Kanban from the Inside – Mike Burrows – Summary – Part 1

Kanban from the inside

 Mike Burrows

Kanban is a set of 4 Foundational principles and 6 core practices.

4 Foundational Principles

  • FP1 – Start with what you do now
  • FP2 – Agree to pursue evolutionary change
  • FP3 – Initially respect current processes, roles, responsibilities and job titles
  • FP4 – Encourage acts of leadership at every level in teh organization – from individual contributor to senior management

6 Core Practices

  • CP1 – Visualise
  • CP2 – Limit Work in Progress
  • CP3 – Manage Flow
  • CP4 – Make Policies explicit
  • CP5 – Implement feedback loops
  • CP6 – Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally

Chapter 1 – Transparency

Three of its 6 Core Practices relate to it – CP1 – Visualize, CP4 – Make policies explicit and CP5 – Implement feedback loops

In Japanese Kanban is a “visual sign” or “token”

What goes in the Kanban Board

  • which work is blocked (waiting on something)
  • who is working on what
  • what different types of work we have and in what proportions
  • how much work we have at each stage of completion

CP1 – Visualisation and Change

With Kanban, the purpose of Visualisation and other forms of transparency is

  • to make the need for action visible – action in the form of work that needs to be done, action in the form of changes to the system
  • to help people make good choices – good choices in the selection of work, good choices in justifying and implementing change

Self Organization doesn’t just mean that individuals are able to act with autonomy – it also means that the system can reconfigure itself to meet it challenges more effectively

CP4 – Make Policies explicit

Many policies describe the qualities expected of work items as they enter or leave a column

  • Items in the “Ready” column should require no more than 5 days of development – 5 day rule
  • Items can’t enter the “Test” column until they have passed peer review and demonstrated to the team

Or policies could be more global in nature

  • Production stability takes priority over QA bug fixing – both take priority over new development
  • when taking on a new piece of work, inform the sponsors if it is likely to have an impact on any existing work

Policies and Change

We add policies when we believe that the additional clarity will help us either to make better choices or to make them more efficiently.  E.g.

  • Larger work items are disproportionately likely to prove troublesome compared with smaller ones
  • Generally speaking it is better to finish something than to start additional work (Stop starting, start finishing)

CP5 – Implement Feedback loops

Feedback loops are essential to making transparency an effective driver of change

3 common examples that create opportunities for different kinds of feedback

  • The Standup meeting – Typically short enough that participants can stand for the duration of the meeting. Standup meeting can take a number of forms :
    • Informal, agenda less unstructured
    • interrogated by a manager
    • around the room person by person – perhaps using a Scrum format – just talk about the 3 questions
    • reviewing work items on teh Kanban board – scanning it left to right – discussing items close to completion, or discussing only those that are blocked or at risk

There is a social and team building event (building trust) – during the stand up.  Board driven formats keep reinforcing the idea that together we want to get work across that finish line

  • Replenishment meetings – this is the forum where a process’s input queue is populated with new work. It is also a great opportunity to gauge customer satisfaction to explore customer needs and match those needs with the capability of the team.
  • Other meetings – These are the weekly or biweekly service delivery reviews or the System Capability reviews where teams share performance data, incident reports and improvement updates with each other, the customer and the wider organization

Feedback loops based on metrics

Cumulative Flow Diagrams – gives feedback about lead times through the process, delivery rates out of the process and the style of delivery etc.

Transparency as a Value

Transparency helps people make good choices about the day to day work – promotes self rganization and gives people the feedback that progress is being made.

Chapter 2 – Balance

CP2 – Limit WIP

  • As work moves toward completion, the availability signs move upstream indicating that work can move forward into the vacated space as soon as they are ready.
  • WIP limits are best seen not just as mere policy levers but feedback mechanisms and drivers of system wide improvement in their own right.
  • When you reduce WIP, you make other problems much more apparent. More WIP – more people waiting for other people to finish – resulting in delays and multi tasking

Ways to limit WIP

  • Control batch size
  • Control the number of things happening in parallel

Balance Urgency driven vs. Date Driven

  • If we can safely deliver the urgency driven work ahead of the date driven work that’s a win, but we will give priority to the date driven work as soon as believe that it is a risk.
  • If we attach an arbitrary date to the urgency driven work, we might put the genuinely date driven work at risk. If we treat them both as urgency driven, we fail to manage the schedule risk properly.

