Originating from Toyota’s car manufacturing, Kanban is all about driving efficiency through visualised workflows. Far less structured than Scrum, Kanban works best for teams with varying or fluctuating priorities, or those with existing processes who are looking to increase efficiency through gradual and continuous improvement. If Scrum centres around its four ceremonies, then Kanban focuses on its four principles:
- Visualise work - the Kanban board is where the workflow is made visible to the entire team. It should be simple as consists of three primary states: to do, in progress, done. This is a good starting point for those adopting the Kanban framework, and it can then be adapted to suit the team’s needs.
- Limit WIP - the amount of work in progress should be kept within an agreed limit. The general rule in Kanban is little and often, which in turn prevents a build up of work (bottlenecks that can be seen on the board) and waste from context switching.
- Focus on flow - like a car production line, this should move through to a state of ‘done’ in a continuous, steady flow. A build up of work in progress is likely to cause problems, especially if the team needs to go back and fix things. Keeping work small, manageable and bite-sized makes the process more efficient.
- Continuous improvement - Kanban acknowledges that no process will ever be perfect and that nothing remains still forever. There is always room for improvement and it is a vital part of Kanban to acknowledge and act upon this. Efficiency is about learning from experience to move things forward.
Kanban takes much of its inspiration from Lean software development. Like Agile, Lean is a set of principles or an approach by which to develop software, though it is now more commonly viewed as an Agile subculture rather than a standalone philosophy. Lean focuses on the reduction of waste in the process as a means of increasing efficiency. It also emphasises learning, team empowerment and improving the quality of the whole system rather than its component parts.
Key things to note about Kanban...
Best for: teams with fluctuating priorities who want to focus on continually improving the efficiency of their process and workflows
Key roles: roles are more fluid and the responsibility of getting value across the board to ‘done’ is shared by the whole team
Focus: moving individual stories across the board as efficiently as possible
Key metrics & estimation: cycle time; estimation optional
Limits & parameters: work in progress (WIP)
Change agent: WIP limits.