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Wondering how to use Kanban in your work? You don’t know where and how to start? Read our series of interviews to get some ideas! Explore what are the benefits that Kanban will bring you, what may be the challenges on your way and how to overcome them. 

Anna Radzikowska - Kanban Trainer and Coach, KMMPl

Comments: Anna Radzikowska, Accredited Kanban Trainer, Certified Kanban Coach, KMM Plus Product Manager.   

  • 5 years of Kanban experience  
  • More than 150 students taught  
  • Over 13 years of experience in finance, training, and project management in the public sector, international enterprises, and running her own business.  
  • Speaker at Kanban and Agile conferences (Product Development Days, ACE! Conference, Agile&Automation Days, Aginext, FlowConf). 

Anna, how would you advise getting started with Kanban? 

First, just start doing it. Go to the Kanban University page and download the Kanban Guide, it has all the basics. And then just start applying it and see if it suits you. If you look for any advice – check David J Anderson School of Management and Kanban University web pages. There are plenty of free materials and blog articles that can help you. If you`re doing some Kanban, you see the benefits and want to learn more – join the KSD class from David J Anderson School of Management or any of the local trainers from Kanban University. This class will provide you with more structured knowledge. It will give you some techniques you can apply and an understanding of how to start introducing Kanban.  

However, the class is not the first and obligatory step. It`s not that you can`t do Kanban without taking the class. Kanban is about practicing, the more you practice – the more you know. I recommend taking the class after practicing Kanban already for a while. It will help you to take the most out of the learning process and to apply the knowledge immediately. Kanban is very pragmatic. That`s why we ensure that our classes are pragmatic too. It`s not just a theory, it is something that you can start applying the following Monday. 

What will change when you start doing Kanban?

For the start, you will see your process. And I`m not talking only about the visualization, which is a huge advantage of having the Kanban system. Here I mean something bigger – you will stop seeing only the tasks you do. You will start to observe what is happening around your process and where your demand comes from. Kanban is a very customer-oriented process. You will start understanding who your customer is, what is request you need to satisfy and what really matters in your process. This way you will better understand the work you do. This is the immediate effect of applying Kanban.  

In addition, you will see where you are comparing to where you want to or should be. And this is what KMM (Kanban Maturity Model) helps you with. It provides the guidance, the map, which helps to clearly understand where your organization is culturally, what are the values you observe, and what you should do to take it even further. The practices will tell you what to implement to improve your process or your organization. It was much more difficult without KMM. But now we have clear guidance for everyone practicing Kanban. It is like a parent, that takes your hand and helps you to grow. Not a helicopter parent, but the one that guides you through your life. 

Anna Radzikowska - Kanban Trainer with student

Anna: With KMM you have a clear guidance for everyone practicing Kanban. It is like a parent, that takes your hand and helps you to grow. Not a helicopter parent, but the one that guides you through your life .

What is the difference between just a Kanban board and Kanban Method? 

The Kanban board only is just a visualization. The Kanban Method goes far beyond that. It includes a set of practices, explicit policies, feedback loops that help you to improve your work process by experimenting.  

Kanban is a pull system and to have a pull system you need WIP (Work in Progress) limits. Even though WIP is a second practice after the visualization, you can`t do Kanban without WIP limits. Moreover, in a first Kanban Method case study – Microsoft XIT, they didn`t even have a Kanban board, but they had WIP limits.  

WIP limits help you to introduce the pull system. Having both – a pull system and WIP limits (Work in Progress limits), you can rock the world and start changing things. Without it – Kanban may still help you somehow, but it won`t change too much in what you do.  

When you limit your WIP you start managing flow. To manage your flow properly, you need to start gathering some data. With the Kanban Method, we collect data and use it to improve. This is our sixth practice – Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally. To improve something, you need to know where and how to improve. That`s why we use data. 

We also need some explicit policies about how we work, what are our WIP limits, how we visualize, how we cooperate in teams or departments and how we improve. For example, if we want to improve our lead time (our time to market), we need to trim the tail or make the lead time variation smaller. How do we do it? It`s nice to have some policy around it. If we talk about policies, improvements, and scaling Kanban, we need to have a method that can help different Kanban systems talk to each other. So, we introduce cadences that connect them and feedback loops that help us to improve them all. There`s risk review, strategy meetings, improvement meetings where we can talk about these things. All practices are connected, you can`t do one without another.  

So yes, you can have just the Kanban board. But it will be just one isolated practice. Without all the following 5 practices and especially without WIP limits, you will only have some visualization and that`s not Kanban.

Kanban Trainer teaching Kanban

Anna: WIP limits help you to introduce the pull system. Having both – a pull system and WIP limits (Work in Progress limits), you can rock the world and start changing things. Without it – Kanban may still help you somehow, but it won’t change too much in what you do”.

What are the main challenges to expect when getting started with Kanban? 

I always say that on the one hand, Kanban is super easy, and on the other hand – it is super difficult when you start. You don`t need to read the whole Kanban Maturity Model book to start applying it. Reading the Kanban Guide will be enough to start. Kanban is very intuitive and easy to understand. The difficult part begins when you start applying it.  

One of the challenges that a lot of Kanban practitioners meet when they start applying Kanban in organizations is resistance. It can come from different sources, like colleagues, managers, and even the organization itself. Especially when there is already some method in use that doesn`t seem to be compatible with Kanban at a first glance. But the power of Kanban is that you can start with what you do now. And it doesn`t require introducing huge changes or transformations. You just look at what you have now and start improving it. With small steps, step by step. If the change does not fit – it should be easily reversible.  

I remember what my Kanban trainer, Paul Klipp, told me after my first KSD class. I`m super grateful to him for giving me this advice that will stay with me forever: “When you start introducing Kanban you have to do it the way that no one noticed that you did it”

Kanban training in process

Anna: “I’m super grateful to my first Kanban Trainer Paul Klipp for giving me the advice that will stay with me forever: “When you start doing Kanban you have to do it the way that no one noticed that you did it”.

We have so many myths around Kanban. A lot of people have never used it, but only heard or read about it. Some people don`t even like “kanban” as a word because they heard some bad things about it. However, you can introduce some Kanban practices and principles without calling it “kanban”. You can say “let`s change this, or that…”. And this is how you start with. And when others start seeing the benefits of doing it, then it`s easier to reveal where these practices are coming from as they see that it is really working.

Besides resistance, you will see that having the right culture is very important too. Sometimes we can see some nice practices which are just a façade. For example, a beautiful Kanban board with colorful tickets. But when you look closer, you will see that this board does not change for several weeks already. People don`t really use the board, they don`t have Kanban meetings, a real work happens elsewhere. You may introduce practices, but then nothing follows them. And that`s why the organizational culture is even more important than practices. Practices should follow culture, not the other way around. It is one of our Kanban mantras. That`s why, when you introduce some practices, it doesn`t necessarily mean that they are in use. And this is the moment you need to look at the culture of the company.

To summarize, I would say that the main challenges you can meet when getting started with Kanban are the resistance and the lack of the organizational culture that would support introducing practices.

David J Anderson School of Management Trainers

Read more:

 Getting started with Kanban, Part 1: Interview with Anna Radzikowska, Accredited Kanban Trainer and Coach

Learn more about Kanban studies in Kanban Maturity Model book or get access to full book content online using Attend training at the David J Anderson School of Management to learn more about advanced Kanban studies and how they can help your business, or find your local trainer at Kanban University to start your Kanban journey.