The Intrigue – and the Universality – of Kanban


It has been abundantly clear that in the last 3-4 years, the world of Agile has gradually come to be occupied by Kanban. While there has been a fair bit of the religious battle about Scrum vs. Kanban – which, while doing injustice to both Scrum and Kanban, has certainly helped to keep Kanban under the spotlight – the fact is that most consultants, coaches, and practitioners have been far more pragmatic and sanguine about it.


That is not to say that there isn’t a fair bit of misinformation, some deliberate, mostly due to lack of knowledge awareness, about Kanban; yet the advance of and acceptance of Kanban is clear and present.

So what are we looking forward to in Kanban in 2018?

Kanban/ Scrumban is the new Scrum

This is of course not something new. Yet, it is worth reiterating.

Amongst the Agile folks looking at Kanban – and evaluating it for their purposes, Kanban is the solution to a range of what might be termed as limitations or constraints of the ways in which teams have adopted Scrum.

Much has been written and said about the whole Scrum vs. Kanban/ Scrum and Kanban debate. In the recent past, there has been a lot of discussion due to an article was written by Jeff Sutherland, especially well captured in this great write-up by Mike Burrows! The topic is not new tho’! Many people have dealt with it in the past, including this excellent article by Dave White – and earlier by several people including Yuval Yeret and by Henrik Kniberg in his mini ebook.

This year, we hope to cover some of this discussion through our own blog posts and webinars – to spread awareness of the value of Kanban with Scrum – or Scrumban – for software teams of all hues.

Like all Improvement efforts, Kanban can also falter

Late in November 2017, Christophe Achouiantz, a 2016 Brickell Key Award winner, wrote a couple of excellent blog posts that highlight a common problem all teams implementing not just Kanban but probably any new framework or process face – the psychological chasm between the initial start – and the effort/ discipline/ perseverance based follow up they invariably need to have in order for it to succeed. He called it the “policy debt” – which represents the state of affairs where a process is implemented and a new state of being is achieved, without the team recognizing it – and coming up with a new set of policies to deal with the new state.

In his posts, he encourages teams to recognize it as a sign of progress, not failure – and use that to define new policies that help teams work with the new state of existence on to the next phase of improvement and change. I am looking forward to doing a webinar with him later this quarter (hopefully!) where we can get to hear from him in person and learn how to apply this crucial lesson that all of us all too frequently need!

In SwiftKanban, we provide a great tool that helps teams identify the disconnect between what they have and what they think they have (usually the ideal process) called the Adjacency Matrix. Using a simple visual, it helps teams identify what process steps are being missed on a regular basis or where there might be a fair bit of rework happening – and helps them take corrective action. I wrote about this some time back and it resonated with quite a few people at the time.

The point is that if you have been implementing Kanban, and have felt that it was “not going anywhere”, despair not! As Christophe says, it is a sign you have made progress!

Kanban is much more than Visualization

Related to the issue that Christophe wrote about is the challenge that most teams implement some version of Kanban – but quickly stagnate at that point for extended periods of time, sometimes forever. Dubbed proto-Kanban by many in the Kanban community, the challenge with such a situation is that while they definitely get the benefits of basic visualization, they fail to get the deeper benefits of Kanban.

So, if you are there already, prepare to expand your horizons – and benefit more deeply from Kanban.

I am happy to announce a conversational webinar series, the first of which is happening this month, with our CTO, Dr. Ramesh Patil. Ramesh has been the whiz behind much of our analytics – and has worked closely with David Anderson in the development of our SwiftESP capability. Between us, we hope to help teams that may be stuck at the visualization stage with a path forward on using some of the more advanced concepts of Kanban and use some of its metrics for greater predictability and reliability. If you feel stuck in the visualization phase with your Kanban implementation, then join us for some fun discussions.

Kanban – A solution to basic challenges all software teams face!