Risk based categorization and Classes of Service

Kanban implementations typically recognizes four different classes of service

  1. Expedite – work items so urgent that we will drop other work in order to give them immediate attention
  2. Date Driven or Fixed Date – work items whose delay beyond a specific date will result in significant penalty being incurred, disproportionate to any benefit in delivering early
  3. Standard / Regular – urgency driven work to be delivered in a customer agreed order or sequenced according to a system policy.
  4. Intangible – capability improvements, experiments in technology or the market, investments in people – work that is essential over the medium term / long term but whose direct and immediate impact is hard to quantify

When categorizations are based on the need to offer different kinds of performance outcomes, we call them Classes of Service.

 Balance Demand vs Capability

  • If you can balance demand vs capability, you can help your customer make better informed choices.
  • Work item categorizations and classes of service help you to manage to multiple time horizons simultaneously.

Stakeholder Balance

It is important to strike a balance between the needs of the customer, the stakeholders, the organization and the people doing the work.   Improvements that do not respect this rule become unstuck.

Balance is a strange thing – we really enjoy it when it is there – but achieving it takes anticipation, vigilance, and effort.  To bring balance in your application, try prefacing it with “Find ways to”

  • Find ways to limit WIP
  • Find ways to limit WIP at every organizational level

Chapter 3 – Collaboration

CP6 – Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally

Examples of creative collaboration – Lennon and McCartney, Watson and Crick, Marie and Pierre Curie – collaborations that made a huge impact – where the whole is greater than sum of the parts

Collaboration between developers reviewers testers Product development – essential to have a great product

Evolve experimentally

If improve collaboratively is about how change is driven, evolve experimentally is about how it is conducted.  Kanban uses the Deming Cycle or Shewhart Cycle of PDCA

  • Plan – plan an experiment based on hypothesis
  • Do – Conduct the experiment
  • Check – or study the results or outcome of the experiment
  • Act – on the results changing either the hypothesis or the system and sharing appropriatley

Chapter 4 – Customer Focus

CP3 – Manage flow seeking smoothness, timeliness and good economic outcomes, anticipating customer needs

Why Customer Focus

  • Know what you are delivering, to whom and why
  • Too often we find that we would deliver features that would never be used. Features that had been asked for – how does that happen ?
  • No longer are we building to meet the requirements – but building to meet needs that are still to be discovered and explored. Not forever looking backward, justifying ourselves providing that we are building “correctly to spec” but looking forward, working towards meeting needs that are still unfolding – we seek to find ways to capture learning more effectively.

Upstream Kanban is about organizing needs and developing ideas that are always good choices on offer when delivery capacity becomes available.

This design reinforces 2 concepts that the portfolio managers seem to forget

  • We generate more ideas than we can possibly use. Over time, we will accumulate more ideas than we can usefully manage, let alone  implement
  • Ideas cannot proceed on their own merits alone – they are in competition with others. New ideas can enter the competition at any time.

Effectiveness upstream depends on the 3 values –   – Transparency, Balance and Collaboration

In Customer focus, we look at

  • Whose needs do we think are met by these ideas
  • Are we meeting the needs fast enough
  • What is the data telling us? what are people telling us
  • What might lie behind those needs
  • What needs might be going unmet
  • How can we test that

In short, can we develop a better sense for what will be needed?

Anticipating needs:

It is important to move away from doing what is asked to reorienting the process towards discovering and meeting needs –

  • shift from internal (what we think we know) to external (what is still out there to be discovered)
  • shift from the past (what we have been told) o the future (when the customer’s need will be met)

Plaque behind the Customer Service Desk of a Toyota Dealer – “anticipating the mobility needs of people and society ahead of time”

Chapter 5 –  Flow

CP3 – Manage Flow

Daniel Mezick in his book Culture Game tells us that we have the capacity to pay explicit attention to only a limited number of things at once. Kanban is paying explicit attention to flow.

What does flow look like:

  • You see a good number of work items advancing between stand up meetings
  • you see a good number of items free of blocking issues giving you confidence that progress can be made
  • You sense that work is finishing faster and more predictably.

Although it is good to be able to see and quantify flow, the importance of feel should not be underestimated.  It feels good to have work items progressing, to have a workload that is not dominated by issues and make predictions with confidence.

