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Kanban for Creative Knowledge Work: D.J. Anderson Interview

by Pete Abilla

David Anderson was the pioneer who implemented Kanban for teamwork management, rather than for the original industrial stock management (at Toyota). With years of experience in high technology industry, he has been a successful leader in managing highly productive teams with Motorola, Sprint among them. Nowadays he leads a consulting business, developing and applying sustainable methods of Agile process management.

Pete Abilla interviewed David Anderson in 2014. The main topics of their discussion were the background of the adaptation Kanban for knowledge-based industry, some application examples and some of the resistance points regarding Kanban implementation. This article presents hard evidence for using Kanban.

How Kanban was born:

David's first book connected the idea of a Feature-Driven Development with Donald Reinerstern's concept of flow of information discovery and with Goldratt's Drum-Buffer-Rope approach to bottlenecks. All of them combined produced fundamentals of a Kanban methodology. Anderson got to experiment with the method in real life when he helped manage the Microsoft software maintenance division, where it worked very well.

David underlines the fact, that Kanban method as we know it now cannot be perceived as one prescribed way of doing things. He's learned that first of all, people don't respond well to rigidly set up ways of working and second, that although Kanban method is what it is, it doesn't have to imply one, singularly designed methodology to still remain itself (it changes from one process to another and from).

The connection to Toyota's Kanban

The most visible connection of the modern Kanban method to the original industrial Kanban that Anderson perceives is its cultural and everyday-applied aspect. Much like in Toyota's factories, the system is meant to be utilized by managers and employees on a daily basis, rather than injected to the process during an innovative spurt by an efficiency expert.

Quantifiable Kanban use cases' data:

- Trebled productivity at Microsoft

- 700% better results at BBC

- 400% improvement at Hewlet Packard

Some of the Kanban resistance points are:

- Unwillingness to accept a delayed task end date (as it is dependable on the workflow)

- Fear of leaving some employees idle (as people imagine they may be awaiting tasks to be available to be pulled)

- Reluctance for workflow transparency in the company

- A lacking of understanding approach to delivery forecasting

What will David be working on in the future:

His plan is to work on a concept of making businesses more volatile, able to stay afloat and grow in times of fluctuating economic prosperity. He'd like to come up with sustainable ways of establishing companies status and prospects, other than those that are performed once the value decrease is visible by decreased sales. What he wants is a "safe to fail" method of finding this out.


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