The Kanban method is a popular Agile framework which is based on Lean principles, and the flow of work is visualised in a Kanban board. The Kanban shows all the information and statuses of the work in the software development cycle. Kanban aims at improving efficiency, limiting the work in progress (WIP), reducing wastage, utilising resources and staff effectively. The three categories of work are: To Do -> Work In Progress -> Done.
We go for the Kanban framework because of lots of advantages it has with the Kanban method such as:
– adapt to the change in priorities quickly;
– lower the operational costs;
– improves workflow efficiency;
– Eliminates the wastages;
– Feedback loops help to sustain and grow the high-performing team;
– faster delivery of value in shorter cycles assuring high quality.
Kanban cards are sticky notes that are placed on the Kanban board, which are separated by columns based on the stages of work. Usually they are categorised as: To Do, In Progress, Done. As in the manufacturing process, it enters the first column and moves on through the remaining columns until the task gets finished. The final stage will be “Done” when the work item is ready for delivery to the customer.
The Kanban is a lightweight process that adapts Lean and Agile principles and also a subset of Scrum values and principles with some differences. Kanban aims at visualising the flow of work, limiting the work in progress, eliminating wastages, improve efficiency and faster delivery of value to the customer.
Here are some differences observed between Scrum and Kanban:
– As in Scrum, a Daily stand-up meeting is not required in Kanban;
– Iteration in Kanban can be used as optional, unlike Scrum;
– In Scrum, the tasks are picked and fit within the Sprint iteration, but there is no task size limit in Kanban;
– The Kanban Task Board is much similar to Scrum Board;
– While Scrum has prescribed roles – Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Developers… in Kanban, there are no defined roles;
– Scrum favors retrospectives, but in Kanban, it is not required.
In Scrum, we depend or rely on burndown/burnup chart mostly to track the work progress. However, with Kanban, the Cumulative Flow Diagram replaces them and found to be the best tracking tool.
Kanban doesn’t use Sprints. Sprints are fixed length (2 to 4 weeks) cadence, however, Kanban is of continuous flow.
Kanban is not Time-boxed. It is flow-based. To maintain the rhythm, it follows a cadence for defined meetings. The Kanban method focuses on the flow of work through various stages. To create the flow, we limit the work in progress.
A product backlog is a list of items that you may or may not deliver. Traditionally, there is no backlog functionality in Kaban. But the backlog items stay on the leftmost column before the “To Do” (column).
Once an idea (product backlog item) that sits at the leftmost part of the Upstream process has been identified as a priority item to implement and deliver, it flows through the Upstream (Discovery) to the Downstream (Delivery) process. The Upstream Kanban is to refine the backlog ideas.
The daily standup is not required in Kanban. There is no prescribed process for a “Kanban standup”. The team may choose to meet and discuss if they feel it would help them to optimise their work flow.
Yes, we can Use Kanban method for effectively Managing Research and Development projects.
A Kanban card is a work item represented visually on the Kanban board (something similar to a whiteboard). The Kanban board has vertical lanes (or columns) representing the stage of the process.
These cards help the team with information regarding the work item. Various coloured cards are used to show the different items. These may be manual or digital cards that carry a goal to accomplish by the team member who has been assigned with the task. This aids as a visual communication tool and helps to remove the wastages and ensure high-quality delivery happens with no hindrances.
A kanban board is like a whiteboard and an agile project management tool that helps to visualize the work, limit work-in-progress, and maximize efficiency of flow. Kanban board helps both Agile teams and DevOps teams to order the work using cards and arrange them in columns. It facilitates continuous improvement through visualisation.
Kanban replenishment is the process that helps to replenish the work in the pipeline with new work to be executed next. Team members collaborate to decide what work items to commit and deliver using pull-based approach.
A cadence is a regular rhythm (like a heartbeat) of the delivery process. It helps the team to deliver working software at a dependable velocity and regular cadence. The organisation can measure its capacity easily and establish its process capability effectively through a workflow.
Kanban bins are a storage system of different types that is made to assist with the visual communication and improve Kanban implementation in the organisation effectively and also improve the way parts or other items are organized. The four types of bins are as follows:
“Indicator Bins” are typically two (or more) colours . When the number of parts in a bin is running low, it exposes the second color. This makes it clear that additional parts are needed.
“Coloured Bins” help to show the contrast with the parts being stored can help to make it easier to see when parts are running low. When a particular part is almost out, they can bring more to replenish the bin.
