Kanban is an agile method for managing knowledge work with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery while not overloading the Delivery Team members.[1]

Kanban is often related to a visual process management system that tells:

  • what to produce
  • when to produce it
  • how much of it to produce

Kanban was inspired by the Toyota Production System[1] and Lean manufacturing.[2]

We follow the descriptions and models from Open Kanban

Open Kanban Values[3]#

Open Kanban practices are rooted in values that are Lean Product Development and Agile; those values are an integral part of Open Kanban. Open Kanban values are:

Respect for people#

  • At the core of Lean and Toyota Production System (TPS) is respecting people. Respect for people also means assuming responsibility for your actions, and empowering others to take those actions.
  • Respect for people allows for delegation and the demand-pull that is crucial to Kanban. When any Delivery Team member is able to take a User Story from the backlog and pull it to development or QA, he is able to do so because we respect him, we respect his skills, and we give him the ability to do so, we empower him through our respect.
  • Respect for people also aligns with sustainable pace in Agile, or Muri in Lean. If you respect your team you will not work them to death, or subject any worker to intellectual or physical demands that make it nearly impossible to succeed. An exhausted developer, manager or Delivery Team are the perfect recipe for disaster. Kanban cannot succeed this way.


  • Respect for people is not enough; like Kent Beck noticed in order to improve or even correct mistakes we need courage. When a manager, VP, or person in authority makes a mistake and someone with lower rank notices it, it takes courage for him to tell us about it.
  • Courage combined with respect for people enable effective delegation, proper demand-pull and Continuous Improvement.

Focus on Business value#

  • One of the key purposes of Kanban is the creation of Business value. In most contexts, value means the creation of working, good quality systems or products and is also part of Agile. Business value implies customer satisfaction, and that is the purpose of our efforts.
  • Business value is at the center of Lean and TPS, but frequently it is mentioned as the reverse side of the coin: eliminate waste or Muda represents anything that does not add value to your process or flow. By eliminating waste, we optimize the creation of value.

Communication and Collaboration#

  • Communication, and collaboration are at the center of teamwork. One value does not work without the other that is the reason we decided to group them together. To succeed we need to make ourselves heard (communicate) but also we need to be able to work with others to create Business value.
  • Without teamwork Kanban fails, and to be honest almost any business that does not communicate and collaborate properly will fail.

Holistic or Systemic Approach to Change#

  • Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge and Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints reminds us that no single part of a system can ever bring overall improvement. We need to take a holistic view of the system and understand it. And the key part of the system is people, not just as resources, but also as full rounded individuals who make the system work.
  • Kanban agrees with this vision and aims to drive improvement where it counts. An understanding of the whole is fundamental to arrive at steady, successful change.

Kanban Practices#

Open Kanban values translate into action by following four key practices.

Visualize the workflow#

  • When we are doing knowledge work, most of the work is invisible. This means that the output of your effort is much smaller than the effort involved, and the bulk of that effort cannot be easily seen.
  • Kanban deals with this challenge by using Kanban boards, visual representations of the flow of work that show how work items move from stage to the next.
  • This Kanban practice makes it easier to collaborate in a team setting, and also provides transparency about the process and the work everyone is doing. If you are a manager you can easily see at any moment what is the status of things, and if you are a team member you can see your impact on the overall work.
  • Visualizing the workflow is not limited to Kanban boards; one can also use signs and diagrams that the team can see in their work environment, like dashboards, performance metrics or other information radiators.

Lead using a team approach#

  • Unless your organization is composed of just one person, you cannot achieve anything worthwhile without leading a Delivery Team.
  • Although Kanban starts where you are, and does not need to modify any titles or roles in an organization, Kanban cannot work without a Delivery Team to deliver Business value.
  • Teams and team leadership are crucial to deliver value. Both are needed in Kanban: good teams and good team leadership. No need for new roles or titles, but we do have a need for working Delivery Teams, with leaders in them!

Reduce the Batch Size of your Efforts#

  • Research in the way the mind works, and countless experiences from Lean, the Theory of Constraints and Kanban confirm that to deliver value faster, with better flow and good team morale we need to focus and limit the number of things we do. Multitasking does not work.
  • Limiting how many things you do at any given time, means reducing the batch size of whatever you are doing at a particular stage of the value chain. By doing this you will deliver value faster because you are able to focus your efforts, one of the best explanations of this fact has been given by Donald G. Reinertsen. Keeping the team focused helps them finish what they start faster.
  • Limiting WIP is a consequence of reducing the batch size of your efforts, and not the other way around. However doing either will result in improvements in efficiency and productivity. Open Kanban does not ask you to limit WIP, but it does request that you "Reduce the Batch Size of your Efforts."
  • How do you reduce the batch size of your efforts? Reduce the complexity and the quantity of things you do at any stage of the value chain. For most contexts, this would imply reducing the number of large stories you create, and do your best to keep stories simple; also reduce the volume of stories you work on any stage of the Life Cycle; this way your team will focus, and deliver more value.

Learn and improve continuously#

  • The four previous practices ensure you are doing things better than before, and that you deliver more value. However to make sure you make a significant jump in innovation, morale, and value we must also stop, learn and apply our knowledge to improve!
  • It is worth mentioning that this practice aligns with the Agile value of embracing change, and there are many ways a Kanban team can implement this practice, you could have Retrospectives, Strategy Meetings or even Kaizen Groups.
  • Learning is the key concept before continuous improvement can ever happen! Once learning is part of the culture, part of the workflow, then improving continuously becomes easy.
  • Open Kanban further supports learning by listening to the community and updating itself to be a better Agile and Lean method.

More Information#

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