David J. Anderson, who was also one of the original signatories of the Agile Manifesto in 2001, published his method in his 2010 book Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business
. In place of just-in-time materials, he introduced the notion of “work in progress” (WiP), referring to all the tasks a team is currently working on in parallel. The number of such tasks needs to be restricted for a team to be able to efficiently achieve its goals and quickly identify problems. In Kanban terminology, this is referred to as a “WiP limit”.
What are the benefits?
The main benefit of the Kanban system is that it creates transparency for everyone working on a project. Being able to understand the value of each individual task for the client encourages people to work more independently and with greater motivation, since everyone is responsible for both their own task and the overall success of the project. Thanks to the quick feedback and collective problem-solving, everyone is involved and able to learn and improve together. This culture of kaizen – Japanese for “continuous improvement” – is one of the most important results of Kanban
How does it help make companies agile?
Kanban supports a self-organised way of working. Everyone is responsible for the results – for efficiency, quality, innovation. This principle helps bring about more agility. Employees themselves identify errors, hold-ups and bottlenecks in a project, devise solutions and learn from each other. Here too the objective is to produce optimum flow and keep on improving a little at a time.
How does it differ from other agile methods?
The best-known agile method is Scrum, which requires companies to make fundamental changes to their roles and structures. Kanban, by contrast, does not require organisations that have previously used conventional methods to suddenly make radical upheavals. Instead, there is a process of gradual evolution in parallel with the development of the team and its Kanban practices.
This was precisely David J. Anderson’s intention. He asked why Scrum can sometimes encounter resistance within companies and end up failing, and concluded that people don’t like change, and certainly not radical upheaval. So he sought to structure change in a way that ensured quicker recognition and acceptance of the benefits.
Can the Kanban method be used with digital tools rather than a physical board?
There are advantages to the analogue Kanban method, using a physical board and cards. But the bigger the project, the more impractical this becomes, so there also exist digital solutions (e-Kanban). Some of these solutions are part of other project management and social collaboration tools such as Jira and Merlin. Others are standalone solutions, like Portfolio Kanban and Team Kanban from Kanbanize.
Here are five free e-Kanban tools:
- Trello (https://trello.com/)
- Kanboard (https://kanboard.org/)
- Wekan (https://wekan.github.io/)
- Meistertask (https://www.meistertask.com/de)
- Restyaboard (https://restya.com/board/)
Is Kanban suitable for my company?
The only way to find out is to take the plunge and try it out for yourself. If you want or need to change in order to improve, then Kanban will help kickstart this change process – not with mere words but with concrete actions, and taking small steps that don’t leave anyone behind.
Kanban doesn’t attack or demolish hierarchies or other existing structures, but it does trigger a dynamic within teams and companies that will bring about changes in tasks, roles and mindsets. The most important thing is to give yourself time and take the principles seriously. Only then can Kanban work and bring about positive change.