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Introducing Kanban through its Values

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Our summary and key takeaways

In this article, Mike Burrows is taking us through the basics of Kanban, starting with underlying of the foundation rules, often disregarded as less relevant than Kanban core practices. Therefore, Mike will identify the values that stand behind Kanban practices. By this he will take down three common Kanban misconceptions:

  • Kanban is a software development process
  • Kanban has no means of challenging an organization nor giving guidance for a change
  • Kanban is only for analytical, number-oriented and highly controlling organizations

Let's take a closer look at Kanban's values.


If you think of the “start with the current process” well-known Kanban rule, it's easy to see the meaning of understanding regarding Kanban. By understanding we're meant to see the appreciation of how a process had been working before we've decided to impose Kanban onto it. It also goes for getting to know and understand the way the organization works in general, as well as its approach to all change. The fuller the understanding of what you're about to alter, the more likely it is that you will succeed.


This may seem obvious, but clearly isn't always. This touches a bit on cases of externally forced changes, for which there is neither agreement nor understanding within the given organization. It's also often the case, that people agree that they see a workflow problem, but don't agree to making the changes necessary to alleviate the problem.


As a pillar of Lean, it implies respecting the current roles and responsibilities within the change undergoing organization. By showing respect to how a team is working at the moment, you're having better chances of gaining their willingness to apply the new approach.


It's underlined in Kanban to encourage and support leadership and initiative at all levels within an organization, so this doesn't have to mean looking for one single autocrat. Successful leadership is one which facilitates self-organization and individual ability to change for all team members. It's also advised for the leader to both challenge and be ready to be challenged, as both of these situations promote successful change.


By this we normally understand an effort to get certain results in specific ways, and it can be thought of as universal at some level. Flow brings the sense of a gently ongoing process, some sort of predictability, which allows to manage any impediments and issues along the way.

Customer focus

This one applies directly to the “value” as recognized by the customer. It's not good enough to establish a policy that will allow for completing tasks on time, what you need is completing them to the utmost satisfaction of the customer. You're not doing what you're doing for the sake of it, it is meant to serve a specific purpose on the customer's end. If it doesn't deliver value to the customer, it's been a waste of time and resources.


It brings together three principles: visualization of process, introduction of explicit polices and creating feedback loops. Kanban gives teams transparency at a couple of levels: work visibility, status update and process understanding, appreciation of the process involved in decision making and change opportunities associated with that as well as enabling the customer to get access to the way the process works. Thanks to these, Kanban is a perfect solution for evolving adaptable, flexible systems and for identifying best development strategies.


Inevitably, this has a lot to do with WIP limits. With their successful implementation, which also includes regular checking of their relevance, you're able to shorten the cycle time and delivery rate. By not allowing for new work to be started, you're helping to maintain a balanced flow, keeping both the team and the client happy. On top of this, because of better management of what the team is focusing on, you're able to make balanced choices with regards to doing actual work and taking steps to improve the process itself (having room for variety in what you do).


According to the previous values such as agreement, respect and customer focus, we are expected to work together and search beyond our inner team to collaboratively find solutions and make plans for organizational and process improvements. Practices encouraged to utilize here are model building, observation and measurement. Interestingly, as Mike mentions, Kanban encourages striving for improvement to such extend as going way beyond its own means in order to let the process grow.

Any more?

Should it be that these 9 values do not allow you to fully appreciate Kanban, Mike was happy to provide a few more, including learning, challenge and vision, self-organization and resilience.


Understanding the core Kanban values not only helps to implement Kanban in any organization better, in a more overall kind of way it facilitates the way we think about change, teamwork, effectiveness and adding value to the things we produce for our clients. Of course, other Kanban practitioners may place its value on slightly different aspects, this is forever open to discussion, since as many Kanban users there is – as many opinions and approaches are welcome.

Read an article on more reasons why you may want to use Kanban »