about Extreme Programming in 1999. Further, my response to calls to provide a single, clearer definition of Kanban for software development, is to encourage more definitions of Kanban. The more definitions there are, the less dogma there will be, and the more people will have to think for themselves about what Kanban means to them.

Why the “Thinking”?

As I mentioned when I blogged about Agile Thinking at the start of the year, thinking should be a core part of what we do. Alongside Lean Thinking, A3 Thinking, Systems Thinking, Complexity Complexity Thinking and Design Thinking, I want to make this explicit. Emphasising the thinking is also intended to make it clear that action is also required to succeed. Kanban Thinking is not a silver bullet as the right action is needed for each context.

What is Kanban Thinking?

Kanban Thinking is systemic. It takes a mindset of optimising the whole system, whatever the boundaries of that system are defined to be. Part of the thinking is deciding what those boundaries are. They do not naturally exist but are created by us to help frame a context.

Kanban Thinking strives to achieve flow, deliver value and build capability.

  • To achieve flow is to have smooth, regular and frequent progress of work. Kanban Thinking looks to eliminate delays rather than eliminate waste.
  • To deliver value is to focus on doing the right thing in order to delight the customer (and other stakeholders). Kanban Thinking looks to maximise value rather than minimise cost.
  • To build capability is to develop people and knowledge as a foundation for business success. Kanban Thinking looks to develop people as problem solvers rather than their tools to solve problems.

Kanban Thinking involves studying, sharing, limiting, sensing and learning.

  • Studying the current system helps understanding of the existing context.
  • Sharing the understanding gives everyone knowledge about what is happening.
  • Putting limits in place bounds the system to help stabilise it.
  • Sensing how the system is performing gives an understanding of current capability.
  • Learning from the systems performance allows for capability to be continually improved.
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5 comments on “Thoughts on Kanban Thinking

  1. Nice piece, Karl.

    The focus on flow is interesting – it’s one of those “by not focusing on X you get X for free” things. Smooth, regular & frequent progress of work will necessarily eliminate many of the worst kinds of waste – Overproduction, inventory, waiting, unevenness and overburden in particular.

    On the branding, if I were to put together a bunch of methods proven to effective in quality, efficiency and speed of delivery, taking from the best of Agile & Lean, but placing them in a pragmatic (explicitly avoiding sloganeering and dogmatism) mindset, then Flow Software is probably what I’d call it.

    Hmm, now there’s an idea…

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  2. I think my major take away from this blog entry starts and ends with thinking. It is easy to check our critical thinking capacity at the door. Frameworks might help us focus but the thinking component allows us to change!

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  3. Thanks, Karl.
    Didn’t someone say, I think, therefore I am?
    I think we should do more of this thinking, and sharing our thoughts about thinking…
    Very concise summary. Will keep this.
    Take care

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  4. Excellent post!

    Focusing on eliminating delays helps to avoid distraction of trying to figure the various wastes involved.

    Thinking should be leveled among those who are involved in the process. It’s education for everyone!

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  5. Pingback: Les Kanban de Bonnada (2) |

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