Kanban Is More than Just a Board

I spend a lot of time explaining the Kanban system and how it works to people who have never heard of it. However, I also encounter a lot of misperceptions among people who think they understand Kanban, but really don’t. These misperceptions hold people back from really embracing the Kanban Method and achieving optimal results.

not a todo list

The first misperception is that Kanban is just a board that hangs on a wall, where teams place their to-do lists.

Once those lists are posted, the Kanban system is done. There is no further room for improvement. If that were the case, anyone who ever created a to-do list would operate at top efficiency – which is obviously not true.

The second misperception is that Kanban can be used only within teams within a company, when they could get better results doing it across teams.

Both of these misperceptions prevent companies from reaping the full benefits of Kanban.

kanban team

At most, this limited application of Kanban principles results in only marginal improvement, which comes about naturally when transparency is improved. The biggest downside to applying Kanban to individual teams that are unaware of each other’s operations, instead of across teams, is that it can complicate operations in other areas.

For example, implementing Kanban to a team upstream in company operations results in that team performing more efficiently, with more robust production. However, this also increases demand on teams downstream, which have not had the benefit of Kanban training. These teams may begin to feel pressured and overburdened, and react either by resisting additional workflow or haphazardly attempting to meet the increased demand. 

Neither outcome is desirable, clearly. And the worst part is that if the team downstream never improves, the customer never benefits from the Kanban implementation, and neither does the business.

On the other hand, implementing Kanban across teams produces the most profound benefits. Operations of both upstream and downstream teams are optimized, with overall improvement in production and customer satisfaction.

incremental growth

The third misconception is that people still don’t believe that massive improvement is possible because the changes are incremental.

David Anderson, CEO of Mauvius Group and author of Kanban – Successful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business, pointed out the similarity between the pit crew improvement and the Kanban Method in a LinkedIn post. In the post he shares an example of what an incredible difference incremental changes can make over time with a video that compares NASCAR pit crews in 1981 and again in 2019.

The video at the top was a pit stop in 1981, which seems painfully slow to watch because the crew is taking a liesurely 24 seconds… which at the time was considered lightning fast.

Today, taking that much time can put a driver out of the running for the checkered flag. Over the past 39 years, pit crews have boiled the process of tire changing and other repairs down to a science. When the car stops a dozen people descend and do their sleight of hand mechanical magic. Just watch the tire being changed. One crew member jacks up the car, another removes the bad tire, and a third mounts the new tire, and someone else secures the tire with a power tool. The whole process takes less than three seconds.

pit crew
Gradual improvements in their teamwork, along with incremental advances in technology and materials over the past 40 years, have made this exciting-to-watch process possible.

You may wonder what racing cars have to do with software. Kanban works by making small incremental improvements consistently over time. The fact is that your software company is forever trying to be first-to-market with new features that customers love. It’s the ultimate race. If your teams take longer to deliver than your competition, competing products pull ahead, and business is lost. What steps can your company make today to be ahead of the competition in the future?

To learn more, click here to read my blog article, The Unbelievable Enemy of Speed or schedule a call with us today.

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