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Kanban: Agile’s Gateway Drug

I’ve always been puzzled why Kanban attracts so much attention in the agile community. At its essence Kanban is workqueue on a wall. Why would any team, delivering within a healthy iterative cadence, switch to a method that does nothing to support a sustainable pace for team members nor provide real delivery planning and predictability to the business?

During a conversation with Rebecca Porterfield, of Solstice Consulting, I realized that I have been looking at Kanban from the wrong perspective. Rebecca has recently rolled out Kanban with a client that had no existing process. The client’s team fell in love with Kanban instantly. It was a welcome relief to the interrupt-driven, everything-is-a-priority world to which the client was accustomed.

This conversation made me realize that Kanban is ideal for teams that have yet to take the agile plunge. Kanban is a quick hit of simple rules that fills a process void. It appeals especially to those who dwell in process-free (or chaotic) environments.

Kanban can be mundane and underpowered for the experienced agilist. It doesn’t provide me with much assistance on my current 30 person, multiple-system, heavy-process-mandated, regulation-driven, do-or-die project.

For the uninitiated, however, Kanban is a grand welcome into the agile community. Many teams (although not all) can invest a little effort in Kanban and reap significant reward. Then the teams get comfortable and even excited about adopting additional agile practices. This makes Kanban the ideal gateway drug to agile.

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