10 Tips on How To Best Start your Kanban Journey

Are you thinking to start using Kanban but are unsure how and where to start? Here are 10 tips to help you get going on your Kanban journey!


1. Start with a small “Team”

An easy way to gain experience with Kanban is to introduce it to a team that already delivers a well-understood service. These teams usually have a clear purpose, goals, and customers, which makes creating a meaningful Kanban system easier. It is also easier to start with small teams (2-8 persons) than bigger ones. For example, a small project team, an application maintenance team, a small function (process managers, operation, communication, etc.).

(The coach’s comments) Kanban delivers spectacular results (100-700% efficiency increase) when applied to whole value streams involving several teams, functions and specialists. But You’ll need to get some Kanban experience under your belt before venturing there. For the moment focus on a single existing team.

2. Make sure the Team’s lead or manager is on board

The team’s lead/manager must want to introduce Kanban. This is the most important person as he/she is setting the tone for all other team members. If the team-lead does not understand the benefits, is skeptical or against, then don’t bother and look for another team as you will waste everybody’s time, including your own.

(The coach’s comments) You may want to have separated preparation meetings with the team-lead to get buy-in. 

3. Make the team’s purpose clear

Clarity of purpose is key for succeeding with improvements in general and with Kanban in particular. A meaningful Kanban system can only be created when the purpose is clear. So before introducing Kanban, the team should be able to answer the questions: “What service(s) are we providing, to whom?” and “When do we succeed?”. This step is included in the Kanban Kick-start workshop.

(The coach’s comments) Not all organization groups – especially in larger organizations – have a common purpose. Groups are usually put together to manage people. Kanban can be used to bring clarity to those groups as well but it requires more coaching effort, so let them on the side for the moment and focus on smaller service-focused teams.

4. Start where you are

Start where you are” is one of the main principles of the Kanban method. Done correctly, introducing Kanban should create very little friction and almost no resistance to change. Make sure that you follow this principle too by not introducing anything new when adopting Kanban: no new ways of working, new roles, meetings, interfaces or artifacts. Just focus on making the current way of working clear and explicit.

(The coach’s comments) This is plenty enough as a first step, as team members often realize that they have been working very differently all along and need to agree on a common way of working. This may be a change in itself for some team members, but it usually does not create resistance as it comes from the team. After some time, the team will have a much better understanding about how the work works. The team itself will then propose some changes to its own way-of-working (and, yes, that’s totally OK to do the change then!).

5. Establish Pull

Actually, there is one important change to make a.s.a.p: to adopt Pull!
When starting with Kanban, “Pull” is mainly about letting team members pull ready-work when they have capacity, instead of having the manager pushing work onto individuals (regardless of how much work-in-progress they have). In effect, this rule removes a lot of the micro-management from the manager and gives it to the team. This may require a difficult behavioral change for some managers.

(The coach’s comments) Discuss this with the manager on beforehand and make sure to participate to the Kanban meetings to give feedback and support. Eventually “Pull” will encompass other aspects like balancing demand with capacity, replenishment policies, making demands refutable and flow efficiency. But, you have time to get there.

6. Give the team the authority it needs

Kanban is about making the team fully aware and in control of its work. It allows the team to assume full responsibility. For this to succeed, the team must have the authority it needs to decide about its own way of working. It must be up to the team, not the manager or anyone else, to decide the rules and policies about how to handle work.

(The coach’s comments) Of course, this must happen within the boundaries set by the organization (legal, safety, etc.).

7. Make everything explicit and transparent

The key to success with Kanban is to give everyone (team members, customers, and stakeholders) a perfect understanding about the current situation, policies, and past performance (statistics). Everyone should be able to provide input – based on facts – to the question “what is the smartest thing to do for us right now?”.

(The coach’s comments) Makes this as visual, and accessible, as possible (think “stickies in the corridor”).

8. Keep it simple

Regardless of how much time you’ve spend creating your Kanban system, it will be wrong. It’s only by using the system that you will be able to make it right. So, do not spend too much time upfront (keep it simple), start early and keep adapting.

(The coach’s comments) The team will soon realize that “the board doesn’t work anymore!”. That is excellent news! It doesn’t mean that you’ve done a poor job, it simply means that the team has matured and better understands how the work works. Help the team adapt its system (visualization and policies) and off you go!

9. Don’t do this alone

Kanban is much more than stickies on a wall! It looks deceptively simple, but in order to reap the benefits of Kanban (100-700% efficiency increase) you may need help. Learn from others in your organization and elsewhere. Share experience by inviting other teams to your Kanban meetings, go and see for yourself what others are doing, go to “Lean Coffees” and conferences. A Lean/Agile coach can be a good investment to help you go further and make your team(s) succeed in the long term.

(The coach’s comments) Strength in numbers!

10. Spread out!

When you start to be confident with your first implementation, try to expand your Kanban “bubble” upstream and/or downstream in your value stream. Involve customer(s), other units, teams, and specialists that you are depending on. Re-design your interfaces with them by establishing regular meetings to discuss what works and what doesn’t, what you need from them, what you can do better for them, etc. Create a bigger Kanban system with everyone needed to deliver value from concept to cash. Soon, you will have given control of a whole value stream to the individuals working in it, and great things will happen!

Bon Voyage!

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