How Did Kanban Boards Become the ‘Kool-Aid’?

I had an interesting conversation with a virtual storage engineer recently.  He works with another team in his organization that uses LeanKit.  They might be considered more advanced users, as they learned of LeanKit through a lean initiative.  He mentioned that he’s seen LeanKit boards strewn across large TV screens at work and that the team using it refers to it as their kanban board.  He went on to add that although they seem very happy with this newer way of managing their work (rather than list-based tools), ‘he hasn’t started drinking the kool-aid just yet.’

This reference got me wondering:  How did kanban boards become the ‘kool-aid’?

Could it be that since kanban boards are a small part of a larger, possibly more intimidating, lean methodology that they stir up skepticism?  If that is the case, perhaps it’s important not to get hung up on the (possibly) more advanced aspects of lean (e.g. identifying process bottlenecks or limiting work in process) and to focus on the most relatable, proven benefit: continuous improvement.

Or could it be that familiarity with long lists, Gantt charts, planning documents and never-ending status meetings makes reducing our work to signals (cards, tasks) in a board (project) and looking at visual cues (status) to help coordinate the work seems too unbelievably easy?   Certainly not complex enough to support what WE’RE working on!

Well, kanban boards are easy, and that’s why they’re so effective – there’s little room for confusion, lack of collaboration or unaccountability.  Whether you’re practicing lean or not, whether you’re deploying new projects, in IT operations or HR management, managing work visually with kanban boards might be something to try for the sake of improving the flow of work.  No need to be suspicious.  Simply focus on getting all of your work on a board and moving it from start to finish (i.e. to do, doing, done).  All of the additional stuff that can accompany using kanban boards may happen in time, if and when you’re ready.

3 thoughts on “How Did Kanban Boards Become the ‘Kool-Aid’?

  1. Thanks for your efforts.The Lean is very Important and effective technique from the Business Point of View.I am learn this technique for My Business.

  2. First of all, it is only a “Kanban Board” if there is an actual Kanban system or an implementation of the Kanban Method behind it, otherwise it should probably rather be called a “card board” or something.

    I also found this sentence interesting: “more advanced aspects of lean (e.g. identifying process bottlenecks or limiting work in process) and to focus on the most relatable, proven benefit: continuous improvement.”

    To me limiting WIP is one of the simpler aspects, of at least the Kanban Method whereas continuous improvement is the most advanced. (I would put identifying “process bottlenecks” inside continuous improvement, in knowledge work you have to be careful with bottlenecks, there are some major differences with lean manufacturing).

    I doubt a card board alone can support much sensible continuous improvement either.

    What is the actual message of this blog post? That Kanban is not necessary for continuous improvement and that a card board is all that is required?

    What definition are you using for “kanban board” anyway? Sounds like you might be using the term the way the Agile Alliance (mis)uses it.

  3. Thanks for your input, Kurt. It is true that some teams refer to their boards as ‘project boards’ or ‘task boards’, depending on the type of work being done and whether or not they practice the Kanban method.

    If you aren’t part of a team that practices Kanban or any Lean method, kanban boards can still be a valuable tool to visualize work, collaborate and communicate. While some of the aspects of Lean may seem simple to some, it can be difficult for others – simply because visual management is different from how they’ve been working up until now. Because implementing a full-on kanban system can seem daunting to some teams not familiar with concepts like WIP, we encourage beginners to take it slow, begin by visualizing their existing processes or workflows by modeling it on a board, and start taking steps towards continuous improvement.

    You are correct that a project board alone is not a silver bullet for continuous improvement. It is an evolutionary change in company culture that teams must embrace to be successful. LeanKit is here to help all users become more effective in how they work.

    Thanks again for your feedback!


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