When I ask people what they think about kanban, why they do not use it or why they show little interest in learning about it, I sometimes receive surprising answers. Clearly, there are many misunderstandings about kanban, many misconceptions about what it is, how it works, who can use it and what its benefits are. Let me debunk the 10 most common kanban misconceptions I have encountered.
Sometimes, you will see such strange remarks as, “There are three agile methods: scrum, lean and kanban.” But lean and kanban are not two separate methods. Kanban is a part of lean.
Kanban is the way in which lean organizations operate. This goes straight to the source of lean and kanban, namely, Taiichi Ohno at Toyota. Why does this misconception exist? Probably because some organizations apply certain lean concepts or tools, such as the SIPOC diagram or the identification of forms of waste, but they do not use kanban to manage the flow of their work.
Although the original, systematic development of kanban as a method for managing the flow of work started in manufacturing, with its roots going back much further, kanban has been successfully applied for many types of work, including such types of knowledge work as information technology, product development, marketing and sales, human resource management, finance, customer support, back office operations and so forth. For more information on this question, see my discussion here.
In the area of information technology, kanban has become increasingly popular over the past ten years due to much pioneering work in the area of software development. But the application of kanban to software development owes much to its use in the more general domain of product development. And kanban has been shown to work well in most IT activities. See also Misconception #2.
That’s like saying, “if you are using a pencil, you are writing novels.” While it is true that people using kanban are almost certainly visualizing their work on a card board, the inverse is not necessarily true.
You can use a card board to visualize a push method of managing flow, just as well as a pull method of managing flow. Many software tools have gotten on the kanban bandwagon and have provided a kanban board-style view of the tickets they manage. But these tools often oblige you to work in a push manner, which is antithetical to kanban.
It is true that many people are first exposed to kanban via its use in a small team in a start-up organization. But the benefits increase exponentially when it is applied at a portfolio or an enterprise level. And at the other end of the spectrum, many individuals use kanban to help manage their personal tasks. For more information, see our article here.
Kanban has been in use for more than 60 years and its roots go back much further. It is older than most of the companies in existence today. I daresay that most of today’s companies will go out of business long before kanban disappears as a management method.
The most stringent regulatory requirements oblige an organization to have a quality management system in place. This means that the organization must have a defined, documented and well understood way of working; it must track and document the work it does; it must have a method for detecting and correcting defects; and it must have a method for keeping under control any changes to the way it works.
Kanban is not only compatible with all these requirements; the core practices of kanban answer directly to each of those requirements. There is no incompatibility with regulatory requirements. In fact, using kanban is likely to make compliance with regulations a much more natural way of working, better understood by all personnel.
Simply false. Kanban helps us to recognize the advantages of small work items and work items of similar size. But it also recognizes that this is often not the reality. Kanban embraces this form of variation in work and provides techniques for keeping work flowing and making it predictable, in spite of variation in work item size.
Kanban has been very successful as a method to organize the flow of work in a project. But this does not mean that it is synonymous with project management—it is not. Kanban has also been very successful as a method for managing the flow of a vast array of types of work, ranging from manufacturing, through customer support, through back office operations, and so forth. It is better to think of kanban as a means for managing the flow of work required to deliver one or more services. That service could be the manufacture of an automobile, the creation of a software application, the execution of a marketing campaign, the identification and capture of a criminal, and so on and so forth.
Suppose an organization can render 200’000 services per year without using kanban, and can render 1’000’000 services per year with kanban. If management is only concerned with reducing costs, then it might believe that it should reduce the number of resources. But if management is concerned with growing the organization and making more satisfied customers, then it will be happy to use kanban to this end and not to fire its employees. It is not kanban that is the cause of these changes. Rather, it is the vision, or lack thereof, of management that causes organizational changes. Blaming kanban for lost jobs is like blaming a pen for what you write.