“Bins with Labels” are attached to the front of a bin. This can help to track how many of a given part is present. Whenever a part is removed from the inventory, it is observed through scanning the system to know how many parts are left with. After scanning and found that the inventory is low, it can automatically order more.
“Highly Visible Bins” – People can look at them from a longer distance due to its high visibility and also it will help to increase the ability of employees to track the inventory and other needs.
In agile context, work in progress (WIP) limit helps to set the maximum amount of work that can exist in each status (or stage) of a workflow. This helps the team to stay focused on the product goal and deliver high-quality work. We can easily identify inefficiency in a team’s workflow and can remove the bottlenecks in the delivery pipeline before it becomes dire.
WIP stands for Work in Progress that refers to the tasks that are in progress and yet to be completed (NOT in “done” status). Limiting WIP is one of key principles of Kanban that emphasises on limiting the amount of work your team can handle at one time. This helps in the team not get over burned while at the same time the quality of the work is also not compromised.
Cycle time and Throughput are key measuring factors used in Kanban. They allow us to estimate the productivity of the team. Cycle time is the time to complete the process. Throughput means the sum of the output from a process in a time.
The Kanban process is simple and flexible. It allows you to customise the Kanban board by adding new columns (for different task status) of tasks for easy visualisation of workflow.
Kanban doesn’t specify the Product Owner’s role as in the Scrum process. Sometimes they enlist the role of Board Owner, but that is not a Product Owner’s role. The Kanban project requires customer engagement and the Board Owner plays a pivotal role. Kanban team members focus on getting things done (in the pipeline) as quickly as possible.
Kanban doesn’t specify roles such as Scrum Master or Product Owner than in the Scrum process. Some teams have an agile coach but, unlike scrum, there is no Scrum Master role. The whole Kanban team owns the kanban board. they take collective responsibility for the work and collaborate to deliver the tasks on the board.
Yes, Kanban uses user stories that make up the project tasks. The user stories are added to the product backlog and prioritised. They can be reprioritised even during the workflow process, but without affecting the ongoing tasks. The user stories are more flexible that helps the team to plan the work with greater agility.
Kanban doesn’t prescribe any story point estimation routine. Estimation is an optional activity in Kanban. However, depending on team maturity, they may choose to estimate for forecasting and predictability reasons. After a work item is complete, the team pulls the next user story from the backlog to work on it.
The following are the 7 types of wastes as per Lean:
Waiting – The waiting time waste could be the idle time caused by the asynchrony of two or more interdependent processes. Operators and equipment may have to wait for one process to complete before the other one can begin. Eliminating this waste helps you build products more efficiently, saving your time and money.
Motion – Motion waste is the movements of equipment or employee which can cause harm to machine, product, or employees.
Inventory – Inventory waste should be minimised so that it helps the consistent flow of the process or value stream. Excessive inventory is are maintained to protect against production delays and downtime. However, this may lead to poor quality of the product or other problems.
Defects – This waste refers to failure or quality errors that invariably cost you more that necessitates additional work or replacement, wasting time and materials resulting in loss of customers.
Excess/Over processing – Over-processing waste is adding more work and producing the product than the customer values. To eliminate this waste, you should be doing only the required amount of processing which is useful and necessary to the customer without complicating it.
Overproduction – This is a type of waste that leads to other wastes as well. When the production is exceeded than the required quantity will increase the inventory of the products. This waste occurs when production exceeds customer requirements, many problem-areas within the organisation go unnoticed. So, it is necessary to keep a check on this.
Moving/Transportation – This waste is the movement of materials that do not directly correspond to some value-adding process. This can be very costly for your business, as you must pay for the time and machines involved in this wasteful process. It should be minimized in order to reduce delays, reduce the risk of handling-induced damage, and eliminate non-value-added process steps and costs.
The Kanban board has horizontal division or columns that represent various stages of the workflow. These are called as swim lanes.
Kanban prevents overloading of work by limiting the Work In Progress (WIP). This can be set at each stage of the workflow, so at any given stage, the team is equipped with work as required and without overshooting their capacity.
Yes, we can add tasks to the Kanban board at any time, which is due to the flexibility of Kanban. This provides a greater relief in environments where there are uncertainties and work is unpredictable upfront still the iteration can happen on the flow of work. However, you need to make sure it is not ruining the workflow process. The team picks the task and once it is complete; they pull the next task from the Kanban backlog. The product backlog has to be kept alive, prioritised, reordered so that the workflow happens smoothly.
