10 Properties of Kanban

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10 Properties of Kanban

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Kanban pioneer David Anderson recently submitted a manuscript of his new book for copy editing.  The book is titled "Kanban - Successful Evolutionary Change for Technology Organizations,"  and it is the first complete and formal documentation of Kanban.  Only a few members on the kanbandev Yahoo group had an opportunity to see the manuscript, but Anderson's ten defining properties of Kanban were posted for public viewing.  The group members offered a great deal of feedback, some of which was used to revise the properties.  Reviewers of Anderson's manuscript wanted him to provide a formal definition of the Kanban approach to process improvement, so with the help of the kanbandev group and some discussions while teaching in Cape Town, South Africa, Anderson has updated his properties of Kanban.  Of course, the finalized properties won't be available until the book is out in print, but the properties posted on kanbandev should give a close indication of what you can expect from the book.  

Here was Anderson's first pass at a definition of Kanban:

The Kanban Method

  1. The Kanban Method is an approach to change management

  2. Kanban uses visualization of workflow

  3. Kanban makes process policies explicit

  4. Kanban sets a limit to work-in-progress

  5. Kanban uses a virtual signaling mechanism to pull new work into the system as capacity becomes available
  6. Kanban empowers team members and enables them to self-organize in 
a trustworthy fashion through transparency of process and visualization of work-in-progress

  7. Kanban directs management focus to process definition and builds trust in the process by making policies explicit and understanding how different process elements interact

  8. Kanban enables evolutionary change by exposing problems through the positive tension created by a work-in-progress limit and the transparency or process and visualization work-in-progress

  9. Kanban utilizes a number of thinking tools to enable process improvement including the Theory of Constraints, an understanding of variability through the teachings of W. Edwards Deming and the concept of "muda" (waste) from the Toyota Production System

  10. The number of tools used with the Kanban method is continually evolving and ideas from fields such as sociology, psychology, and risk management have been creeping into usage in recent years.

Anderson made a significant number of revisions based on feedback from the kanbandev group members' suggestions.  Property number five, for example, had the word "pull" removed because it was suggested that "pull" was a side-effect of limiting WIP.  Anderson agreed that there are nuances in the pull vs. limited WIP relationship that didn't need to be outlined at the top level.  He also gave a special thanks to Peter Hundermark and the people in Cape Town who helped him make some significant changes for his updated posting of the ten properties.  Anderson added some basic definitions to go along with the Kanban properties:

  • "kanban" (small "k") - a sign or physical token
  • "kanban system" (small "k") - a token based, WIP limited pull system
  • "Kanban" (big "K") - a change management approach that employs a WIP limited pull system (The WIP limited pull system can be any of a family including CONWIP, kanban, DBR, CapWIP, or other variants)

Anderson also drastically condensed the ten properties and divided them into five core properties and five emergent properties.  The core properties are exhibited by less mature teams that are using purely physical Kanban:  

Core Properties

1. Limit WIP
2. Visualize process workflow
3. Measure & manage flow
4. Make process policies explicit
5. Use models to recognize improvement opportunities (popular models currently include Theory of Constraints, Lean Waste, Deming's Theories regarding Variation, and Real Option Theory)

Anderson says that all five of these properties were exhibited in the the Microsoft XIT case where Anderson was first experimenting with Lean practices in software.  These next five properties are the emergent properties.  They are only exhibited by more advanced teams:

Emergent Properties

6. Prioritize work by (opportunity) cost of delay
7. Optimize value delivery with classes of service
8. Spread risk with capacity allocation
9. Encourage process innovation
10. Manage quantitatively

In his first implementations of Kanban with Corbis, Anderson says the teams exhibited all ten of these properties.

"Kanban - Successful Evolutionary Change for Technology Organizations" went into print on the week of March 22nd, according to the schedule.

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