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Applying Kanban to IT Processes 1: Introduction

by Eli Weinstock-Herman

This is an introductory article of a series of 5, in which we're being shown the historical and new approaches to Kanban, with special applications to many areas of IT. Here, we'll learn about Kanban rules and the general idea behind it.

The original Kanban

The original “visual board” (what Kanban means in Japanese) is a tool for increasing visibility and productivity, together with shortening the cycle time (how long it takes for an order to be processed from start to finish). It is often associated with “just in time” production, achieved via workflow visualization, limiting the amount of work in progress and waste reduction.

In manufacturing, Kanban is being used as a signal card, generated when an order is released. It then follows the steps of the process, until reaching the completion stage with the final product.

The number of items (Kanbans) that can be worked on at any given time is being limited, in order to not overstretch the production capacity and limit the number of incomplete tasks. An additional benefit of WIP limits is the reduction of time wasted on switching between jobs as well as a direct decrease in the time that the customer spends in waiting for the product delivery.

Visualization benefits

The main benefit of visualization of the process is that if your real-life Kanban board, placed in the workplace is, that there is a direct indication of what is being done, how much more can be taken on and what is coming up next. This goes for people across all process stages, therefore making the Kanban board not only a management tool, but an instant communication device too.

Also, one the process gets smoothed out, the team is able to notice the problematic areas within it – as any bottlenecks (queues) form and there isn't enough capacity to clear them, or as certain stages handle the workload too fast and spend some time idly waiting for new issues. Then, just by rearranging the staff assignments or resetting the WIP limits, you can control and manage the system perfectly.

Kanban put to work

Now that we're aware of how this works in general, we can get to know some exemplary case studies associated with Kanban for IT. The later articles look at Kanban for Support Team, Short-term Administrative IT Projects, Software Development and at the concept of Kaizen (continuous improvement).


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