Pull approach is used in Kanban. The tasks are not assigned to the team members rather when a task is completed (in the Doing column), the team pulls the next card from the To Do column.
So, the team pulls the work only when it is ready to work on it. It also uses WIP limit to restrict the number of work items in the queue at any stage of the workflow. This helps to reduce the wait time, and improve quality of the work.
There are several project management tools to support the Kanban process. The following ones are some of the popular tools in the market.
The Kanban system has evolved when Toyota Motor Company wanted to build better products and meet customer demand with high quality. This just-in-time (JIT) approach was accomplished using visual tools like signboards, working with stakeholders, etc. The following are the four primary principles of Kanban.
Continuous Improvement: It is the overall objective of Kanban. The strategies around help to ensure eliminating waste, improving efficiency, and getting things done.
Visualizing Workflow: When the visual board gives the cues about the work, it helps to understand what is needed in each area and stage of the work. It shows how the teams are equipped and signal the need for supplies to carry out the workflow.
Limit the Work In Progress (WIP): When too many items are sitting in a state, then it shows the inefficiency of the process and signals there is wastage that should be eliminated. Limiting the work in progress helps the team to focus on the delivery and getting other supplies for moving things quickly from one stage to another and take it to completion.
Focus on the Flow: Kanban helps everything to flow smoothly. This enables moving into production and reaches the customer needs sooner than possible.
C-Kanban is also referred as Withdrawal Kanban or Move Kanban. ‘C’ in C-Kanban stands for conveyance. In a factory, it is the signaling device indicating the shortage of material and prompts for the need for more material in Just-in-Time manufacturing (JIT).
P-Kanban and C-Kanban are the two main types of Kanban cards. P-Kanban is also referred as Production Kanban. It refers to producing a fixed amount of products.
The three broad types of waste according to Toyota Production System (TPS) are:
Muda: It is translated as “waste.” There were 7 types of Muda identified at Toyota. The eighth waste type was added later. The wastes are: Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, non-used talent, transport, Inventory, Motion, and Excess Processing.
Muri: It is translated as “overburden.” Muri usually stems from the results of mura and can result from Muda as well. Muri manifests itself during absenteeism, break-downs, safety issues, etc.
Mura: It is translated as “unevenness.” Mura can be found in an increase or decrease in customer demand (fluctuation). The process cycle varies for different operators. When mura is not evened, it may result in Muri (overburden) and, so, Muda. Creating an open environment can help in reducing Mura in the supply chain, and also creating standard work for all operators.
The Toyota Production System has identified three broad types of waste in production system in the Lean processing. These wastes have to be removed to avoid inefficiencies and improve best utilisation of the resources. The three types are Muda (無駄, waste), Mura (斑, unevenness), and Muri (無理, overburden).
The two important Kanban metrics that help to measure team performance are cycle times (how quickly work gets done) and throughput (how much work is delivered). These metrics ensure the value is delivered to the customers.
Kanban represents visualizing the work through the Kanban board, limiting work in progress, and maximizing the efficiency of the Kanban flow. Kanban process aims at reducing the delivery time and ship the product through regular intervals called Sprint. This is called Kanban Sprint.
Sprint Planning is an event in Scrum that helps to turn the Product backlog into Sprint backlog for the team to work and deliver the product in the iteration. The product backlog pulls items into each Sprint based on team capacity, work item priority, and the outcome of Sprint planning session. Planning session happens regularly at the beginning of each Sprint. However, in Kanban there is no prescribed Sprint planning routine.
Kanban is an agile methodology that focuses on workflow of the process and getting things done. It is not necessarily an iterative process. However, it is incremental.
Kanban board is a visual representation of the work that depicts tasks at various stages using Kanban cards. Each card represents work items that are arranged in columns (of each stage) of the process. The Kanban board is viewed from left to right, which shows the progress of the work performed by the team in getting the work items to “done” status.
Originally, Kanban boards do not have backlog functionality. However, the tasks are added to the Kanban boards for planning, which lives on the leftmost part before moving into the “To Do” column. This works as a backlog in Kanban.
Projects delivered through Kanban method has the Backlog of work items added to the leftmost column. Items ready to be moved to “To Do” column are reviewed and dragged into it for the team to pick and start work on them.
Scrum and Kanban works well alongside as they stem from Agile principles. Scrum is an iterative and incremental methodology. Kanban is flow based incremental methodology and you can visualise the work and improve the flow of work. Both these methods focus on delivering value faster to the customers.
