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What a hack is Kanban?

 Matthew House   
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As of late, a lean methodology called Kanban has been heavily discussed in the Agile development world. Many organizations that have mastered Scrum are now moving to Kanban, and many of the larger vendors that sell supporting software tools are adding Kanban features to their products.

For those who have not yet jumped on the Kanban bandwagon, I am going to explain exactly what Kanban is, how it can be used together with Scrum, and how it differs from Scrum. Then you can decide for yourself whether it will be useful for your organization.

So what is Kanban?

Kanban is considered an Agile methodology and is more adaptive than any other currently defined methodology. Kanban is a Japanese word meaning “signboard.”  The concept of Kanban was originally used in the manufacturing industry, but its methodologies are now being adapted to software development. A Kanban Board is a visual display where user story cards are placed. The movement of the story cards triggers action.  As the objects are moved across the board, the project moves toward completion.

In Kanban, there are only three rules:

• Visualize the Workflow
• Limit Work-in-Progress (WIP)
• Measure and Optimize Lead Time

If you are familiar with other Agile methodologies, you can see that there are significantly fewer rules using Kanban. However, its simplicity does not mean that it is not effective.

How is progress tracked in Kanban?

The Kanban board is divided into queues, which represent workflow. To track progress, the team moves the user story cards across the board as the different stages of work are completed.


How is workflow defined in Kanban?

In Kanban, the workflow is uniquely defined by the team. Kanban can be scaled in to the workflow, as it is designed to start with the process you are currently using and work towards continuous improvement. Teams start simply by mapping out their current workflow processes. This process eventually evolves into a unique and optimized workflow for the team.


How is work managed in Kanban?

Kanban is a little different from most Agile methodologies, in that it does not require that the user story be completed within each iteration. Instead, the team determines the work-in-progress (WIP) limits for each activity, and they pull work only when they can handle it.

How do we measure in Kanban?

The time it takes to complete a story is the total cycle time. By measuring the cycle time, the team will eventually get a sense of how long it actually takes to complete stories and will be able to make accurate estimates.


What are the roles and meetings in Kanban?

Kanban is not concerned with the roles and meetings found in other Agile methodologies. Kanban only dictates that the flow is measured and that the team works toward continuous improvement.

Are  Scrum and Kanban complementary?

Kanban can be used with Scrum, as it is not meant to dictate your methodology, but to help optimize workflow. However, organizations should keep in mind that there are some differences between Kanban and Scrum in the way stories or tasks are assigned and measured. 

Are there any downsides with Kanban?

The only potential problem with Kanban is that teams are often not challenged enough to improve their own performance and address their own problems. That is something that every team needs to be aware of before it starts with Kanban adaption.

However, many teams are successfully replacing Scrum with Kanban, because Kanban is generally easier to adapt. Kanban doesn’t demand big upfront change; it visualizes the work you are already doing, limits the work in progress and leaves organizations to decide whether to make any changes.

That being said, as with all methodologies or methods, Kanban is only as good as the people or teams implementing it.

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