In this article we are going to answer one of the most popular Kanban questions – is Kanban Agile (capital A) or agile (small a) and what does it mean? Continue reading to get the detailed explanation.
To start with, let’s put it straight: the Kanban Method does not belong to Agile Methods (capital A). However, Kanban is an alternative way to agility (small a). Applying Kanban does not require making huge changes to the process or roles when you start applying it. Instead, it says to “start where you are now” and implies that there is already some process in place where Kanban can be added on the top of it.
Apart from this, the Kanban Method application does not require following Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Agile Methods are made for “uncovering better ways of developing software”. While Kanban can be used for software development, it is not a software development method only. Instead, Kanban is a management method. We use Kanban Method to manage and improve the delivery of services in different sectors of intangible work industries - in technology, marketing, HR, legal, etc. To sum-up, Kanban is not one of the Agile Methods, but it can help you achieve agility.
What is agility?
What do we mean when we say that kanban is a new way to agility? Enterprise agility can be described as a capability to quickly and easily exploit opportunities and recover from shock (Julian Birkinshaw, Fast Forward).
Enterprise agility at scale means that:
- Value flows through a network of interdependent services operating with autonomy.
- The organization is seeking organizational maturity.
- We observe leadership and management at every step of the network.
- Feedback mechanisms are established with the help of cadences.
Hence, agility implies that the listed above is in place. In addition, agile organizations have other priorities when it comes to making decisions.
Here are some agile decision filters:
- Progress over delay for perfect information. The preference is in starting to make progress with imperfect information and making corrections when the new information arrives. We trade cost of delay against cost of rework.
- Trust over control. Trust allows us to move quickly avoiding delays as we don’t depend on permissions, negotiations, contracts, audit, or arbitration. We trade the risk of loss because of failed trust for economic benefits from speed and low overheads.
- Finishing over starting. More work in progress (WIP) results in lead time growth, quality drop, and hence, less satisfied clients. We trade the pleasure of starting over the benefits of finishing.
How can Kanban help you achieve agility?
The Kanban Method teaches companies to create “fit for purpose” services that satisfy their customers. Eventually, using Kanban helps organizations to gradually achieve great improvements in an evolutionary way. Companies get to reduce their lead time, improve throughput, transparency, and predictability, establish effective flow and healthy work environment that minimizes the turnover of the personnel. Eventually, the path of continuous improvement brings organizations to better agility. Which makes companies able to react quickly to changing customer needs and even survive dramatic changes in the market.
Agility or Resilience?
Although the concept of agility has become quite popular and widely used, let's raise a point to reflect on the relevance of this concept in the nearest future. Shortly after the global lockdown Forbes issued an article in response to the novel coronavirus and Covid-19 where Julian Birkinshaw of London Business School suggests that the new imperative for senior leaders isn’t enterprise agility; but the enterprise resilience now.
Birkinshaw defines resilience as an ability to resist, rebuff, and bounce back after shocks and unexpected negative events. While agility is the ability to respond quickly and effectively to opportunities when they arise.
The rapidly changing world dictates us new conditions for living and doing business. Who knows, but maybe soon we won't be asking ourselves «is Kanban agile?”. But it will be a well-known fact that using the Kanban Method you can make your business resilient and always ready to quickly react and reinvent itself in response to any unexpected events.
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