Do we need training to “do” Kanban?

The benefits of professional Kanban coaching

When we tell people about our company, we’re often asked whether customers need training to use LeanKit or to “do” Kanban. The short answer is no. Kanban as a tool is about as simple as it gets: sticky notes, whiteboard, markers, go. And we’ve tried to build LeanKit to be as simple to use as physical Kanban — in some ways a lot easier when it comes to evolving and templating board design, capturing metrics, and generating graphics. We’re constantly thinking about how to improve the experience. In fact, we are working hard right now on an overhaul of our UI to make the user experience even better.

The Kanban method is also simple at first glance. Authors like David Anderson, Jim Benson, and Alan Shalloway, and others have written quite good books to explain it. Check out the Reading section of our page navigation for a list of resources. You definitely should read these books. And, having read them, you absolutely can “do” Kanban on your own. Many of our customers have done so with great success.

But, like anything there’s the basics and then there’s expertise. We advise people to start by quickly making a simple model of their team’s current workflow — not to try to re-engineer their process or map out every permutation. Just get started because the benefits of having any kind of board are so large that you want to get them right away. You can certainly do this on your own. But this initial board design is a starting point.

You should be constantly evolving your Kanban board as you discover how things really work in your team, as you make changes to resolve bottlenecks and level your resources, as you extend the borders of your Kanban board to reflect more of your organization’s value stream, etc. And, this evolutionary process should be guided by a study of the analytics that your Kanban board is generating. The secret of Kanban is that the simple tool of sticky notes is a serious tool for Lean transformation.

Some people have the discipline to do this themselves. And you’ll have to own the change in the end, but a trainer/coach can sure help you jump start the process. They can help educate your team mates who are perhaps less inclined to study business process books after work (like you). They can observe how you implement Kanban and help you see areas for improvement. They can see you from the outside and notice things you may miss in the hustle of doing your “real job.” They can explain it to your boss, help you overcome organizational objections by sharing case studies, and, at the right time, help you scale Kanban to more teams.

So, is all this advertisement for LeanKit services? Not really.

We are pretty knowledgeable about Kanban (note our pretty certification badges), have significant real world experience implementing Lean and Agile methods, and we’re plugged into the state of the art in the Lean Agile community. We’re frequent conference speakers and have been nominated for industry awards. We have to be experts in our field to keep our product current and provide good answers when our customers ask how to apply LeanKit to their situations.

But at the end of the day, we’re a product company and for all of our sakes, that’s the best place for us to focus our attention. We find that it often makes sense for us to guide our customers to expert partners for larger or longer term consulting engagements. That’s why we’ve put together a list of leading Lean/Agile consultants here on our website that we suggest you consider. Take a look. Follow the links below to explore their sites. Feel free to contact us if you have questions about them.

So, to wrap it up, can you start using LeanKit and “do” Kanban by yourself? Absolutely. Can you be successful this way. Yes, definitely. But, as in anything, a good teacher can bring out the best in you and improve the odds that you achieve the breakthrough transformation that Lean makes possible.

Jon Terry

Jon Terry is Chief Evangelist, Lean-Agile Strategy for Planview, a market leading provider of portfolio management, agile management, collaboration, and ideation software. Before that Jon was co-CEO and co-founder of LeanKit, which pioneered the application of Kanban in knowledge work. Prior to that, Jon held a number of senior IT positions with hospital-giant HCA and its logistics subsidiary, HealthTrust Purchasing Group. He was among those responsible for launching HCA’s adoption of Lean-Agile methods.