Practices done at the workplace that have relationships to Kanban practices

  1. Tracking work end to end and at the right work item granularity
  2. controlling batch sizes with WIP limits and with policies on work item size
  3. managing WIP across functional boundaries
  4. visually managing dependencies on shared services
  5. changing granularity of the activities or states through which work items are managed
  6. Incrementally reorganizing the process
  7. measuring and reporting performance in ways that are relevant to customers

Managing Flow for Timelines

Managing flow is not just for removing impediments – we would need to manage work proactively

  • unusual risks and dependencies must be identified early and managed effectively
  • In the medium term, anticipated workload must be met with adequate capacity
  • In the longer term, entirely new capabilities may be needed

Chapter 6 – Leadership

FP4 – Leadership at every level.

Encourage acts of leadership at every level in your organization from individual contributor to senior management.

All the 6 Core practices is full of leadership opportunities.

  • Transparency – In knowledge work, things don’t make them visible or explicit by themselves – leaders choose to make them so.
  • Balance – Questions like where are we overloaded and why – are our pain points obvious or does the volumes of work hide them? Is the mix of work right?
  • Collaboration – Reaching out, sharing a problem and noticing how people interact
  • Customer focus – it takes leadership to acknowledge that the process may be ineffective at discovering and meeting customer needs
  • Flow – Questions like are you seeing it – what is stuck today – where do blockages repeatedly occur
  • Leadership – encouraging leadership in others can demand real leadership on the part of the encourager. Kanban’s kind of leadership not only spreads, it reinforces itself.

Transparency balance and collaboration suggest a need for leaders who are committed to sustaining an environment in which opportunities for change are easily recognized and systematically followed through.  With values of customer focus, flow and leadership, leaders make sure that change is carried out in the proper context with direction and purpose.

Chapter 7 – Understanding

FP1 – start with what you do now

The focus on what you do now is about keeping change anchored in present reality, both now and as it continues to develop.  Understanding represents both the initial commitment and the ongoing discipline to maintain that anchor’s hold.

Change without understanding – 3 Anti Patterns

Management thinkers have identified 3  anti patterns of management behaviour that belie a deficit of understanding which can lead to serious consequences.

  1. Russel Ackoff bemoanded complacency – the sin of management inaction
  2. Jim Collins in Good to Great warns against bravado – management recklessly taking for granted the organization’s ability to change
  3. Deming often spoke of tampering – a management tendency to address unpredictability in ways that actually makes it worse. over reacting to variation or adjustments made in response to common cause variation that result in additional variation.

Beware of complacency, bravado and tampering – change that is too slow , too fast or too random.

By adopting Kanban, complacency is addressed – in making the need for change visible.  To address the other 2 anti patterns, a good way to visualise is the J curve.

The J curve (Satir curve ?) traces the impact of change over time – it shape suggests 3 questions

  1. Will we end up better off than we were at the start
  2. Will we endure the transition ? Is the intervening loss of performance, fitness etc sustainable?
  3. Do we have the patience? How much time can pass before the urge to abandon the journey will be irrestible ?

A Pattern for Purposeful change

FP1 – Start with what you do now, understanding

  • the purpose of the system
  • how it serves the customer
  • how it works for those inside the system
  • how it leaves customers dissatisfied and workers frustrated
  • how it can be changed safely

Chapter 8 – Agreement

FP2 – Agree to pursue evolutionary change  – in other words, agree that change is necessary and agree to pursue it with an evolutionary strategy.

Pursue evolutionary change

  • Starts with where we are now, what we do now, the competitive landscape etc
  • It is open ended – it is not about following a plan towards a designated end point
  • accepts that any change may cause impacts and generate responses that cannot be foreseen
  • It is the pursuit of fitness – not change for change’s sake. This is fitness for purpose relative to the competition that will determine survival.
  • it is about adaptability – having the ability to respond to change

Most of the changes that will be catalyzed by Kanban will stick only through agreement.

Change Management

Agreement is something that binds people together – it is a vital social skill and it is a process.  In an organizational context, agreement is a useful shorthand for valuable capability, change management.

Change management evokes a range of emotions – done well, we hardly notice it, done badly we resent and resist it.

Three models of change management highlight the role of agreement in the change process

  1. change led by a change agent
  2. change lead by a change agent in combination with a mentor
  3. Change led by a change team

Change led by a Change agent

Some of the issues could be

  • the change agent believes that his or her main challenge is to overcome the resistance to change of team members
  • scant regard is paid to peers – they are kept informed not engaged
  • the customer barely gets a mention
  • Management gets good news right up until the moment when the initiative is abandoned.

Mentored change agent

At its most generic, the role of a mentor is to help someone see things as they really are and through that process to help guide the mentee towards better decisions.