One of the things I personally enjoy doing is scouring the tech forums such as Quora and StackExchange to see what kind of doubts and questions people have about Kanban. Invariably, what I am struck by is not what they know or don’t know about Kanban, but how we as a community have become slaves of our own rituals and rigid processes.

A big chunk of questions that get posed is about what I can best describe as the clash between the realities of business vs. how they interpret a specific process framework (a lot of time that is Scrum) to be constraining them in dealing with that reality. Their struggle is to solve their business challenges by trying to match their business processes to the processes dictated by the methodology or process framework they’ve been told to adopt. While I try to make sure that not every problem appears to be a nail for my Kanban hammer, invariably, I find myself recommending the use of Kanban to recognize and model their business reality and use it to find elegant, yet simple, solutions to their conundrums. Usually, the validation comes from the questioner who accepts the answers we have provided them.

There is something so profound about Kanban’s starting principle – “Start with what you are doing now.” Whatever you are doing now is a result of the myriad things you and your team have been asked to do – there is a reason why you are doing what you are doing. Kanban lets you take a step back and look at it visually. Then start to figure out where the problems might be – and solve them one by one. It is as easy as that. It is much easier to say “This is my reality. These are my challenges. Now, what do I need to do to resolve them?” than to say “This is what the process is asking (forcing) me to do. How do I fit my various realities into this process??”

We will take a number of these real-world questions/ problems posed – and reproduce our responses to them here so you know what I am talking about, in some upcoming blog posts that should follow soon.

Kanban is central to Scaling Agile

For years, the Kanban community has been saying in different ways that Kanban is already a scaled Agile method. You can apply Kanban to any level of workflow or value stream in an organization. To scale, you just go upwards, downwards and sideways – to kanbanify any process that needs it, especially “adjacent” processes!

David Anderson has been talking and teaching about it for a long time. In multiple articles, such as this one, David emphasized the application of Kanban to large teams and processes as a natural – logical – application of Kanban.

In 2016, we did a webinar with Klaus Leopold titled “Large Scale Kanban”, and he said it elegantly as well – start from the highest level process that you can, to implement Kanban. Whenever the need to drill down was felt by the team, then simply create a new Kanban board for that higher-level step that needed the drill down – that was it!

So, it has come to us as no surprise that in the most popular and prevalent scaling method that the Agile world has adopted, the Scaled Agile Framework®, Lean and Kanban have become increasingly central to it. SAFe® version 4.5 has given the nod to Kanban even at the team level, besides of course having it central to all the higher levels of Portfolio, Large Solution and Program levels. Consequently, our learning from and the investment in Kanban that we made in the last 7 years has proved invaluable in our ability to launch our SAFe tool, SwiftEASe – and the reception to the tool from the Agile community has been heartening!

So where does this all lead to?

The Digital Enterprise – Visual, Lean and Agile

We truly believe that as Lean and Agile (and Scrum and Kanban) come together, the world of IT, software and business are the true beneficiaries. Consultants and thought leaders have always done a great job of abstracting the best of the principles and practices of various frameworks and methods – and applying them to the problem at hand for their customers.

Kanban, with its principles of an evolutionary approach, its applicability to any process, and its focus on Visualization and Flow tackles the central issue that all business and technology organizations are addressing – Business Agility across the Enterprise – in a very fundamental, natural manner.

As the world goes Digital with the application of a range of technologies, we at Digité feel very good about our ability and preparedness to help you achieve your Enterprise Agility goals, with our rich set of solutions and services.

A very happy and successful 2018 to you all!

Mahesh Singh
Co-founder, Sr. VP – Marketing

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Mahesh Singh

Mahesh is a NimbleWork co-founder who hasn’t held a steady job for a long time and consequently, has run Product Management, Consulting, Professional Services and now the Marketing functions at NimbleWork. He is a Project Management and Kanban enthusiast and holds the Kanban Coaching Professional (KCP) and Accredited Kanban Trainer (AKT) certifications from Kanban University. Follow Mahesh on Twitter @maheshsingh

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