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Kanban: an Alternative Path to Agility

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Our summary and key takeaways

The question of whether Kanban is or isn't Agile should not be relevant, as opposed to whether it improves the management of your business or not. However, should you wish to get David Anderson's take on why he defines Kanban as an alternative way to become Agile – here it is.

Why in some circles Kanban is not considered Agile

The Kanban method has been developed as an alternative way for organizations to become Agile on a large scale. Previously this has been deemed difficult (with the original Scrum, XP and Waterfall methods, and since there are some clear differences between Kanban and the other methods (as in lack of time-boxed iterations) - early on, there came a notion that Kanban is not Agile.

Also, because the first implementations of Kanban were done in companies that either hadn't tried Agile before or considered it unsuitable for them, many of the Agilists fearing that original Agile methods will be dubbed as not scalable – were happy to state that Kanban is not Agile. With time there came an understanding that Kanban is a general method of applying change to an organization, requiring no current process change at all.

Marketing Agile – marketing Kanban

Becoming Agile has become sort of a trend, and for all Kanban advocates it's become important to be able to market Kanban as an Agile method. As interpreted by Anderson, the Agile principles are:

  • agreeing to make progress with imperfect information
  • building a high-trust culture
  • perceiving WIP as a liability, not an asset
  • placing focus on improving the lead times
  • promoting a craftsmanship ethic and valuing high quality.

Seeing WIP as a liability and focusing on reducing the lead times are definitely a part of Kanban. Now, should we need to pin-point one thing that all Agile methods have in common, this would be concentrating on embracing the change, being able to adapt to it, mainly by agreeing to work with imperfect information. Kanban takes the idea of adaptation to changing requirements one step further – by facilitating the process to welcome changing business demand, risks and service demand levels.


Anderson had gone ahead and defined an organization's level of Agility by its approach to three factors:, 1. the speed of renewing the task queue, 2. the lead time and 3. speed of delivery. All of the early Agile methods had these 3 aligned with the iteration's length. And since it's only with Kanban that these 3 can be managed and renewed individually, this is where Kanban's strength as an Agile method rises with comparison to the 1st generation Agile methods.

Kanban as an alternative way to go Agile

Because of the clear differences between the 1st generation methods and Kanban, some are happy to call Kanban a 2nd generation Agile method. David Anderson is also willing to name this “an alternative path to Agility”, and underline its roots as an answer to wanting to / not being able to up-scale Agile.

Thanks to evolutionary and gradual approach that Kanban promotes, this is a great way to replace change management with a culture of transparency and Kaizen (continuous improvement).

Read our article on the use of Kanban to manage the Agile change »