What is the Kanban Method?

What is the Kanban Method?

Kanban with capital or small “K”? The Kanban Method, methodology, or framework? How did it appear and why Kanban? Let’s explore the Kanban Method definition and dive deeper into these popular questions.

The Kanban Method definition

The Kanban University’s Glossary says it is a method for the definition, management, and improvement of services that deliver "knowledge work". Where knowledge work means developing goods and services through activities that add to knowledge discovery. For example, knowledge work are Marketing, Software Development, and all kinds of Product Development. Knowledge work is performed by knowledge workers. In other words, Kanban is a way to manage work in intangible goods industries. 

To properly use the Kanban Method you need to have a Kanban system in place. It is designed using STATIK and contains the board, work items represented as tickets (cards), policies, metrics, and cadences.

Capital K or small k? 

In general, Kanban (capital K) is an evolutionary change method that uses a kanban (small k) pull system, visualization, and other tools to catalyze the introduction of Lean ideas into the intangible goods industry, including technology development and IT operations. This process is evolutionary and incremental. As a result, it enables you to achieve context-specific process optimization with minimal resistance to change. Meanwhile it also helps to maintain a sustainable pace for the workers involved. 

Kanban board image

Is Kanban a method, methodology, or framework? 

The Official Kanban Guide by Kanban University says that Kanban is a method that helps to manage all types of professional services that require applying a holistic way of thinking about your services with a focus on improving them from your customers’ perspective.  

Therefore, Kanban is not a methodology as methodologies have prescriptive, defined workflows and processes, including roles, and responsibilities, which means that they are usually very specific to a certain domain (a bit confusing, as people perceive “methodology” as “the study of methods”).  

Also, It is not a process framework as a framework is an incomplete methodology – a set of scaffolding that is intended to have broader applicability but requires customization for each context to fill in the missing gaps. 

Kanban is neither a methodology nor a process framework, but a management method or approach that you apply to the current process. Moreover, you always add it to an existing methodology, framework, or way of working.  

A brief history of the Kanban Method

Kanban is a Japanese word that means signal card(s). It can also be written 看板 in Chinese characters (Kanji) which means “sign” or “large visual board.” Kanban became famous after its usage in Lean manufacturing, the process of continuous improvement in Toyota.

However, Kanban Method for intangible goods industries is different. It was created by David Anderson back in the 2000-s when he was looking for a way to scale agile implementation to more than one team and successfully lead change. At that time, David was a Development Manager at Sprint PCS and later at Motorola. David understood that a pull system is the best solution as it could enable incremental process change, facilitating a sustainable pace.  

When David started working at Microsoft, he got the first opportunity to try his approach. Together with his colleague Dragos Dumitriu, working as a Project Manager, they made the first comprehensive Kanban Method implementation in 2004 to the XIT business unit, part of Microsoft’s IT organization.  

XIT business unit had the worse customer service record in Microsoft, and it seemed that nothing could help them. Fifteen months after David and Dragos started applying Kanban Method, they: tripled the productivity of that department, reduced their average delivery time from 1,5 months to 11 days, and improved on-time delivery from 0% to 98%. Kanban Method showed itself as an effective solution that brings real results.

Read more in “The Microsoft XIT Sustaining Engineering Story” full case study on kmm.plus.

David Anderson with his books

Why Kanban?

As David later explained in his bestseller book: Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business, he was exploring two approaches at that time. One of them was from Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints where the author had already developed an application of the theory for flow problems, called “Drum-Buffer-Rope.” David thought that a simplified Drum-Buffer-Rope solution could be implemented for software.

Another example of a pull system that David explored was a kanban system. After the application at Microsoft, David realized that both approaches would have brought an identical result. Over time, David developed a preference for the term “kanban”, as this body of knowledge had much wider adoption, it was easy to say, explain, and implement, and it just stuck. Therefore, the solution once developed and applied by David Anderson for intangible goods industries now is widely known as the Kanban Method. Since then, it became one of the most popular solutions in the world for companies that seek agility.

Read the whole story of the Kanban Method told by the author himself. Get the newly updated book Discovering Kanban: The Evolutionary Path to Enterprise Agility by David Anderson. Hurry up to benefit from the launch price discount!

How you can learn the Kanban Method

There are many myths about Kanban. As well as many sources that provide different and sometimes controversial information about it. Unfortunately, not all the knowledge you can find on the Internet is correct and it may be confusing. So, be attentive and choose reliable sources. To learn the Kanban Method as developed and verified by its author, David Anderson, you can use the following sources: 

Kanban University and its Accredited Kanban Trainers

Kanban University has a wide net of Accredited Trainers based in different countries around the globe. These Trainers have gone through special training and are professionals in teaching and explaining the Kanban Method. Kanban University has a lot of resources and blog articles on its website. It will be very helpful for those who have just started exploring Kanban. First of all, we advise you to check the Official Kanban Guide, and Kanban Glossary.

David J Anderson School of Management

This is a place where you can learn from David himself or his trusted Kanban Trainers. Sometimes, this school offers different classes with a wider angle or include more additional information as a lot of new approaches to teaching are first applied by David in this school. All the courses get Kanban University certificates. David J Anderson School of Management website also has a very informative blog.

Kanban Books

This website offers a collection of official books explaining the Kanban Method. Some of them are free for download, some will have a link to where you can buy them. Among David’s books, we advise you to explore the newly updated Discovering Kanban book, which is the first book out of the new upcoming Better with Kanban series. It explains the origin story of creating the Kanban Method. Another important book is the Kanban Maturity Model. This huge book is a result of 10 years of studies and explains in detail how to apply and scale the Kanban Method to avoid failures.

KMM Plus 

This source works perfectly for those who likes to benefit from the modern technologies that enable interactive learning and constant access to information anywhere from any device. KMM Plus gathers all the materials about the Kanban Maturity Model (KMM), a guide for Trainers, Coaches, and Professionals to successfully apply Kanban.

You can use it for self-paced learning. With KMM Plus you can read the KMM and Fit for Purpose books, explore interactive posters, watch videos, and download resources. The free version also has a wide selection of materials and downloads uncovered.

Kanban+ is coming soon!

Kanban+ is coming soon, it will have even more information for people to learn from. Meanwhile, start exploring Kanban on KMM+. Create your free account and we will transfer it to Kanban+ after the launch.

Stay tuned for the latest news about the Kanban+ launch by subscribing to the KMM+ newsletter.

Man with digital Kanban board
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