Some questions which the mentor might gently guide the process is

  • What solutions to the problem has the team considered?
  • What specifically have your peers agreed to do?
  • In what ways does the customer benefit
  • How does this look from the organization’s perspective – alignment with company’s strategy, policies and values.
  • Are we solving the right problem

The Change team

Effectively getting a buy in from a lot of stakeholders – instigators of change, those designing the details of change, those implementing it and those impacted by it, and those benefiting from it.

The flow of work is visible along with its hindrances.  The Kanban method is built on agreement.  Early agreement on the fundamentals sets the context and tone for everything that follows.

Chapter 9 – Respect

FP3- initially respect current processes roles responsibilities and job titles

  • Don’t start your initiative by looking at roles – A premature focus on roles has a highly undesirable effect – it provokes resistance. Kanban’s folklore borrows the phrase “Be like water” from Bruce Lee. Be like water making its way through the cracks,
  • Do not be assertive but adjust to the object, and you will find a way around or through it

Respect for people

Several of Kanban’s values correspond to Lean principles, but few more so than respect – here it is about how respect can be helpful guide when implementing Kanban and how Kanban method measures up to the test that respect represents


With transparency, Kanban encourages you to visualize, make policies explicit and to implement feedback loops.


Kanban’s objective of balance is to match demand and capability.  Its most basic tool is the work in process limit which helps people by addressing both overburdening and starvation and by making impediments more visible.


These aspects of collaboration seems grounded in respect for people

  • working collaboratively to deliver something of value
  • improving the system collaboratively solving deep rooted problems
  • treating collaboration as an end as well as a means creating greater opportunity for interactions of higher quality

Customer focus

Customer focus is a humane value – there is gratification to be found in meeting needs more still in anticipating them.


To value flow is to place sufficiently high value on smoothness and timelines that it sustains improvements to the system


Kanban’s approach to leadership involves seeing the organization’s potential as a self sustaining system, modelling behaviours we want to see perpetuated, taking opportunities and taking appropriate risks.


Understanding is a call to a rich appreciation of the system that includes not just functions and activities but the people inside and outside the system, their capabilities needs and frustrations. To lead with understanding we must seek to avoid complacency, bravado and tampering.


In agreement, we make a specific and long term commitment to the pursuit of evolutionary change, committing indirectly to developing the organization’s capability for change.

Chapter 10 – Patterns and agendas

In the book “Tame the flow”, Steve Tendon aligns the 9 values with 3 patterns

  • Community of Trust – Understanding, agreement, respect, transparency and collaboration
  • Unity of Purpose – flow, customer focus and balance
  • Leadership ( on its own)

Kanban’s Three Agendas for Change

You can think of these as adoption approaches which you can choose to communicate according to your organization’s needs appetites and ambitions

  1. The sustainability agenda – this describes a common approach to Kanban adoption the individual and team levels. Often the motivation is motivation is the relief that transparency, balance and collaboration can bring from unsustainable practices and workloads
  2. The service orientation agenda – this adds customer focus, flow and leadership. Motivation here is the desire for significant improvements to customer delivery
  3. The survivability agenda – With the leadership disciplines of understanding, agreement and respect come meaningful personal and organizational commitments to pursue fitness through adaptability and capability to change.

Sustainability Agenda

With its echoes of the Agile manifesto’s sustainable pace, the sustainability agenda often resonates strongly with teams that would identify themselves as Agile.  Many of their existing practices and artefacts can be interpreted in terms of transparency, balance and collaboration.

Service orientation agenda

If the sustainability agenda is best described as a practice based approach, the service orientation agenda is based on engagement – which is customer focus, flow and leadership.

Progress in these areas comes from

  • looking critically at what you do now
  • improving end to end coordination and preventing WIP from accumulating
  • shaping demand upstream
  • Gaining a better understanding of the gap between customer expectations and the capabilities of the system and putting in feedback loops to control it.

David Andersen introduces the service orientation agenda through his Kanban lens – which describes how to view what you do now as a set of services that can be improved.

Recognise that

  • creative knowledge work is service oriented
  • service delivery involves work flow
  • work flow involves a series of knowledge discovery activities

and then

  • map the knowledge discovery workflow
  • pay attention to why and how work arrives
  • track work as it flows across between services.

Compared to the sustainability agenda which scales mainly vertically, the service orientation explicitly scales Kanban horizontally across services – both end to end and between dependent services

Survivability agenda

This starts with senior level commitment to the disciplines of understanding, agreement and respect.


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