Kanban is a scheduling system for lean and just-in-time (JIT) production.

What Is Kanban?

Agile methodologies have emerged as the frontrunner in this space to create smart teams that promote efficient service delivery instead of limiting the focus to sheer productivity. Over a period of time, Agile has found application in a broad spectrum of industries that translate into improved methods and practices to elevate the scope of project management. Agile finds its implementation through the following major methodologies that have made substantial headway in improving workflow practices through smart teamwork. Some of the popular Agile methodologies that appear to surface most often are Scrum, Lean Software Development, Extreme Programming (XP), Feature Driven Development (FDD), Agile Unified Process (AUP), Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development, and Kanban.

Origin of Kanban

To understand Agile implementation, it will be useful to delve further into understanding the Kanban methodology, which is an apt implementation of Agile. Kanban is a method employed to manage work from the inception to delivery within an optimized timeframe. This method uses visual process management, wherein team members are aware of the work in progress and are guided through by production criteria such as: (i) what to produce; (ii) how to produce; and (iii) how much to produce.

This methodology has its precursor in the Toyota production system. This was aimed at lean manufacturing, which was driven by Just-in-Time (JIT) methodology focused on reducing the production flow time as well as response time from suppliers to customers. In 2010 David Anderson was one of the first to advocate the Kanban method and its application to software and IT development. Earlier in 2009 Corey Ledas was the first to recommend it as a better method than Scrum for software development. In his book, Scrumban, he advocated the transition over from Scrum to Kanban. More recently, in 2013, Joseph Hurtado introduced open Kanban as an open source, ultra light, Agile and Lean method.

What Is Kanban?

Kanban is a practice adapted by organizations and is aimed at incremental and evolutionary change. A work in progress (WIP) system is used to expose, stimulate, and continuously improve the system through visualization of the workflow and performance, which aids in defining the work priority and is aimed at an efficient workflow.

Principles of Kanban

The Kanban methodology is based upon a simple formula: to start off with the existing process and evolve by pursuing incremental changes that promote respect for current processes and roles and advocates leadership at all levels. Based upon the above definition, the following four principles stand out to outline the Kanban methodology:

  1. Existing process: The existing process and systems prevalent within the organization should be accepted as the starting point. These are considered to be rational and fundamental to an established workflow.
  2. Incremental and evolutionary changes: Established processes can be promoted by incremental and evolutionary changes to evolve the system through reinforcements that improve the process. Small incremental changes in the organization are more acceptable and progressive than sudden and more extensive changes. The latter tends to frustrate the current state and has a higher failure rate.
  3. Respect for the current process: The current state processes and procedures that are prevalent in the organization can be equally effective and progressive. It might be useful to retain such processes and roles, along with their associated responsibilities, to build upon a solid foundation. This enables confidence building of the team members and gathering support to achieve the organizational goals and objectives.
  4. Leadership: Leadership at all levels across the hierarchy should be accepted and promoted to foster optimized contributions throughout the organization. An environment conducive to change and adaptability ensures effective utilization of resources and creates an efficient workflow.

Concept Behind the Kanban Methodology

The core value of Kanban is collaboration and a systemic approach to manage the workflow. The key characteristic of Kanban is containing ‘work in process’. Limiting work in process along with a few of the below enlisted practices enables efficient output and productivity:

  1. Visualize the workflow: Kanban board is the visual presentation of the work flow. The progress in work and the need to increase or enhance a production process is seen and communicated through this tool. Kanban promotes the need to optimize the workflow through production pull generated through information that is visually displayed and easy to analyze.
  2. Leadership and team: The concept of leadership is critical for driving any endeavor. It becomes all the more compelling if the leadership traits are interwoven into the methods and practices adapted to manage workflow. With an emphasis upon leadership, the concept of team assumes greater significance. This helps establish a systematic and organized workflow through guidance.
  3. Reducing batch size of efforts (BASE): It is believed that by reducing the BASE, more work can be accomplished in a shorter span of time. This is based upon an assumption that efforts seldom yield tenable results when the work cycle is excessively long. The achievement of shorter cycles propagates an enhanced sense of achievement and tends to promote output and productivity.
  4. Learning and improving continuously: In this practice, you reflect on the work in hand as well as the work performed to refine the program with the intent to achieve the goals in a more efficient manner. Learning from past experiences and inviting feedback enables improvements that lead to extension or refinement of work practices. Besides software development, the Kanban method can be applied to other areas of knowledge services. These functions include human resources, sales and marketing, audit teams, and finance and accounting processes.

Kanban implementation has evolved over time, and its application in conjunction with other techniques and methodologies is on the rise. An apt example can be seen in the evolution of the Scrumban technique.

Benefits That Arise out of Kanban Implementation

The Kanban methodology is inherently based upon the core values of Just-in-time (JIT) which propagates the advantages of refined agile practices.  It is believed that the benefits of Kanban arise out of an optimized workflow and is actually the core concept that led to modern day, just in time (JIT) manufacturing technique. The JIT manufacturing methodology implements best practices such as optimized lead time, real-time procurement, processing and development. All these are aimed at efficient and synchronized operations which are achieved by a rigor around inherent optimization of resources. This is attained by reduction of wastage, faster response and workflow cycle reduction that lead to minimization of inventories and required resources.

In turn, the resultant efficiencies associated with Kanban implementation lead to flexible planning options, clear focus, and transparency throughout the development cycle. This, in turn, leads to faster output through a continuous delivery process, which translates into reduced inventory and wastage.

Kanban is a refinement to the conventional workflow management methodologies, and its implementation across a wide range of products and services brings profound advantages. The ease of implementation and applicability of the Kanban method is a strong promoter that encourages organizations to make this transition. It will not be an overstatement to assert that Kanban is one of the most simplistic implementations of Agile.