System thinking and Kanban

This other day, I stumbled upon an article by John Seddon  – "Rethinking Lean Service" which had been laying around in my disk space for a while.

"Training workers against demand and ensuring they are responsible for what they do is preventative (the better alternative to inspection). All arbitrary measures (standard times, cost, targets and standards) are removed from the system and instead real measures are used to help managers and workers alike understand and improve the work. It is better, for example, to know the actual time it takes to complete transactions as ‘one-stop’; this improves resource planning. Similarly it is better to know the true experience of the customer for any work that goes through a flow (endto-end time or on-time-as-required) in order to improve the flow and, consequently, reduce costs. There are many examples of these principles in use, published examples include Pyke (2008), McQuade (2008), ODPM (2005), and Jackson, Johnstone and Seddon (2007), Seddon and Brand (2008).

At its heart, the systems archetype is concerned with designing against customer demand, managing value rather than cost. And this is the heart of the paradox: when managers manage costs, costs go up; when they learn to manage value, costs fall. It is a counter-intuitive truth.

It struck me how these principles can be deployed using a Kanban system:

  • design against customer demand : create the kanban board starting with the demand
  • focus on value creation over cost elimination: set highest priority in completing work before accepting new. Use WIP limits to ensure that is happening.
  • know the actual time it takes to complete the transaction as "one stop" : learn the cycle time of flow and use this to plan resources rather than spent time

Maybe Kanban is well suited for services?

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