Five Core Properties of a Kanban Implementation

Posted on April 08, 2010 by admin


In my forthcoming book, I’ve documented the 5 core properties that I see as consistent on teams using the Kanban approach to process evolution and change management. These properties are…

1. Visualize Workflow

2. Limit work-in-progress
3. Measure & Manage Flow
4. Make Process Policies Explicit
5. Use Models to Recognize Improvement Opportunities

These properties represent facets of an organizational process that have been present on all Kanban implementations that I’ve been involved with. They are written in a rough order of focus or implementation. So all 5 properties may not be present initially but over time they should appear providing the leadership/management is dedicated to successful evolutionary approach to change using Kanban.

Visualize Workflow is subtle. It is beyond visualization of work - the concept I pushed hard with my Agile Management book. Visualizing workflow is about revealing the mechanism, the interactions, the handoffs, the queues, buffers, waiting and delays that are involved in the production of a piece of valuable software.

Limit work-in-progress implies the introduction of a pull system from a family of possible solutions: CONWIP, DBR, CapWIP, Kanban.

Measure & Manage Flow highlights a focus on keeping work moving and using the need for flow as the driver for improvement. A focus on flow rather than on waste removal is in my opinion a higher mastery of Lean and much less likely to lead to “Lean and Mean” anti-patterns and dysfunction.

Make process policies explicit is another level of visualization. It’s about holding up a mirror to the working reality and encouraging the whole team and its leadership to reflect on its effectiveness. Thinking of a process as a set of policies rather than a workflow is a very powerful technique.

Use models to recognize improvement opportunities shows that Kanban is quantitative and takes a scientific approach to improvements. The three models I focus on in the book and in most of my teaching are: The Theory of Constraints; an Understanding of Variation and the System of Profound Knowledge; and the Lean models of Waste and Flow, though I teach waste as economic costs rather than the manufacturing-centric approach that is typical.

In my next blog I’ll discuss the properties that didn’t make the cut and why not!