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Networked Kanban

by Jurgen Appelo

Jurgen Appelo has had some difficulty in applying Kanban to his team projects, as he wasn't able to see how it could fit in with the way they go about their work. This problem stemmed from the facts that the team:

  • The work stages they keep are non sequential, therefore difficult to map out
  • Work items are not coherent – they undergo changes and revaluations before reaching the final shape and value
  • The team is distributed and cannot co-work round one Kanban board

Reinventing Kanban

Because of these problematic areas, Jurgen had found that it might be easier to start afresh rather than adapt Kanban as we know it to the team's specific requirements: non-linear flow, transformative work and team dispersion.
He was glad to get to know the work of Adam Shalloway, who worked on presenting the idea of non-linear forms of Kanban, focusing on the problem of adapting Kanban to knowledge based work, that is complex, changing, not repetitive and often not centralized geographically.

How is Networked Kanban different?

- It consists of a set of small Kanban models (just few columns).
- Each of the models has its own entry and exit criteria for items. Completing a task in one model may result in starting a few other items in another models and the other way round, they're interconnected in very particular ways.
- There is an openness about the visualization form of the small Kanban models – some can be physical or electronic boards, other may be built of diagrams with notes, invoices and doodles attached.
- The team can work with just some of the models, they don't necessarily have to access everything. Works fine for distributed teams.

Conclusion

The main point to underline here is the idea of scaling the system out instead of up – implementing a number of different designated models, rather than one great Kanban which is meant to hold every aspect of the team's work in it.
Also, since it's not a single Kanban that the team focuses on, we cannot think of Kaizen (continuous improvement) in terms of improving one board's workflow, but focus on perfecting the flow of work and information between the various systems that are in use.
This complex take on Kanban can certainly find application in many non-linearly operating organisations.


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