Kanban is a strategy for optimizing the flow of stakeholder value through a process that uses a visual, work-in-progress limited, pull based system.
The name comes from the Japanese word (看板) which mean “visual signal” or “card.” and refers to the way physical boards and cards were used to represent the status of activities or pieces of work. Kanban cab be used to help visualise the progress of a process, or series of processes.
Central to the definition of Kanban is the concept of “flow.”
Flow is the movement of customer value throughout the product development system.
Kanban helps to optimize flow by improving the overall efficiency, effectiveness, and predictability of a process.
The Kanban framework contains a set of Core Practices which can be applied to help improve visibility and maximise flow:
- Visualize (the work, workflow, and risks to flow/value delivery)
- Limit WIP (Work in Process)
- Manage Flow
- Make Process Explicit
- Implement Feedback Loops
- Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally (using models and the scientific method)
The simplest Kanban board can look something like this (and could be sticky notes on a wall/window or displayed in some kind of Kanban “tool”).
Kanban boards can become highly advanced and complex, and are used to represent multiple streams of value delivery and encapsulate information such as “Work in progress limits”. The following is a “3D Kanban” used as part of a software development process.
A number of metrics are often used to assist with monitoring and optimizing the flow of work and I describe these briefly here as an introduction. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like further information.
Work in Progress (WIP)
WIP refers to the number of items currently being worked on (in progress) in a particular state (column) at a given time. Typically teams using Kanban limit the number of items in a given state to help manage the flow of work, This is known as a “WIP Limit”.
The purpose of a Work in Progress limit, is to help the team reduce the amount of WIP and ultimately to improve the flow of work and reduce the amount of incomplete (unfinished) work.
The amount of elapsed time between when a work item “starts” and when a work item “finishes.”
This metric is a lagging indicator of flow. It is available only after an item is actually finished from the workflow perspective (e.g. reached a Done lane on the Kanban board). It is typically used to drive improvement work as well as to be able to establish internal/external expectations as to the team’s turnaround time on specific items.
The number of work items “finished” per unit of time.
The measurement of throughput is the exact count of work items, without any compensation for item size – which is a major difference between throughput and story-points based velocity. Throughput is measured at a certain step in the workflow, typically at the finish line of the workflow.
Work Item Age
The amount of elapsed time between when a work item “started” and the current time.
Work Item Age is a leading indicator relevant for non-finished items. This helps to to provide transparency to which items are flowing well and which are “going slow”.
Kanban can be a great tool to implement on its own and also works well in partnership with other practices and frameworks. There are many good resources and tools available to help you use Kanban within your team and organisation.