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.

Katie St. Francis

Katie is a constant learner, Lean practitioner and product enthusiast. As a Product Manager at LeanKit, she works to help solve customer problems and help them find ways to deliver value faster. She spends her spare time crunching data to find opportunities for continuous improvement and asking “why.” Follow her on Twitter at @kstfrancis.