Kanban Litmus Test - Revisited

Posted on October 17, 2014 by David Anderson

The Kanban Litmus Test is our new guidance to help you assess "are we doing Kanban or not?" and to evaluate whether other who claim to be doing have actually reached a stage that would reflect the sort of impact that we saw in early implementations almost a decade ago.

Regular readers will recall that the Litmus Test has 3 questions:

  1. Has the customer interface changed?
  2. Has the customer contract changed?
  3. Has your service delivery business model changed?

For truly deep implementations of Kanban, you shoud be able to answer "yes" to all three of these questions.

While teaching a Kanban Coaching Professional Masterclass near London last week, I realized that we are missing a fourth question. So here is the new extended Litmus Test.

  1. Have managers changed their behavior?

This fourth question should be an obvious reflection of Kanban as a management method and the impact of a deferred commitment pull system on the organization. If managers haven't changed their behavior since the introduction of pull then it is unlikely it will work. In fact, it is unlikely that it is truly a pull system at all. Many forms of proto-Kanban such as aggregated Team Kanban, or purely local implementations such as Team Kanban with simple 3 column boards showing, To Do | Doing | Done, are actually push systems where some relief from overburdening is achieved with a per person WIP limit to reduce multi-tasking. In instances such as these, managers will not have changed their behavior. Typical, Team Kanban implementations, which are in effect just glorified Personal Kanban implementations, will not pass any of the questions from the Kanban Litmus Test. The new fourth question simply underscores this. If managers haven't changed their behavior, it is unlikely you have a true pull system, and you are most certainly not doing Kanban.