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Using Kanban to Manage the Flow of Agile Change

by Jeff Anderson

Using Kanban as a project management method, which by process visualization and limitation of Work in Progress helps to achieve better results and shorter delivery rates is one thing. Applying it to managing the change process itself is taking Kanban one step further altogether.

As a core Lean method, it helps to facilitate the change by:

  • Tracking the Minimal Viable Changes and change experiments on multiple Kanban boards
  • Serving as validation for the change experiments
  • Providing an alternative change management method for the entire organization in the future.

The Validated Change Kanban board

This is the original concept - as in D. Anderson's book - for a change management board, thanks to which the change agents taking part in the process are able to cooperate and compare their view and feedback. They utilize Kanban's characteristic features such as visualization, limiting the amount of ongoing change at any time, explicit policies or daily stand-ups. Typical stages of such a board could be: agreeing on urgency – negotiating the change – validating adoption – verifying performance.

The Improvement Experiment Kanban board

This kind of a board is meant to be applied to each individual Minimum Viable Change. Each portion of a given validated change goes through one or more Improvement Experiment, for which there should be a dedicated Kanban board. The results of the experiment are then being evaluated through comparison with the performance metrics, like cumulative flow, lead and cycle time, throughput or failure intake.

After the changes had been made

Once the change had successfully been applied, Kanban can be utilized as a change management method in other parts of the organization. It has been known to bring success to organizations gradually changing towards Agile. The employees are advised to begin by simply mapping out their current process on a Kanban board and applying the standard basic characteristics (visualization + WIP limits).

Lean practices on top of Kanban

In Jeff's opinion, doing Kanban alone is not quite enough. In his experience, doing Kanban in isolation from Lean Change management methods has often not been enough to facilitate an overall Agile change within an organization. He underlines the necessity to support a Kanban implementation by:

  • Allowing good grasp of the continuous improvement mindset
  • Engaging the management in the process that goes on within the way the team works
  • Cultivating patience in achieving results
  • Applying some amount of direction, particularly in cases when not many among the team have had any Agile experience.

Conclusion

The author of this article is convinced that the Lean Change approach, as proposed by David Anderson, is the best way to actually bring a change about to an organization. The most valuable aspect of this kind of implementation is placed on allowing the change to be evolutionary and incremental, rather than managed and forced. The two signals to look out for in order to recognize an Agile organization are the fact that the new change experiments are coming from the team, not the managers and the continuity of the change – the process perfecting is never quite finished. Kanban is both a method of bringing about the general organizational change, as well as teaching the team to apply Agile methods into all other processes that they're involved in.


Read our article on Kanban Evolution, touching on similar aspects of the method »
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