Kanban Principles for Optimal Workflow Efficiency

Kanban Principles for Optimal Workflow Efficiency

David J. Anderson is a pioneer in lean manufacturing and kanban in the knowledge-intensive (intelligent) technology field and one of the founding fathers of the Kanban method. He formulated the Kanban method as an approach to a gradual, evolutionary process of changing systems for learning organizations (“working smart”). The method, according to J. Anderson, is goal-oriented, and its foundations can be broken down into two types of principles and six practices.


Let's see what the basics of the Kanban method are:

1) Principles of change management:

  • Start with what you are doing now;

  • Agree to make gradual evolutionary changes;

  • Encourage acts of leadership at all levels.

2) Principles of service provision:

  • Focus on customer needs and expectations;

  • Manage work, not employees;

  • Check the service network regularly.

Any innovative and learning organization strives for evolutionary change and continuous improvement. The most crucial change management task is ensuring the "seamless" integration of new tasks and processes without disrupting the workflow. The Kanban method helps to solve this task.

Kanban change management principles.

Principle 1: Start with what you are doing now

Kanban offers the flexibility to use a method in addition to existing work systems and processes without disrupting existing procedures. The Kanban method strongly recommends not immediately changing an existing setup/process. A significant limitation and, at the same time, the advantage is that Kanban can and should be applied directly to the current workflow. Any necessary changes can be made gradually over time at a comfortable pace for the team.

The approach recognizes that existing processes, roles, responsibilities, and positions are valuable and generally worth keeping. Unlike other methods, Kanban itself does not impose any organizational change. Thus, there is no need to change existing roles and features that may work well. The team will jointly identify and implement any necessary changes.

Naturally, in implementing a change, the method will “highlight” the problems that need to be solved and help evaluate and plan changes so that their implementation occurs without harm (or at minimal cost) to participants and stakeholders.

Principle 2: Settle for incremental, evolutionary change

The Kanban method is designed to support a process approach to change management, consisting of small and gradual but constant evolutionary changes in the current process through new forms of cooperation and feedback. Therefore, it is designed for the minimum system resistance.

As a rule, radical changes in Kanban are not welcome because, according to organizational psychology, stormy organizational changes are usually resisted due to fear or uncertainty.

On the contrary, introducing many small changes reduces the risk for the entire system. Kanban's evolutionary approach results in little or no resistance within the team and involved stakeholders.

Principle 3: Encourage acts of leadership at all levels

Organizational leadership at all levels is based on people's knowledge and daily, routine actions to improve their work methods. No matter how insignificant a particular aspect of an activity or knowledge about this activity may seem, each joint observation contributes to the continuous improvement of thinking (kaizen) to achieve optimal performance.

A mindset-improving leadership model can be equally successful at the team/department/company level. But the solution to this problem results from joint creativity and not a privilege or an exclusive duty of the management level. People at all levels can offer ideas and show leadership in implementing change to improve the continuous delivery of products and services.

These three principles help organizations overcome the typical emotional resistance and fear of change accompanying any organizational change initiative.

Service delivery principles

Principle 1: Focus on customer needs and expectations

Delivering value to the customer should be central to every organization's business philosophy. Understanding the needs and expectations of customers draws attention to the quality of services provided and the value they create.

Principle 2: Manage the work

Work management in the service network ensures that people can self-organize around work. This allows managers to focus on achieving the desired results without agitation, pomp, and fuss, that is, without noise. created by people managed at the micro level and directly involved in the service.

Principle 3: Check the service network regularly

Once developed and implemented, a service-oriented approach requires ongoing evaluation to develop a customer service culture. Using regular service network reviews and evaluation of applied operating policies, Kanban encourages improved results and progressive quality improvement.

Thus, as a management method, Kanban aims to develop a service-oriented approach.

This approach requires:

  • deep understanding of customer needs;

  • creating a network of services in which the consolidation of the work team takes place - people organize themselves around work;

  • ensuring the continuous development of the system "from the inside".

Glossary to help you get started with Kanban

Kanban board — one of the critical components of the Kanban method, visualizing all work items. It should be divided into at least 3 columns - Request, In Progress, and Done, each representing different workflow stages.

Columns — elements that divide the Kanban board vertically, each representing a different step in the workflow. Depending on the complexity of the workflow, the usual three steps can be divided into much smaller sub-columns

Swimlanes — lanes divide the Kanban board into horizontal sections. Teams use them to visually separate different types of work on the same board and organize similar tasks into groups.

A Kanban card represents a particular work item moved around the Kanban board. The card contains important information about tasks, deadlines, the scope of work, responsible executors, etc.

Block ("Blocked") indicates a problem with the work item that is preventing it from moving forward.

Visual metrics allow the work team to see the process and discover ways to improve it.

Cycle time — the period between moving a task to the "In Progress" column and its output to the "Done" column. Simply put, cycle time begins when a new task enters the "in progress" stage, and someone is working on it.

Summary block diagram — An illustrative chart that shows cycle time, WIP, and throughput over a given period in colored bars.

Lead time — the period between requesting a new task (whether anyone is working on it or not) and deleting it from the system.

Bandwidth — the number of work items that have passed (all stages up to the completion stage) through a system or process in a given period. Throughput is a key metric that shows how productive a team is over time.

Backlog — a summary list of work items that need to be completed but have not been prioritized. Usually, the first column on the board is the backlog.

Work in Progress (WIP) — the current amount of work that has not yet been completed.

WIP limits — a regulatory limit on the number of tasks a team can work on simultaneously to avoid overload and context switching.

Service classes are policies that help Agile teams prioritize work items and projects.

Cadences (Kanban Cadences) — cyclical meetings that facilitate evolutionary change and delivery of services that meet or exceed customer expectations.

Kanban software — digital systems that support the practical application of Kanban methods and principles for use by teams and organizations of all sizes.

Process Policies — these are the rules or guidelines that the team using the Kanban board develops to use consistently.

Scrumban — the hybrid methodology was initially intended to ease the transition of teams from scrum to kanban