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InfoQ Homepage Articles Q&A on the Book Kanban Maturity Model: Evolving Fit-for-Purpose Organizations

Q&A on the Book Kanban Maturity Model: Evolving Fit-for-Purpose Organizations

Key Takeaways

  • The Kanban Maturity Model (KMM) is based on experience with Kanban collected during 10+ years by firms small to extremely large. It is designed to help eliminate the two failure modes in Kanban implementations: overreaching causing an aborted start, and false summit plateaus causing failure to realize full benefit.
  • It maps 132 specific Kanban practices and 20 cultural values to observable business outcomes using seven levels of organizational maturity.
  • KMM facilitates the definition of a realistic roadmap for improving business agility and fitness for purpose. 
  • Level 6 is about an active and congruent re-definition of corporate culture and business. It requires level 6 leadership to succeed. 
  • KMM provides a complete set of patterns of kanban board designs that respond to the variety of needs related to visualizing work items, workflows of different types and complexity, different scales, business, technical and delivery risks, classes of services, shared resources, and more.

The book Kanban Maturity Model by David Anderson and Teodora Bozheva provides a seven-level model that organizations can use to assess their maturity and define a roadmap to improve their business agility using Kanban practices and values. It provides a complete set of example kanban boards that respond to the variety of needs related to visualizing work items, workflows of different types and complexity, risks, classes of services, shared resources, and so forth. It also defines in detail the Kanban practices and metrics that are appropriate to use to achieve the benefits of each maturity level.

In addition, the defined maturity levels are mapped to other models and methods, such as CMMI, Lean/TPS, Real World Risk model and Mission Command. All together they document a body of knowledge that coaches and organizations can use to develop a sustainable change, create unity and alignment around a shared purpose, deliver fit-for-purpose products and services, and improve business outcomes.

InfoQ readers can download the ”Understanding Maturity Levels” chapter  of the Kanban Maturity Model book.

InfoQ interviewed Anderson and Bozheva about the purpose and structure of the Kanban Maturity Model, on which levels they expect that organizations world-wide will be, how to integrate the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) with the KMM, and how organizations can assess their maturity with this model.

InfoQ: What made you decide to write this book?

David Anderson: We have been studying Kanban implementations for 10+ years now, in small startups through to huge industrial companies like Huawei & Ericsson with tens of thousands of people using the approach. Every Kanban trainer is required to present a case study as part of their accreditation to teach our curriculum. Every Kanban coach has to submit a written essay describing their work before receiving their credential. We’ve accumulated ten years of conference videos and presentations many with case studies. We’ve commissioned, written and published around a dozen more. From all of this evidence, we’ve learned that there are two main failure modes in Kanban implementations: overreaching leading to an aborted initiative, “Kanban didn’t work for us”; and false summit plateaus, “We’ve done Kanban, it helped us a bit, now what should we do next?” Both of these failures are issues of inappropriate guidance or advice – choosing inappropriate specific Kanban practices for the level of organizational maturity. The Kanban Maturity Model (KMM) is intended to help fix both of these problems. The KMM maps appropriate practice to observable organizational behavior and business outcomes. The KMM book should improve the success rate with Kanban dramatically!

A book seems like the best way to get the information in the hands of the intended users – people advising on organizational improvement initiatives using Kanban. Professionals like to have a book on their shelf at their office; they like to carry it to meetings and reference it, showing sections to those they are advising. An online reference might be easy to search but a book has a physical presence that is often needed by consultants, change agents, coaches and those who wish to lead change.

Teodora Bozheva: In 1998-99 I was a project manager at Nemetschek AG and for the first time I was involved in an initiative to improve the software development and management practices of the company. The work we did was very useful for my job. However, 18 months later, the initiative was cancelled because it failed to demonstrate the expected business outcomes. The lesson I took out of this experience was that in addition to being helpful for the workers, an organizational improvement has to contribute to obtaining better business results too.

In the years after that, I was using the new at that time Agile methods, in particular, eXtreme Programming, Lean Software Development (Mary Poppendieck’s book), and Scrum. Further on I got into CMMI and started guiding organizations in establishing good practices of work. I realized that the successful adoption of any method requires an appropriate homeground, a collection of values, habits and leadership.

For some time using one or another method of work was a matter of choice, determined mainly by an organization’s habitat. Nowadays, developing business agility is a need for any company. The Kanban method facilitates this through its six general practices.

The opportunity to develop useful guidance for teams and organizations seeking a way to evolve towards their purpose inspired me to work on the Kanban Maturity Model.

InfoQ: For whom is this book intended?

