World-over, organizations are becoming lean, more responsive, better attuned to customer needs and adaptable to changing markets and changing requirements. This is possible only because of Agile adoption. Agile is a framework that enables quick turnaround times and fast releases of products into the market.
Kanban, one of the most widely used Agile frameworks, offers all the benefits of the Lean Agile system and helps organizations reap the benefits of reducing wasteful processes, improving collaboration and streamlining processes to enhance bottom line margins.
Kanban is one of the frameworks in the umbrella of Agile frameworks, along with its more popular cousin Scrum and other frameworks such as XP, Crystal etc. With its origins in the automobile industry, Kanban has today become a mainstay in Agile and DevOps development.
Kanban was developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer, on the factory floors of Toyota. The basic premise it wanted to address was how to efficiently align the consumption of materials to their inventory levels to reduce wastage and create better finished goods.
Kanban means ‘sign’ in Japanese and in the Kanban systems it refers to the use of visual clues (Kanban cards) to describe the work to be carried out. Kanban was used as an inventory control system for just-in-time manufacturing and helped in better consumption of resources and in tracking products and ordering new materials for production.
Kanban is based on the principle of Just in Time production. In the manufacturing context, it means that manufacturing plants will only hold as much inventory in hand as is needed. Not holding extra stocks leads to massive cost reductions and enhanced efficiency. This is also called the Kanban Pull System, that creates a collaboration between various disconnected processes so that material and information flow are coordinated to ensure Just In Time production.
When Agile came into existence in the 90s, its focus was on fast delivery, superior quality, lowering budgets and increasing efficiency. Its iterative nature helps to manage changing requirements and implement these changes at every increment. The Kanban systems fits well into the Agile methodology by ensuring that the product is built just as the features are added to the product backlog. This reduces waste and enhances efficiency of the system.
In software development, Kanban brings in a high degree of transparency. Cards are used to represent tasks and these cards are pinned up to a Kanban board making the cards visible to all. So, at any point all team members can see the status of the project including tasks that have not yet started, have been blocked or those that have been completed. This helps teams improve work flows in real time and be more efficient.
Kanban is guided by four basic principles:
Anything visualized has a greater chance of success, increases communication and helps all parties understand what is involved. This is the same with Kanban; where workflow can be represented on Kanban cards. These cards help team members view the status of the project at any time along with any bottlenecks that may be impeding task completion.
This transparency increases communication between team members, enhances collaboration and fosters innovation. Blockers can be resolved faster as there is transparency on who owns it and more co-ordination improves and hastens up delivery.
Scrum uses Product Backlogs to prioritize items, but Kanban teams often get stuck on prioritizing tasks in the right order as there may be many tasks to handle. To work around this, Kanban has the concept of Work In Progress Limit.
The WIP limit means setting a limit for the amount of unfinished work which is in progress. This helps teams move faster by reducing the amount of time a task takes to complete from start to finish and reducing the need to re-prioritize. WIP limit also helps teams to overcome problems caused due to task switching.
Kanban says that there should be focus on the flow, which means that any interruptions that are impeding the flow must be resolved and no new work should be taken up till the existing tasks are completed. This focus does not just help improve the workflow but also helps the team identify process improvements and additional visualizations.
The goal of Kanban is to improve processes and reduce wastes. This can be done by continuous monitoring of the workflow which is impacted by changing customer requirements, resource changes and any bottlenecks that may impede the workflow.
|Team Roles||Kanban does not have any roles defined and there is collaboration between team members even with no roles defined.||The Scrum team has three definite roles—the Scrum Master, the Product Owner and developers.|
|Work boards||Kanban boards have cards that represent work in progress in different columns that help to visualize the workflow.||Workboards in Scrum generally have three columns that show periods in the workflow listing items to do to items that are done.|
|Scheduling||Kanban does not have any timeboxed periods. It follows the iterative method for development and there has to be continuous improvement from the beginning to ensure that work is completed efficiently.||Prioritization of tasks and their correct scheduling is an important part of doing Scrum. Workflows can be accurately estimated by various estimation techniques and projects can be well managed by slotting them in iterations.|
Kanban benefits an organization by:
Lean/Agile development is all about reducing waste and improving efficiency. Business has gone digital and large projects are now being divided into small segments with continuous improvement being implemented at every stage to enhance value of the product being delivered. Kanban in Lean/Agile development helps teams to work in iterations, and ensures defined end dates by visualizing progress, limiting work in progress, managing workflows, ensuring collaboration between teams and transparency and communication.
Kanban has its use in the automobile industry and is known as the system that revolutionized Toyota’s automobile production line. Reduced waste, smoother workflows, and enhanced efficiencies meant that Toyota profits have soared.
These Kanban principles of improving processes, visualizing workflows, creating high degrees of transparency and collaboration and smooth workflows have worked wonders in many industries and not just the automobile and software development industries. In fact, Kanban principles are fast becoming an integral part of corporate and organizational strategies and companies from diverse sectors such as human resources, sales, marketing, insurance etc have implemented them and reaped the benefits of Lean/Agile.
There are several commercially available Kanban tools that help teams work better and enhance efficiency. Some of these are:
Kanban with its efficient pull system and just in time production helps teams and organizations to control the flow of resources, reduce waste and optimize workflows to enhance efficiency and create great quality products. There are several Kanban tools available in the market, using which teams can visualise their workflows, identify bottlenecks and pre-empt them and reap the benefits of the Kanban system.