Get to know the Kanban basics, how it works and if it's right for you

Kanban 101: Understanding the Basics of Kanban

Kanban is a method that helps teams visualise and manage their workflow. It was originally developed for manufacturing, but it has since been adapted for use in a wide range of industries, including software development, healthcare, and finance. The name “Kanban” comes from the Japanese word for “signboard” or “billboard”, and it refers to the visual boards that teams use to track and manage their work. In this blog post we’ll help you understand the Kanban basics, how it works and when you should apply it, along with the differences when compared to Scrum (the most popular Agile method)

What is Kanban?

One way to think about Kanban is to think of it as a traffic management system for your team’s work. Just like traffic on the road, work items flow through different stages of development, from “backlog” to “in progress” to “done”. In Kanban, you can use a visual board to see the work items moving through these stages, much like how we can see cars moving through different lanes on a highway. By understanding the flow of traffic we can manage it more effectively, ensuring we’re making the best use of our roads and can understand what may cause further delays or opportunities to invest in improving our systems.

Principles and practices – Kanban basics:

  • In Kanban, teams use a Kanban board to visualize their workflow, with columns representing the different stages of development and cards representing the work items.
  • This allows the team to see the flow of work items, identify bottlenecks, and make adjustments to improve the overall flow of work.
Information radiators in Kanban

This leads to some of the principles and practices of Kanban:

  • Start with what you do now: Teams can begin using Kanban with their current process, rather than having to completely overhaul their existing system. The goal is to make incremental improvements over time, rather than making big changes all at once.
  • Make policies explicit: Teams should clearly define their policies and practices for managing work, such as how work items are prioritized, how work is assigned, and how progress is tracked.
  • Manage flow: Teams should focus on managing the flow of work items through the system, rather than managing resources or people.
  • Limit Work in Progress (WIP): By limiting the number of work items that are in progress at any given time, teams can focus on completing work items, rather than starting too many new ones.
  • Implement Feedback Loops: By implementing feedback loops, teams can gather data on how their work is progressing, identify bottlenecks, and make adjustments to improve the overall flow of work.
  • Improve Collaboratively: By involving the whole team in the improvement process, teams can more effectively identify and solve problems, and improve their workflow.
  • Implement Small Batches: By breaking work items into small, manageable chunks, teams can more effectively manage their workflow and deliver value to their customers.

Comparing Scrum and Kanban

So what then is the difference between Scrum and Kanban?

  • Scrum is an iterative, time-boxed framework, with defined roles, events, and artifacts. Kanban, on the other hand, is a pull-based framework, where work is pulled through the system by the team as and when they have the capacity for the work. It’s great for teams who’s work can’t be planned (support and BAU teams are classic examples).
  • Scrum has defined roles, events and timeframes such as Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective while Kanban does not prescribe any specific roles, events, or time boxes. It makes it easy for teams to pick up, but requires discipline to do well.
  • Ultimately Kanban teams often end up using some Scrum practices (called ScrumBan) but focused on flow rather than delivery through sprints.
Scrumban approach (a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban)

Kanban is a powerful tool that can help teams manage their workflow more effectively. It provides a visual representation of the work items moving through different stages and allows teams to focus on continuous improvement and flow. Even doing the Kanban basics can help a team improve. By understanding the principles of Kanban, and how it differs from other frameworks like Scrum, teams can make an informed decision on which methodology is the best fit for their specific needs.

Next steps:

If you’re interested in learning more about how Kanban can be applied to your team, contact us for more information on our Kanban 101 course or to see how we can help you apply Kanban in your organisation.






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