Who knew that huge car manufacturers like Toyota would find a more efficient engineering process by observing the practices of supermarkets? They noticed that supermarkets restocked items by the store’s inventory rather than directly from the supplier. They also observed that items in the inventory were only ordered when they were almost sold out. This “just-in-time” process is what fed Toyota the resources to come up with a Kanban system, measuring the demand for products and matching the inventory to that. This achieves a higher level of throughput and quality.
Relevant Fact: After the initial adoption of Kanban, it grew in popularity within the manufacturing industry as a lean manufacturing method.
History of the Kanban Method: Kanban on the Rise
Popularity of this system caught the attention of thought leaders like Donald Reinertsen, Dragos Dumitriu, David Anderson, and many more allowing them to now apply it to any field. They implemented a system almost identical to the Kanban method to a team working at Microsoft in 2004, and it wasn’t recognized as a Kanban system until 2005. At which point it was tweaked to fully implement Kanban practices to maximize efficiency by matching their workflow with the value of the work that is flowing. Now Kanban is used in numerous successful businesses and teams including the operations team of Spotify. Although this method was an exponentially better way for teams to operate, it isn’t the end-all be-all of project management. Other approaches may work better in different industries and circumstances.
Relevant Fact: “Kanban” means “visual sign” or “visual card” in Japanese.
Kanban vs. Agile vs. Waterfall vs. PRINCE2 vs. Scrum
There are many different project management solutions out there today. One that is currently popular in the web development community is agile project management. What is agile project management? This method is perfect for a project in need of extreme agility in its requirements by using short-termed life cycles, less restrictive project control, and dynamic team culture. A more traditional one that is very popular is waterfall. This approach has incremental phases that can’t be reached until the previous is completed and verified. Waterfall is unsuitable when the client is unsure about what they want. Another very popular method is PRINCE2 (Projects in Controlled Environments).
This is a process-driven project management method and it mainly focuses on high-level activities including organization, management, and control. This is a great approach to standardize the procedures and coordinate people and activities in a project but is also unsuitable for work that is expected to change. A method popular among development is Scrum. This is an agile way to manage a project, it is ideal for rapidly changing projects and it is definitely the closest related approach to Kanban.
Relevant Fact: In its traditional implementation, Toyota workers would use cards (kanban) to signal the steps in their process. This is where the visual aspect of Kanban comes into play.
The Many Faces of the Kanban Method
Within each project there are many processes. Kanban can be used a process or project management method, it has just resurfaced a decade ago and has grown in popularity the past few year. Kanban is a way for teams to visualize work while identifying and eliminating bottlenecks to achieve operational improvements. These improvements are measured in quality and throughput. This method is carried out with the use of visual boards and a virtual Kanban system to organize everything in a very natural and visual way. In short, it’s a way to gradually improve whatever you do by making each part of your process more visual and quality-driven. Because Kanban is primarily a process management approach as opposed to project management, it can be used in conjunction with most project management methods. It can improve the efficiency of any project or team. Just because it is primarily a process management approach doesn’t mean you NEED another method of project management as well. Some teams operate just fine only using Kanban. The following is a quote by Alex Salazar of Stormpath from this blog post about their change from Scrum to Kanban.
“Stormpath made the big shift from Scrum to Kanban. While we love agile principles, the Scrum process wasn’t working for us. Kanban made our team more efficient, happier, and increased our focus on quality software. More importantly, it has become a core part of our company culture, and is now used by non-technical teams like Marketing and HR.” Alex Salazar of Stormpath
Stormpath and Spotify aren’t the only teams using Kanban. Clinton Keith, a digital project management consultant, has helped clients including Apple, EA, Zynga, Activision, Blizzard, Tencent, and many more, improve their efficiency of production by introducing a mixture of Scrum and Kanban methodologies. Because Kanban is most commonly found throughout software maintenance, this approach also goes hand-in-hand with agile project management tools like DebugMe. Debugging is a process, and any process can be managed to increase efficiency. DebugMe manages the debugging process in a Kanban style dashboard making it the most efficient way for any team to address bugs. Check out these features to get a glimpse of how DebugMe will vastly improve your debugging process.
To better understand the Kanban method, here are the three core principles followed by five practices that are common to organizations that have had success with it.
Core Kanban Method Principles
- Start with what you know
- Agree to pursue an evolutionary approach
- Respect current roles, responsibilities, and job titles
Core Kanban Method Practices
- Visualize the workflow
- Limit Work In Progress (WIP)
- Manage the workflow
- Make management policies explicit
- Improve collaboratively using models and the scientific method (This is to help guide evolution)
For more on Kanban you can visit this link with tons of resources compiled and produced by David J. Anderson, whose work is one of the main reasons Kanban is where it is today.
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