The Kanban board is flexible. There is no restriction of how to use it. A typical Kanban board has three columns: To Do, Doing, and Done. In Kanbanize the columns are referred as: Requested, In Progress and Done. The work flow will pass through from one stage to another.
Prioritisation of work is an important activity for initiating the work. There are different tools that you can use on your Kanban board to prioritize work.
– Use columns and place cards in the list in order of top priority items at the top so that the team can pull those tasks first;
– Use different colour cards to improve visibility and act as task indicators;
– Use swim-lanes to highlight the high priority and urgent issues.
Kanban is an inventory scheduling system where companies stock their needed inventories only. The production process follows Lean manufacturing approach and uses the Kanban technique to keep inventory levels at an optimal level.
Kanban cadences focus on these primary goals – delivering products faster, increased efficient workflow, removing wastages, and improved customer satisfaction. The frequencies of these Kanban cadences and meeting lengths are often adapted according to the needs of the organisation.
Standup Meeting (Daily / 15 minutes):
The Standup Meeting is a huddle and aims at finding answers to the three key questions:
How is work flowing?
What can we improve?
What is blocking the progress?
Replenishment Meeting (Weekly / 30 minutes):
This event ensures that there is a steady stream of tasks flowing across the Kanban board. The backlog items are reviewed, ordered, and managed so that they can be picked and moved into columns. Although the frequency is suggested to have weekly, which usually works for smaller tasks, the large detailed tasks require replenishments monthly. This meeting should involve portfolio/product owners and product development management.
Service Delivery Review (Bi-Weekly / 30 minutes):
This meeting should involve the customer (or its representatives), the service delivery manager, and delivery team members to have a transparent process of reviewing whether the output from the delivery team satisfies the customer needs to ensure that how well the client is served.
This review helps in building trust by engaging the client directly to address their concerns.
Delivery Planning Meeting (variable frequency / 1-2 hours):
The release dates are normally fixed during the planning sessions and the delivery team work towards achieving the milestone date. So, usually, the work gets finished before the delivery date to the clients to complete the testing and other release pre-activities (hand-offs, training, etc). This meeting helps the team to predict what is required to be released to the client and identify the work items to accomplish it. Since the Kanban method works based on metrics – cumulative flow diagram, throughput histogram, and lead/cycle time scatterplot, etc are used to make data-driven decisions.
Risk Review (Monthly / 1-2 hours):
This meeting examines the risk factors, impediments, blockers associated with the project delivery and also predicts the future risks to delivery. The metrics from the past data are helpful in identifying the patterns, assessing and mitigating the risks.
Operations Review (Monthly / 2 hours):
This meeting takes a holistic view of the system and different workgroups participating in the delivery. Proper hand-offs help in smooth transitioning from one process stage to another and reduce the wait time and inefficiencies. So representatives from different divisions, departments participate in the meeting and review the systems’ overall efficiency and improvement opportunities. It also helps to see through the interdependencies between the systems and the impact on delivery due to this. The flow efficiency can be improved significantly due to the engagement of various participants from the overall system.
Strategy Review (Quarterly / Half-day):
This is a big picture meeting that happens to review the strategy considering market condition changes, larger market landscape, delivery approach, etc. It gives the direction and sets the Kanban product roadmap. This will eventually turn into realistic and purpose-driven goals that take place during Delivery Planning Meetings and Replenishment Meetings. The Strategy Review cadence includes senior executives, portfolio/product owners, senior team members from customer-facing departments (sales and marketing, etc).
Toyota has formulated six rules for Kanban application into the workflow:
– Each process issues requests (kanban) to its suppliers when it consumes its supplies;
– Each process produces (output) according to the quantity and sequence of incoming requests;
– No items are made or transported without a request. Thus ensuring there is no overproduction or under-production;
– The associated request is always attached to the item;
– Processes should be delivered of high-quality and defect-free. There are no defective items sent out;
– Limiting the number of pending requests helps to reveal any inefficiencies.
Scrum is the most popular Agile framework. It is a thin and lightweight process that is easier to understand and adapt. Due to the Scrum’s popularity, Kanban seem to be lesser to Scrum. However, Kanban is more flexible and unlike Scrum there are not much rules and in fact, Kanban allow teams to create their own rules. So, we can say, Kanban is just as good as Scrum.
Yes, we can Scale Kanban. It can be scaled at Project Level, Program Level, Portfolio Level, Service Level and Enterprise Level. These aspects are covered in detail in KMP2 (or KSI – Kanban Systems Improvement) course.
