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What to Measure in a Kanban System?

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Our summary and key takeaways

If you ever wondered what exactly is Kanban allowing you and asking you to measure and monitor, here are the answers, provided by Wolfgang Wiedenroth, who asked the same question. He also wasn't sure how to approach measuring his team's performance, but was happy to discover he's meant to measure the system, not the people.

What to measure in Kanban

Kanban analytics

In his article, Wolfgang first introduced us to the basic types of charts that Kanban experts are suggesting to measure - lead and cycle time and cumulative flow, but he had still remained puzzled over how to measure these. His main concern was not knowing where does the lead time start in his board, on which the user stories were sometimes split in half to accommodate the task load.

Consulting the customer

To resolve this, he started by remembering what Kanban aims to do, which is to facilitate continuous improvement and shorten delivery time. So, if the objective is to improve service delivery, this assumes we do have customers, so why not ask them, what matters most? Wolfgang turned to this logic and found that his customer was only interested in when will they have the user stories ready. This made things simple. And of course, had the product owner said that they want to follow the progress closely (i.e. by task completion), this is how the lead time could have been measured. But in this case, the lead time was measured from placing the user story on the board to the point of delivering it to the customer. Simple!

Adaptable metrics

Now, the way he measured lead time at this level was not transferable to the next working level - the MMFs (minimal marketable features, built of a number of user stories and involving many more business departments). Therefore, it'll be good practice to ask yourself these 3 things before planning the right metric: what is the goal here?, which metric can support achieving it? and what is the time I should be measuring this for? Other aspects of measurements can include: failure rate, customer happiness, the time that tasks spent being blocked, team satisfaction, the wait for external supplies etc.


Wolfgang's point is, that it's much more useful to know what should be measured in what kind of situation or process, than to know the particular metrics in detail. Therefore, rather than obsessing about finding the best Cumulative Flow model, get to grip with what are you trying to find out about your Kanban system. Good luck to all!

Read our article on Kanban metrics »