Guest blog: Kanban can create magic, but only when used correctly

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kanban-boardHere’s another guest blog post on which explores good practices for implementing Kanban, written by Nishanth Appaiah Mittu. Enjoy!

Kanban is an approach for visualizing work, improving flow by limiting work in-progress, and maximizing customer value. Implemented the right way, Kanban can deliver tremendous value to most business processes in terms of increased throughput, reduced lead time, and delivering the right products/ services at the right time.

But like all good change approaches, it is effective only when it is implemented in the correct manner.

Don’t Just use a plain board with no WIP Limits

A Kanban Board without WIP Limits is like water poured on the floor with no guide or channel to help it flow.  The edges of the guide or channel act as constraints similar to WIP Limits in a Kanban board.  Not having WIP Limits that are enforced can result in simply having a board where work just accumulates without ever getting done.

Defining a Kanban board without a detailed enough workflow is not a good idea

A simple Ready – Doing – Done workflow does not serve the purpose of Kanban well.  In order to identify possible bottlenecks in a process, you have to first describe the process in enough detail to be able to analyse its individual steps. At the same time, defining or using a Kanban with work items that don’t really move for long periods of time is not useful because the idea is to be able to observe flow.

Help people understand how their work fits into the overall scheme of things

Kanban can eliminate the issue of team members working in a silo, unaware of how exactly their role contributes to overall project delivery. It promotes system thinking or a system approach where you must think of the whole system (the whole context) in which a team operates. This helps people understand what other upstream or downstream teams are doing and how their work affects them or is affected by them.

Using Kanban to help speed things up

Kanban fosters greater productivity as a result of which a project is likely to be completed more efficiently, and possibly more quickly. Although it doesn’t impact the time taken to complete individual tasks, Kanban helps reduce cycle time and improve frequent delivery to customers.

Don’t Use Kanban as an alternative to Scrum

There are several projects that could benefit from using both Scrum and Kanban as per requirements during different stages of the project. Sticking to one single approach may prove counter-productive.

Analyse your processes to optimise Flow and reduce bottlenecks

Kanban is also useful to study the overall workflow, distribution, timelines etc. at regular intervals. For instance, a monthly retrospective can help inform future decisions on budgeting and resource allocation.

To sum up, when a Kanban board is used correctly, it can be a great approach to achieve dramatic operational improvements in terms of reduced lead time, increased throughput and much higher quality of products or services delivered. But knowing how best to use it is equally important.

This is a guest blog post for by Nishanth Appaiah Mittu. He’s been helping Digite, a company providing enterprise agility and integrated project management software platforms for IT companies. He has been managing their Marketing function for the past 3.5 years. In a previous life he helped test out ideas for cognitive radios at CEDT, IISc post which he went hunting for the best biryani and prawn curry in and around IIM Kozhikode.


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