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Kanban Principles & Practices

Instructor: Olga Bugajenko

Olga is a registered PRINCE2 Practitioner and has a master's degree in project management.

Why is it impossible to lose weight and become fit overnight? In this lesson, we explore the principles and practices of Kanban, which promotes slow and steady process improvements.

Four Kanban Basic Principles

How often have you seen advertisements promising to help you lose twenty pounds in a single week? In reality, this is almost never achievable and definitely unsustainable. However, if you introduce small changes to your diet and some physical activity here and there, you are likely to lose a pound or two every week. Similarly, you cannot change all organizational processes overnight and expect them to work smoothly. Instead, you should introduce small, 'baby-step' improvements on a regular basis.

Kanban is a process improvement and systems management approach which originated in the 1950's in manufacturing, but is now applied across various industries. It helps to eliminate unnecessary actions ('waste') and resolve workflow problems. Let's review four basic principles of Kanban:

  1. Start with what you do now - you don't have to change your existing processes to start implementing Kanban in your organization. You can start with your current workflow and adjust it over time. Just like you shouldn't change your diet completely overnight, but rather should start with small, healthy substitutions, like snacking on an apple instead of candy. This principle makes is easy to start using Kanban.
  2. Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change - radical change is difficult to carry out successfully, as it is much more likely to be met with resistance from the organization members. Instead, Kanban encourages slow, small, step-by-step improvements that are agreed upon by the team. This is similar to changing a workout. If you suddenly start running seven times a week, you'll likely strain a muscle. Instead, it's better to start with brisk walks 2-3 times per week.
  3. Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities, and titles - you don't have to change everything in your organization to fit Kanban. Well-functioning processes and roles are worth keeping. This principle, along with the first two, makes it easier to avoid emotional resistance and the fear of change from the organization's members. Gaining internal support should make it easier to implement the approach successfully. Think again about our example of exercise. You don't have to force your whole family to change their lifestyles, especially if they are healthy and happy. Without the pressure, they are more likely to support you.
  4. Encourage acts of leadership at all levels - Kanban encourages the mindset of continuous improvement at all levels of the organization and recognizes that the leadership in a team does not necessarily come only from the person in the managerial position. Suggestions for possible improvements can come from any level. Kanban promotes a culture of safety and trust in the organization. Again, this is similar to ideas about exercise and health. Tips and tricks on how to stay healthy might come from unexpected sources - like your kid's homework assignment. The source shouldn't make the ideas less valuable!

Six Kanban Practices

The core practices of Kanban are:

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