Bozheva: This book will be most useful for Kanban coaches and practitioners, agile coaches, organizational change agents, project and service manages, as well as senior managers. They will find in it pragmatic guidance on what actions are appropriate to take in their concrete situation, in order to obtain the following results:

  • increase transparency and collaboration in their teams
  • reduce the overburdening of their people and balance the workload in and between teams
  • deliver products and services that meet and exceed customer expectations
  • introduce service orientation to managing work and use it to improve the coordination of inter-dependent teams and shared resources
  • effective risk management
  • business agility in dynamic contexts
  • understanding cultural values that enable a successful organizational transformation

Anderson: This book is intended for anyone who desires to improve business agility and may be pursuing an enterprise scale Agile initiative. Specifically, the book is aimed at coaches, consultants, change agents, and leaders who wish to improve business agility, and have recognized that using Kanban and taking an evolutionary path to improvement is their preferred approach. The book will be interesting to anyone with an open mind to innovation within the field of Agile methods and the pursuit of business agility.

InfoQ: What is the Kanban Maturity Model?

Anderson: The Kanban Maturity Model emerged from first studying different patterns of kanban board design and implementation together with knowledge of the businesses that had created them. Not only did we see recurring patterns of design but recognized there was a correlation with the nature of the business and its organizational maturity.

The KMM provides a model for organizational maturity and maps typical Kanban practices and board designs against those levels. This becomes a very powerful tool for coaches and consultants leading Kanban initiatives and helping businesses improve their agility. Now it is possible to correctly match the challenge of a given practice or kanban board design to the current capability and maturity of the organization.

Bozheva: Ultimately the Kanban Maturity Model is a coaching tool. It is a collection of insights and practices that codify the learning and experience of many companies who have used Kanban in the last ten years to achieve better capability. The mapping of specific practices in the model is intended to help coaches achieve better results with the customers they advise.

InfoQ: How is the KMM structured?

Anderson: The KMM is based on an organizational maturity model inspired and synthesized from a combination of the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) and Jerry Weinberg's maturity model published in his 1997 book, Software Quality Management, volume 1. The result of this synthesis gives us 7 levels from 0 through 6. Levels 1 to 5 are intended as direct mapping to the CMMI levels but with some minor changes in naming, to improve clarity, and a direct mapping to defined and observable business outcomes – something that was never explicit in CMMI. The unique selling point and key differentiator for the KMM is that the model maps increasing levels of business performance. We then correlated the observed practices and patterns of Kanban implementations against those observable business outcomes.

For example, if a business steadily delivers good quality and predictable service and its customers are satisfied, then that is good enough for maturity level 3. If the satisfaction level is intermittent because service levels vary, and expectations aren't always met, then that is at most only maturity level 2. If the business has consistently happy customers and produces consistent economic outcomes, in other words, it is predictable inside and out, then that makes them maturity level 4. If they have consistently happy customers while producing ever improving economic outcomes, for example, greater profit margins, then they are maturity level 5.

Against this organizational maturity model, we mapped the six general practices of Kanban: visualize; limit WIP; manage flow; make policies explicit; implement feedback loops; improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally. This provides us with a two-dimensional matrix. For each grid position on the matrix, we then documented the observed specific practices, such as kanban board designs, ticket designs, use of WIP limits, use of meetings to generate feedback, numbers and types of policies being made explicit either through visualization or other means, and so forth.

The KMM is descriptive. It describes observed Kanban practices and patterns against organizational maturity levels. It is not prescriptive. It does not say, "do the following set of practices and a specific outcome is guaranteed." Instead, it says, "if you aspire to a defined level of business capability and organizational maturity, then here are the practices we've observed in similar businesses. It is your choice whether they make sense for you or not."

Many specific Kanban practices obviate others that we see at lower levels of maturity. For example, a system capability review matures into a service delivery review. They aren't two separate practices, they are the same practice at different levels of fidelity, with one producing a more mature outcome - a customer-focused outcome. Another example might be that an improvement suggestion box, and formal improvement initiative program, matures into spontaneous self-organizing improvements, known in other literature as "spontaneous quality circles" or "kaizen events." If you have this level of self-organizing improvement, you no longer need the suggestion box: it has been obviated.

Over one hundred and thirty specific Kanban practices have been mapped into the model. Each one of these has been observed in real life implementations.

Bozheva: I would add to David’s answer that a key difference of KMM from other maturity models is that it introduces the Transition levels for each maturity level starting from ML1. The practices in these slices prove to be relatively easy to introduce above the previous maturity level, with little or no resistance to adoption. Still, the benefits of the next maturity level are not achieved until the Core practices are put in place.

Anderson: Introducing Transition and Core practices is the second unique selling point and innovation that the KMM offers. The transition practices came about from observing organizations that for example, exhibit maturity level 2, but also make use of practices that are not needed at level 2, rather they are needed to achieve level 3. If you took such practices away, the organization would remain at level 2. Yet we observe them in level 2 organizations and in some longer observations and documented case studies they enabled deeper understanding and motivated further change. Consequently, they are evolutionary steps that assist moving from one level to another. The KMM provides a map and a path and, we believe, pragmatic, actionable guidance that will enable coaches to be much more successful driving large scale business agility.

