The Essential Checklist for Scaling Kanban Across Teams

Your Kanban pilot passed with flying colors, and now you’re eager to scale across multiple teams in your organization. But scaling without the right foundation could put your Kanban initiative at risk.

Teams face three different outcomes when practicing Kanban:

  • Continuous improvement. These teams are constantly looking for ways to improve, implementing feedback loops and evolving experimentally.
  • Plateau in a “good enough” state. These teams maintain their Kanban system but don’t push past the status quo of their initial improvements.
  • Abandonment. These teams lose momentum, stop improving, and ultimately abandon their Kanban system.

The Scaling Kanban Maturity Model - LeanKit

Many teams adopting Kanban quickly experience the benefits of visualizing their work and workflow. The additional visibility this provides helps to surface immediate improvement opportunities, such as finishing high-priority work and addressing bottlenecks. A sustainable Kanban system, however, requires ongoing learning and engagement — by both teams and managers — to keep you on the path toward Kanban maturity.

7 Questions to Help You Scale Sustainably

This checklist is designed to help you assess the level of Kanban knowledge across your teams so you can scale sustainably. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, use the educational resources listed for each topic to help you address any problem areas.

1. Does your workflow match your team’s actual process?

Maybe you’re transitioning to Kanban from a prescribed process (like Scrum). Maybe your team knows its process but other teams don’t. Or, maybe you’ve never mapped your process and don’t know where to start. Wherever you happen to be, take an honest look at how your team works. The more authentic your process is, the faster you’ll be able to learn how to make it better.

Need some practical advice on how to map your process? Chris Hefley, CEO of LeanKit, discusses how to design your Kanban board so that you can visualize your workflow, measure your effectiveness, and identify opportunities for improvement.

ACTION ITEM: Map your process.
Designing Your Kanban Board to Map Your Process

2. Do you have process policies in place?

Let’s say that you run into an impediment. Who needs to know? How are you going to seek resolution? While you’re waiting, do you start new work or not? Process policies help answer those and other questions so everyone understands the “rules of the road” for how work gets done. This helps to reduce confusion and leads to greater process consistency.

If you don’t already have policies — or need to revise them — gather your team together and jump start your discussion with the scenarios in this blog post.

ACTION ITEM: Jump start your discussion.
Kanban: Redefining the Importance of Process Policies

3. Are your standups and retrospectives effective?

Many organizational structures position management with the lionshare of responsibility to identify and communicate issues. Contrast that with Kanban, where — with the aid of Kanban boards — team members are empowered to see the issues and bottlenecks for themselves.

This regularly allows for rich conversations to take place between management and team members about how the work flows: What’s moving? What’s not moving and why? What needs to happen so work will start moving again? When implemented effectively, standups and retrospectives are powerful tools for teams that seek transparency and open collaboration. Without targeted discussion, however, standups can morph into what’s-on-my-schedule recitations, and retrospectives can turn into personnel critiques.

Whether or not you’re new to standups and retrospectives, these seven questions can help keep your meetings on track. (This activity is also included in Kanban Roadmap: How to Get Started in 5 Steps.)

ACTION ITEM: Get your meetings on track.
How to Run Effective Kanban Standups and Retrospectives

4. Have you implemented WIP limits?

The practice of limiting your work in process (WIP) is what makes your Kanban board a pull system, rather than a visual to-do list. By using WIP limits, you can improve the flow of work through the process steps you’ve defined on your board.

Limiting WIP also helps to focus the team’s attention on shared goals and encourage collaboration. Having less work in process creates shorter feedback loops within the process and gives more flexibility to learn from how your work is flowing through the system, allowing you to make adjustments on the fly.

In this three-part, blog-plus-webinar series, LeanKit CTO Stephen Franklin discusses the importance of limiting work in process (WIP) to improve your flow. He also injects a healthy dose of reality to explain why it’s not in our DNA to set WIP limits and what we can do about it.

ACTION ITEM: Learn how to use WIP limits.
WIP Limits: How to Journey (Safely) Into the Unknown

5. Have you adopted a culture of continuous improvement?

Managing your work with a kanban system reveals how the work is flowing through your process. It also gives you the tools to evaluate flow and the levers to pull to improve it. Once you begin to analyze your workflow — and measure things like total WIP, blockers, throughput, or lead time — you’ll begin to see ways you can evolve and streamline.

Kanban trainer and author Klaus Leopold lists the benefits of forming a Kanban change team to start and support a culture of continuous improvement. In addition, Training Specialist Amber Estabrooks shares two techniques for practicing continuous improvement with your team.

ACTION ITEM: See how you can improve.
Achieving Continuous Improvement Through Kanban
Continuous Improvement in Lean

6. Is there a need for a more structured introduction to Kanban?

Teams with a basic understanding of Kanban may test well on the first five questions on this checklist and won’t need additional education. Other teams may opt for a more structured, back-to-basics approach.

Created to teach the basics of Kanban — and to help teams get started quickly — the Kanban Roadmap features team activities for each of the five steps of Kanban. Learn helpful tips, key points for team leaders and real-world examples that support the practical implementation of Kanban.

ACTION ITEM: Start with the basics.
The Kanban Roadmap: How to Get Started in 5 Steps

7. Do you have a plan for continuing education?

Different stages of your Kanban initiative will call for various educational opportunities. As you add new team members or re-form teams, you’ll likely need to revisit your arsenal of initial Kanban education. Regular departmental trainings around webinars or book clubs can help broaden the team’s knowledge, but certified Kanban coaches and trainers may be necessary to resolve recurring issues.

These blogs and books can bring you insights and education to inspire your Lean and Kanban initiatives. Stay up to date with the latest thoughts from a worldwide group of leading Kanban experts and practitioners, many of whom also offer consulting services and corporate training.

ACTION ITEM: Build a library of resources.
Top Kanban Blogs
Top 5 Kanban Books to Add to Your Reading List

Achieving a Sustainable Kanban System

When you decide to scale Kanban across multiple teams, it takes constant engagement, reflection, and a commitment to continuous improvement. If you answered “yes” to all (or most) of this checklist, then you’re on your way to scaling wisely. While there’s no silver bullet for success, combining the right Kanban tool with targeted education can help you achieve a sustainable Kanban system.

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