6 Core Practices of the Kanban Method
Visualize the flow of work
This is the fundamental first step to adopting and implementing the Kanban Method. You need to visualize – either on a physical board or an electronic Kanban Board, the process steps that you currently use to deliver your work or your services. Depending on the complexity of your process and your work-mix (the different types of work items that you work on and deliver), your Kanban board can be very simple to very elaborate. Once you visualize your process, then you can visualize the current work that you and your team are doing.
Limit WIP (Work in Progress)
Limiting work-in-progress (WIP) is fundamental to implementing Kanban – a ‘Pull-system’. By limiting WIP, you encourage your team to complete work at hand first before taking up new work. Thus, work currently in progress must be completed and marked done. This creates capacity in the system, so new work can be pulled in by the team. Initially, it may not be easy to decide what your WIP limits should be. In fact, you may start with no WIP limits.
Managing and improving flow is the crux of your Kanban system after you have implemented the first 2 practices. A Kanban system helps you manage flow by highlighting the various stages of the workflow and the status of work in each stage. Depending on how well the workflow is defined and WIP Limits are set, you will observe either a smooth flow within WIP limits or work piling up as something gets held up and starts to hold up capacity. All of this affects how quickly work traverses from start to the end of the workflow (some people call it value stream). Kanban helps your team analyze the system and make adjustments to improve flow to reduce the time it takes to complete each piece of work.
Make Process Policies Explicit
As part of visualizing your process, it makes sense to also define and visualize explicitly, your policies (process rules or guidelines) for how you do the work you do. By formulating explicit process guidelines, you create a common basis for all participants to understand how to do any type of work in the system. The policies can be at the board level, at a swim lane level, and for each column. They can be a checklist of steps to be done for each work item-type, entry-exit criteria for each column, or anything at all that helps team members manage the flow of work on the board well.
Implement Feedback Loops
Feedback loops are an integral part of any good system. The Kanban Method encourages and helps you implement feedback loops of various kinds – review stages in your Kanban board workflow, metrics and reports and a range of visual cues that provide you continuous feedback on work progress – or the lack of it – in your system. While the mantra of “Fail fast! Fail often!” may not be intuitively understood by many teams, the idea of getting feedback early, especially if you are on the wrong track with your work, is crucial to ultimately delivering the right work, the right product or service to the customer in the shortest possible time. Feedback loops are critical for ensuring that.
Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally (using the scientific method)
The Kanban Method is an evolutionary improvement process. It helps you adopt small changes and improve gradually at a pace and size that your team can handle easily. It encourages the use of the scientific method – you form a hypothesis, you test it and you make changes depending on the outcome of your test. As a team implementing Lean/ Agile principles, your key task is to evaluate your process constantly and improve continuously as needed and as possible.