Friday, May 15, 2015

Growing Kanban in Three Dimensions

Kanban systems can work at different scales and in widely different contexts. Indeed any organisation that delivers discrete packages of value ("work items") and which is interested in maximising the value and timeliness of its delivery, can analyse and improve its performance using the Kanban method. 

Kanban systems can grow - in fact in most cases it's much better that they grow than a massive process change is made suddenly across a whole organisation. "Big bangs" tend to be quite destructive, even if they could clear the way for something new. There are three dimensions in which Kanban systems grow:

  • Width-wise growth: encompassing a wider scope of the lifecycle of work items than the typical "to do - doing - done" a single division of the process. It can cover from the idea to real value - or "concept to cash", though cash may come before or after the realisation of real value.
  • Height-wise growth: by considering the hierarchy of items that make up valuable deliveries, each level of the hierarchy having differing flow characteristics. (This dimension use the "scale-free" nature of Kanban, the same principles and practices apply whatever the size of the work item.)
  • Depth-wise growth: not only depth of understanding but depth of penetration through the full set of services required by the organisation to deliver value. (Sometimes referred to as "Scaling by not scaling" or "service-oriented Kanban", the approach here connects multiple services at the same level through feedback loops that balance the capacity of the various kanban systems.)

We'll look at each of these dimensions in upcoming articles. Which dimension to grow first will depend on context and the motivations for change. Any change needs to pay for itself with improvements in the flow of value, so asking "why?" is a more important first question than "what?".

When you come across a good idea ("agile" in general springs to mind at this point) it is very tempting to sweep away whatever you were doing before you were converted to the new idea, and start doing it everywhere. It should not come as a surprise to those who do this, that very soon a new idea will come along. With the poor results from mass conversion to the caricature of the original idea you adopted, the same cycle will be repeated. Instead grow the changes organically.

Try this: start small; understand the ideas as you assimilate them; grow what works and understand what doesn't work; work out why. Success will follow.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to +Pawel Brodzinski for the discussions on Portfolio Kanban... and one of the graphics on the top floor of the above diagram.
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