How to Ensure Your Kanban Implementation Succeeds
Remember when you first started reading about Kanban, and it felt like everything would magically get better once you implemented it? Although the benefits of Kanban are many, simply setting the intention of practicing Kanban does not guarantee success. Kanban is an excellent way to facilitate smarter communication and collaboration - but it requires everyone involved to first commit to a more collaborative, more transparent, more communicative way of working.
For some people, this comes naturally - for others, abandoning the status quo can be a bit painful. Embracing transparency - giving everyone on the team insight into what you’re doing and when - can make people feel, understandably, vulnerable. Adopting new lingo, learning to use a new tool - these are all things that can make team members uncomfortable. But we must remember: “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” To truly grow as a team, we must collectively embrace the discomfort, commit to the vulnerability, and push past the insecurity.
Luckily, yours is not the first team to try Kanban. There are several proven ways to ensure that your Kanban implementation will succeed. Here are a few of the methods we practice internally, and recommend to all of our customers.
Get on the Same Page
Start with Why
In his now-famous TED talk, Simon Sinek introduced us to the idea that great leaders inspire action by aligning their teams around a shared purpose - their why. In times of stress or conflict, a shared understanding of the why behind your team’s efforts will help you persevere. Before you begin building your first Kanban board, or even diving into some Kanban reading as a team, align around the why behind your implementation. Why are you seeking out a workflow solution like Kanban? Is it because you want to innovate faster? Enjoy your work more? Feel better able to respond to the needs of customers? Make better use of your resources?
Once you have a firm grasp on your why, you can then move into more practical questions: How will this help us? How will we make sure everyone understands Kanban? How will we maintain our Kanban knowledge? How will we hold each other accountable to this new way of working?
And then you can dive even deeper - what is expected of each team member? What will practicing Kanban look like on a daily basis? Taking time to talk through these things - and set realistic expectations - will make your team better equipped to implement Kanban successfully.
Get on the Same Board
Once you understand why you’re implementing Kanban, you’re ready to begin. If you’re new to Kanban, we highly recommend going through our Kanban Roadmap as a team. Included are five exercises that will guide your team through the process of creating and using your first iteration of your Kanban board.
Once introduced to the magic of Kanban, it can be tempting to want to create a Kanban board for everything - however, at the beginning of an implementation, this can be a slippery slope. If the purpose of implementing Kanban is to increase transparency and improve collaboration across the team, managing your work across multiple (siloed) boards won’t get you there.
To the extent that it’s logically possible, aim to manage your team’s work on one shared board. Focus on improving flow - identify opportunities for improvement, make them, and measure the results. Set challenging but realistic WIP limits. Work hard to ensure that everyone is using the board in the same way by creating and upholding process policies. Then, when you’re really confident in your team’s Kanban know-how, you can start breaking your work up into more granular boards. Luckily, LeanKit enables team work to stay connected, even if it’s distributed across multiple boards, through features like Connected Cards. Before breaking off into multiple boards, learn how to use these features to increase transparency and enable stronger collaboration across your team.
Get on the Same Schedule
Holding regular standups and retrospectives is one of the best ways to ensure that your Kanban implementation succeeds. Just as a basketball team - no matter how successful - continues to run regular drills, a team using Kanban needs to practice the basics every single day.
We recommend daily standups - short, 10-15 minute meetings - to any team practicing Kanban as a way of keeping Kanban practices top of mind. Establish a list of questions that will help ensure your team is making consistent progress, and old habits aren’t creeping back in. These questions might include:
- What will move off the board today?
- What work will be pulled onto the board today?
- Is there any work being done that isn’t visualized on the board?
- Do we have any blockers or bottlenecks that need to be resolved?
- Are there any cards that haven’t moved in a day or more?
- How are we doing in regards to our WIP limits - do we need to set more aggressive WIP limits?
Whether in your marriage, your work team, your volunteer group, or in any other collaborative setting, holding regular retrospectives is a critical way to ensure continuous improvement. After any project or initiative, create space for meaningful dialogue around how things went. What worked well? What didn’t? How can we improve next time? Record your observations and use them to guide future work. Retrospectives are a simple concept, and yet so few teams actually do them, because they feel pressured to move onto the next thing. Take a few moments to reflect so that you can avoid making the same mistakes - and continue to create more value with everything you do.
Looking for more resources to support your team’s Kanban implementation? We recommend reading these Kanban articles: