7 Ways that Kanban tackles the great Enterprise Productivity Challenge
It is definitely tempting to look at Kanban through the lens of visual work, great project management or a basic ‘stickies on a board’ based management – but it is much more than that and can yield dramatic productivity improvements for yourself, your team and your organization.
Kanban focuses on improving flow and throughput of a system, thereby improving the lead time to complete and deliver products and services to your customer. Kanban uses the following techniques and measures to help you:
- Establish Pull (instead of Push): Because it actively encourages a ‘Pull’ mechanism, Kanban tends to ensure that team members take up new work only when they have capacity to do that work. More importantly, it discourages managers and customers to push work onto the team when it might not have the capacity to take on additional work.
- Define WIP Limits: Kanban focuses on reducing multi-tasking and encourages completing in-progress work first before taking up something new. It does so by specifying the use of WIP Limits that help team members enforce the principle of “Stop Starting. Start Finishing.”
- Highlight and Eliminate Blockers: Kanban encourages explicitly highlighting work that is blocked so that the team can focus on and resolve such blockers. Kanban boards provide great visual cues into what the roadblocks are, who’s overworked and who’s underworked etc. taking you a step closer to resolving the issue. For instance, maybe you’ll find someone on the team who’s handling far too many tasks, possibly causing bottlenecks (and getting burnt out). Kanban encourages removing impediments to flow of work at ALL times.
- Reduce Batch Size: Kanban encourages focusing on and improving Flow by delivering work and products as soon as possible, instead of batching them in groups. Large batch sizes increase risk and uncertainty, and hence make it difficult to make and keep commitments about their delivery. Continuous delivery, on the other hand, keeps the focus on completing work and delivering it to the customer based on their convenience.
- Reduce System and Customer Lead Time, Improve Flow Efficiency: Kanban helps you focus on the important aspect of the time taken to deliver your work products to your customer. In that, it helps you define the lead time for your specific service. Kanban uses concepts of customer lead time and system lead time to help you understand how long it takes for your team to do different types of work.
At the same time, it helps highlight all the wait stages (usually hand-offs from one stage to another, but also waiting for external customer input or other external dependencies) in your process workflow. This helps you understand how to steadily reduce them to improve “time-to-market” performance for your customer. Improving your ‘flow-efficiency’ helps improve overall team productivity dramatically.
- Delay Commitment: Kanban enables you and your customer to make a commitment to start working on something as late as possible (“at the last responsible moment”) – in order to give you the maximum time to decide whether to do something or not. This helps the customer take into account latest market changes and fine-tune requirements accordingly. It helps your team work on the really important stuff. Most importantly, it helps you both take up work that is truly important and that will not be abandoned once started. Abandoned work represents waste and should be minimised.
- Make Policies Explicit: Kanban uses the valuable concepts of Risk, Class of Service and Cost of Delay to help you understand the varying nature of demand on your team, and the different types of work they are asked to do. It helps you select the right kind of work based on the risk and the cost of delay associated with them. It helps you explicitly define policies for different types of work – classes of service – so that you and your customer are clear about how work will be taken up and executed. The most important/ urgent work will always be delivered first, while other less urgent, yet important work will be taken up based on agreed upon policies.
Using these principles, Kanban helps you take on the challenges of improving efficiency and productivity, maximizing throughput and delivery of value, while helping you and your customer to understand your team’s capability and capacity to deliver and define and use policies that help both sides build a sustainable successful relationship.
About the Author: Mahesh Singh is the Co-founder, Sr. Vice President – Product at Digite. Mahesh brings over 20 years of Product Management/ Delivery and Business Development experience to Digite. Mahesh is responsible for Product Management, Marketing, and Professional Services for North America and Europe.