Kanban for Process Improvement

A Kanban is a great tool for improving your process.  The real power of the Kanban is that you can start from where you are.  Rather than fit you into a process, you can use a Kanban to mirror or reflect your current process.   You decide how you want to visualize your work, and you divide your Kanban board accordingly. 

If you need more visibility, then you can break your Kanban board down even further.   For example, when you start off, maybe you just want to know, what’s in development and test, and what you’ve released:


As you go, you might find that development really involves requirements analysis and design, so you might add those:


Change Your Stages

In this way, you can unfold your process to add clarity and visibility.   You can evolve your process as your team evolves.   And that’s really the beauty.   You don’t have fit yourself into a canned process.  Instead, you mirror your process on the wall.   This helps everybody on the team see the “system” of development at a glance.   If you see it, you can improve it.

Because it’s a living process, it’s very easy to adapt as you learn, and to add meaningful stages, or consolidate as needed.

Your stages ultimately reflect a significant or meaningful change in state (e.g. The item was in development, and now it’s in test, or now it’s ready for release.)

Debottleneck Your Flow

When you visualize your workflow with a Kanban, you’ll also more easily notice where your bottlenecks are occurring.   If everything is getting stuck in test, you might find be able to do a few things up stream to improve the flow.  For example, maybe there are a few simple guidelines or checks that you can do during development to simplify your test stage.

A great approach is to add notes below each stage, such as key checks or process improvements to perform.   Everybody will get to see and feel the impact of the process improvements.   Flow is feedback.  If things aren’t flowing, something needs attention.

Breaking Things Down

One of the things a Kanban helps you do is to break things down.  You can use a Kanban to divide and conquer your work.  If you notice that things are bottlenecking at a certain stage, you can pay attention to how big things are.  Can you break them down further?   Don’t let the big get in the way of the small.   Similarly, don’t let the small derail the big.

Progress is a key to happiness and job satisfaction.   Your Kanban can be a powerful tool for collaboration, productivity, and process improvement.

Wanting to improve is not enough.  Taking action, getting feedback and responding is.   It sounds simple, but it’s one of the most powerful ways to rapidly improve your results. 

See it, do it, review it, improve it.

Comments (4)

  1. Oliver says:

    Great article.

    One question … how does one decide which agile approach – Kanban or SCRUM – makes more sense for a specific endeavor? And how do you wrap Agile Results around that in your your daily work life?

  2. J.D. Meier says:

    @ Oliver — Thank you.

    A quick answer is that you can combine the work in progress limits of Kanban with the iteration lengths of Scrum.  Also, having a product backlog to reflect the wants and needs of the customer can help with clarity and vision, especially on larger teams.

    The trick is to know what each tool does well.  I'm a fan of taking the best of the best and synthesizing.  Take a look at Scrum-ban at Lean Software Engineering for a deeper explanation on Kanban + Scrum.

    What you'll potentially find most surprising is how you can shift from a backlog "push", to a demand "pull", and spend less time estimating, more time creating value.

    I use Agile Results as my overall time management and productivity system, at the personal and team level.  I focus on Three Wins for the day, Three Wins for the week, Three Wins for the month, etc.   This helps me prioritize, focus, and flow value, before getting mired in program or project specifics.  It also helps me tell and sell the value and the impact of the work in a simple way.

  3. Gerardo says:

    Really good intro to the subject.

    Is there a way to do a practical Kanban Board using Sharepoint 2010?

    +1 if using personal kanbans to feed a team kanban.

    Greetings !

  4. J.D. Meier says:

    @ Gerardo – Thank you.

    There is "CS Task Board for SharePoint" and Kalmstrom.com has a "Kanban Task Manager."

    One thing to explore is the <a href="tfs.visualstudio.com/…/">Kanban in the Cloud with Team Foundation Service</a>.

    I think you can sign up and play with it for free for up to five people (or something like that.)

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