Embracing Kanban Properties for Enterprise Agility

By Doug Rose

Your organization may choose the Kanban approach to enterprise agility. Kanban is all about looking at how your organization does what it does and figuring out ways to do it better. Unlike the principles that focus on how to think, the properties tell you what to do to ensure smooth and continuous workflow in your organization.

Visualize the workflow

Visualizing the workflow is based on the premise that you can’t fix what you don’t see. By mapping the current workflow, inefficiencies become more obvious. To visualize workflow and to schedule and manage work, you use a Kanban board that typically breaks a process into steps with a queue for each step, such as Input Queue, Analysis, Development, Test, Stage, and Production. The Kanban board provides an easy way to view and communicate the status of work, and it exposes workflow issues that need to be addressed.

A basic Kanban board that six stages of a process — Input Queue, Analysis, Development, Test, Stage, and Production.

Kanban is about much more than creating and using Kanban boards. It emphasizes continuous improvement through transparency and collaboration.

Limit work in progress

Kanban sets limits for work in progress (WIP) at each stage in a process. At the top of each queue is a number that represents the number of work items that can be in that queue (at that stage in the process) at any one time.

A WIP limit is the maximum amount of work that can exist at a certain stage of a process; it represents a team’s capacity for completing work. Think of WIP limits as water valves that ensure a steady flow so that the team can deliver a consistent stream of work to the next stage of the process.

You can adjust WIP limits to improve workflow.

Manage flow

The goal of smooth and continuous flow involves identifying and removing bottlenecks in the system and exploring other ways to optimize processes. While “managing” flow may appear to suggest that this is management’s job, all employees should be involved in identifying and addressing inefficiencies in the system.

Make process policies explicit

To make well-informed workflow decisions, process policies must be defined, documented, and discussed. For example, organizations must document each step in a process and provide specific criteria to determine when that step or what it produces is considered done.

Improve collaboratively

With Kanban, individuals and groups throughout the organization work collaboratively to solve problems and address issues that may be impeding the flow of value to the customer or, on a more local level, the workflow. Everyone is expected to develop a shared understanding of theories and models of workflow, process, and risk to inform discussion.