Using Kanban to drive Continuous Improvement and Management Teams

It seems like new uses for Kanban are cropping up every day. One of those ideas is to use Kanban in order to drive Continuous Improvement efforts.

It seems like new uses for Kanban are cropping up every day. And the interesting thing is that in some cases, several different organizations/people come up with similar ideas spontaneously.

One of those ideas is to use Kanban in order to drive Continuous Improvement efforts.
I’ve recently described such an approach in my presentation for Lean Conference 2010 in Atlanta (#LSSC10), it also came up in other talks and others seem to be having great success using this (E.g. . In Israel I saw it come up in Kanban workshops we hold for clients, as well as some ideas that clients have after they start using Kanban for other things. It w

Think of mgmt teams at the organization level, or for any group (e.g. VP R&D and his staff members, CEO and the other CXOs/VPs, Group leader with his team leads).

We want this team to lead Continuous Improvement initiatives in their organization. Both at the aggregate level collating and coordinating efforts the various teams they’re in charge of, as well as initiatives that originate and are focused at their level.

Who hasn’t seen the lessons learned exercise which was great, but when you come some time later, the action items are at best documented, lets not even talk about tracked and executed.

Same goes for Agile Retrospectives, even though the frequency of the retrospectives improves the situation a bit and nags the team some more…

Enter Kanban. Now, really, you don’t need anything fancy. We mainly are talking about creating a backlog of action items. Prioritizing it. And choosing a FEW action items for execution each time. Until you are finished with those, don’t divert or context switch to any other initiative. This is where the Kanban WIP Limit comes into play…

This of course can be used for ANY kind of action item for the management team.

Again, you don’t have to do it with Kanban. A shared action item list you check items off as you go can work just as well. I used Sharepoint, a whiteboard, and other ways to achieve that. With Kanban you get the added benefit of the WIP limits. From my experience, management teams and other sorts of committees, are quite horrible at focusing and managing their WIP, so Kanban can really help.

In addition, if your organization is currently undergoing a Lean/Agile transition, adopting a Kanban board can help you lead by example and show that you are adopting Lean/Agile methods. It will also help you understand what is happening at the production floor, and adopt the language being used by the organization.

That is why, with our customers over at Agilesparks we are starting to use Kanban boards to drive Agile Transitions, and recommend to the team managing the transition to adopt his board and style for their own use.

Other elements of Lean that can help here are A3 and PDM.

A3 (see is problem-solving tool originating in Toyota. Its beauty is that it drives you to be concise and focused. Each A3 describes a problem and what you are trying to do about it, in essence bodying the PDCA Plan Do Check Act cycle.

PDM – The Hoshin Kanri Policy Deployment Matrix (see is another way to practically use the PDCA cycle. I’ll try to describe it in more depth some other time…

I don’t promise to post here often. With my over-WIP I barely find time to tweet (over at …

In the meantime – what are YOU thinking of doing with Kanban? let me know…

David Anderson shares Goals for using Kanban

  • tags: kanban, agileblog

    • Goals for using Kanban
    • Goal 1. Improved performance through process improvements introduced with minimal resistance
    • Goal 2. Deliver with High Quality
    • policies around what is acceptable before a work item can be pulled to the next step in the process
    • focus on quality by limiting work-in-progress
    • Goal 3. Deliver a predictable cycle time by controlling the quantity of work-in-progress
    • WIP is directly related to cycle time
    • correlation between cycle time and a non-linear growth in defect rates
    • keep WIP small
    • limit it to a fixed quantity
    • Goal 4. Give team members a better life through improved work/life balance
    • providing reliability
    • Providing a good work life balance will make your company a more attractive employer in your local market
    • Goal 5. Provide slack by balancing demand against throughput
    • when you balance the input demand against the throughput, you create idle time everywhere in your value chain with the exception of the bottleneck resource
    • Slack can be used to improve responsiveness to urgent requests and to provide bandwidth to enable process improvement. Without slack team members cannot take time to reflect upon how they do their work and how it might be done better. Without slack they cannot take time to learn new techniques, to improve their tooling or their skills and capabilities. Without slack there is no liquidity in the system to respond to urgent requests or late changes. Without slack there is no tactical agility in the business.
    • Goal 6. Provide a simple prioritization mechanism that delays commitment and keeps options open
    • one fundamental problem. In order to respond to change in the market and evolving events, it is necessary to reprioritize
    • asking business owners to prioritize things is challenging
    • They may move slowly. They may refuse to cooperate. They may become uncomfortable and dysfunctional. They may simply react by thrashing and constantly changing their minds, randomizing project plans and wasting a lot of team time reacting to the change
    • What is needed is a prioritization scheme that delays commitments as late as possible and provides a simple question that is easy to answer
    • Kanban provides this by asking the business owners to refill empty slots in the queue while providing them a reliable cycle time and due date performance metric.
    • Goal 7. Provide a transparent scheme for seeing improvement opportunities enabling change to a more collaborative culture that encourages continuous improvement
    • Goal 8. A process that will enable predictable results, business agility, good governance and the development of what the Software Engineering Institute calls a “high maturity” organization
    • Business leaders want to be able to make promises to their colleagues around the executive committee table, to their board of directors, to their shareholders, to their customers and to the market in general, and they want to be able to keep those promises
    • Success at the senior executive level depends a lot on trust and trust requires reliability
    • So business leaders want their business to be agile. They want to respond to change quickly and take advantages of opportunities
    • good governance. They want to show that investors’ funds were spent wisely. They want costs under control and they want their investment portfolio risk spread optimally
    • more transparency into their technology development organizations.
    • know the true status of projects and they’d like to be able to help when it is appropriate.
    • more objectively managed organization that reports facts with data, metrics and indicators not anecdotes and subjective assessment

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