The Practices and Principles of Kanban

Wojciech Walczak
January 4, 2024
The Practices and Principles of Kanban

There are six general practices in the Kanban Method. Together, these practices drive the desired behaviour that is expected from implementing the Kanban Method:

General Practices in the Kanban Method

  1. Visualise

The Kanban Method is aimed at helping manage the knowledge work, which is typically not visible. Therefore, it is helpful to visualise the invisible in order to aid its management. The visualisation is primarily achieved through the Kanban board, which is discussed in What is Kanban Board? article

  1. Limit work in progress

The work-in-progress limits play a pivotal role in achieving a pull system. Read more about them in Work-in-progress limits in the Kanban method article.

  1. Manage flow

Ensure the work is flowing smoothly and swiftly through your Kanban system. Consider factors like work item age, blockers, classes of service and respective SLAs (Service Level Agreements) when making the daily decisions on what to pull across to the next column or allocating workers to work. Monitor the queues and resolve blockers in a timely manner. A well-managed flow of work manifests itself in short average lead times and high predictability of the lead times.

  1. Make policies explicit

The Kanban Method is very flexible – practitioners may devise unique Kanban systems with unique policies guarding the proper use of the system. However, all these policies should be made explicit to provide clear guidance on what actions and behaviours have been agreed upon as acceptable and what is not allowed or will break the Kanban system. All these policies may be modified and improved over time as the users of the Kanban system discover better guardrails for their work, but the starting point needs to be a consistent use of their Kanban system.

  1. Implement feedback loops

The Kanban Method enables evolutionary change driven by past experiences. Therefore, reflecting on the past is an essential part of the method. Those reflections constitute the feedback loops. The Kanban Method comes with a suggested set of feedback loops, referred to as the cadences, which are described in the article Kanban Cadences article.

  1. Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally

The evolutionary change mentioned in the commentary to the previous practice is the direct result of the last generic practice. Continuous improvement of the Kanban system, the process and the entire organisation shall be rooted in strong evidence of the effects of previous changes. 

Kanban Principles

Besides the six general practices, the Kanban Method is also built on six foundational principles. Three of those principles are known as the Change Management Principles, and the other three are known as the Service Delivery Principles.

Change Management Principles

  • Start with what you do now. Understand the current processes as actually practised. Respect the current roles and job titles.
  • Agree to evolutionary change.
  • Encourage acts of leadership at every level. From individual contributors to managers.

 Service Delivery Principles

  • Understand and focus on customer needs and expectations
  • Manage the work; let people self-organise around it
  • Regularly review the network of services and its policies in order to improve outcomes

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