Agile prescribes the team to plan, track, report and communicate within the project by taking accountability of work. Teams are empowered to make their decisions and decide on how to deliver the project with quality. Kanban work on pull mechanism of tasks from Kanban board. These “self-directing” aspects are much aligned to the characteristic of the team in Kanban.
Kanban Board is the visualising aid and act as one of the metric tool that is used to −
Measure the lead/cycle times. This helps to optimise average cycle time.
Track Work In Progress (WIP) limit to eliminate waste and improve flow efficiency.
Track resource utilisation to eliminate waste.
Burndown chart is a Kanban metric tool used to capture −
– The current status of the user stories (and tasks).
– The number of remaining tasks to be completed.
The burndown chart is fed with data from the Kanban board, which is updated on a daily basis and has all the required information to be reviewed in the chart.
Kanban do not have any designated roles but in almost all work delivery process the following roles do tend to emerge:
– Manager / Kanban Master or Project Manager
– Operations Manager / Product Manager or Service Request Manager (SRM)
– Delivery Request Manager (DRM) or Service Delivery Manager (SDM)
Kanban Master help to move the cards across the Kanban board.
SRM help the team in gathering the requirements and prioritize tasks, while the SDM controls the overall delivery process.
Kanban does not have any required meetings. However, David Anderson, the founder of the modern Kanban method, does recommend a set of meetings (listed below). He emphasises that these cadences have to be flexible and needed only to bring value. The Kanban meetings are:
The daily stand-up meeting
Since the Kanban method evolved from the manufacturing industry, it necessitates keeping a production inventory such as materials and supplies in stock to process in the production unit. There are normally three types of inventory:
Raw materials: materials to which no work has been done.
Work in Progress: Typically work has been done and the materials have had some work done on them. They are in the semi-finished goods stage.
Finished goods: The materials on which work has been completed, and ready to be sold.
Deming’s cycle or PDCA cycle is a model that refers to evaluating and improving the process. This also perfectly fits with Kanban’s continuous improvement. PDCA is the acronym of Plan-Do-Check-Act.
Step 1: Plan
The teams decide on what needs to be done, which is the planning phase. This also attributes to bring about an improvement in the process. They review the plan and implement it through a systematic and series of processes. Deming emphasis that everyone should contribute to the improvement process.
Step 2: Do
This step is the execution phase. The implementation occurs as advised by Kanban practitioners. Teams take tangible steps and execution methods following the plan.
Step 3: Check
Any process is not efficient if it is not reviewed periodically. So, the actions performed during the execution has to be reviewed (or checked) by the team as to see if they are aligned to their goals. Kanban’s flow management is a crucial activity, and the data gathered in this stage help for further improvement activities.
Step 4: Act
Acting is evaluating when the changes are made to see if the results are obtained or not. Based on this, the changes can be continued or dropped or even improvised. This stage is the starting of the planning phase again.
These steps help in achieving continuous improvement in the Kanban workflow process of delivery.
Scrumban term was coined by Corey Ladas, the author of “Scrumban: Essays on Kanban Systems for Lean Software Development”.
Scrumban is popular among both Scrum and Kanban practitioners. It is a combination of Scrum and Kanban where the hybrid of both methods are practiced, such as following Scrum ceremonies, pull system, Kanban’s visualisation, WIP limits, and continuous improvement through the workflow using visual Kanban board. This is also advantageous for organisations transitioning from Scrum to Kanban, or those who are new to Agile and interested in moving to a pull workflow.
There are several metrics available as Kanban is a metric-based method of workflow management. Some of the basic Metrics of Flow are:
Cycle Time: The elapsed time between when the work items start and finish stage.
Throughput: The number of work items finished at a given time.
WIP: The number of work items that are in work in progress status and not yet finished.
Work Item Age: The number of work items that have elapsed time between work start time and the current time.
The following are the types of Kanban:
1-Card Kanban: It may signal and convey any kind of information.
2-Card Kanban: uses production and withdrawal kanban to signal when inventory and supplies are needed to complete the customer request.
2-Bin Kanban: A lean manufacturing method aimed at reducing inventory and optimising processes. The standardised
bins or containers fulfill the purpose of the kanban card.
Kanban provides organisations with effective metrics that can be easily related to business value. These metrics in Kanban focus on measuring cycle time, eliminating wastages, smoothening workflow processes, and continuous improvement.
To know more about the Kanban metrics, click here.