Bozheva: In addition, the KMM is architected to be extensible. Extensions will be known as KMMX (Kanban Maturity Model Extension). We have planned two of these for launch later this year: Enterprise Service Planning containing many of the deeper maturity level practices including the Fit for Purpose Framework; and a Leadership Practices focused on values and leadership actions required to enable each of the seven levels. By making the KMM an open and extensible platform, and encouraging community collaboration during its beta period and beyond, we hope and expect that other extensions will appear, for example, a Lean Startup extension, or a Jobs to be Done extension would be interesting.

InfoQ: On which KMM levels do you expect that organizations worldwide will be?

Bozheva: Most of the organizations that I know, at the moment of consciously starting their improvement journey, are aspiring to maturity level 2. So we surmise that they are below level 2 when we start with them. As soon as they see the benefits of flow and of valuable results that Kanban is providing to them, they aspire to maturity level 3.

Anderson: From our case study literature, the attendees at our classes and conferences around the globe, observation of our clients, and reports from Kanban software vendors, it is clear that the vast majority of the market is at level 2 or even shallower. We would like and hope that the KMM enables many of them to achieve maturity level 3. Maturity level 3 means that they satisfy their customer most of the time and that doing so is routine. They achieve this without heroic effort from individuals or managers. Their performance should have a robustness to it: heroics are fragile and unsustainable. If, with KMM, we enable a large number of enterprises to achieve maturity level 3 then we will have provided a great service with our work on KMM.

InfoQ: Do you know any level 6 organizations? What is it that makes them stand out?

Anderson: First of all, we don't see maturity level 6 as sustainable. We believe that companies achieve level 6 for periods of time, often times when they are under stress to transition, or during the tenure of a single leader. We believe that to achieve level 6, you need level 6 leadership and that is very hard to sustain. I've given a keynote speech on what it takes to achieve this level of leadership.

In our own Kanban world, there are very few examples of Maturity Level 6 businesses and they have tended to be very small companies. The most obvious from our case study literature is Tupalo from Vienna. Tupalo was in the same space as Yelp, CitySearch and FourSquare. They were Europe's answer to Yelp. Ultimately, they were squeezed out of their business-to-consumer space by FourSquare, and in turn, those much better funded businesses are now being disrupted by Google Maps, TripAdvisor, and so on. Tupalo was already a maturity level 5 Kanban adopter when we captured their case study, since then they've shown maturity level 6 capability by reinventing themselves as a business-to-business play, together with tremendous resilience by bouncing back from the severe blow they took when well-capitalized American competition arrived and disrupted their established European business-to-consumer application.

In the wider business world, we see many examples of maturity level 6 companies. My personal favorites are:

  • John Menzies PLC - a newsagent that reinvented itself as an airport baggage handling company and now a general aviation services business.
  • IBM - which 3 times in its history has transformed its identity during the tenure of a great leader such as Lou Gerstner, or Thomas Watson Jr.
  • Richard Branson's Virgin Group - this is my particular favorite. The Virgin Group is incredibly diverse and its identity is ephemeral - their core concept is to have fun, be irreverent and to offer superior customer service in everything they do. Richard Branson is one of the few Level 6 leaders.
  • UPS – which has reinvented itself several times from a simple parcel delivery service to its latest identity as a logistics services business.

Bozheva: Level 6 requires a business to be capable of reinventing itself: to be capable of questioning how we do things, what we do, why we do it, and who we are. I know organizations who launch new businesses in parallel to their existing ones. Although this naturally requires defining a new identity, new strategy, market sector, product and services, this is not equivalent to the KMM maturity level 6 because they lack the knowledge and experience of the previous Kanban maturity levels. It is rather the case of running two businesses, each of which could have its own maturity level. I believe that KMM level 6 provides an integration, with the aspiration to create business that have longevity, that have the DNA to reinvent themselves as technological innovation and external market, political and economic conditions change.

InfoQ: How can we integrate the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) with the KMM? What benefits does that bring?

Bozheva: CMMI Institute has just launched CMMI 2.0 . One of the objectives for CMMI 2.0 is to integrate agile approaches to product development and management.

KMM brings the following benefits to organizations who use CMMI:

  • Improved transparency, collaboration, team work and reduced overburdening of individuals.
  • Deeper understanding of processes and how they actually occur. Processes are defined and integrated as to create fast, smooth and efficient flow of valuable results. They are used to develop results.
  • Higher predictability of delivered products and services because of the use of forecasting methods that take into account the work-in-progress, the throughput of the Kanban system, the distribution of the lead time per work type, and the actual queue of work.
  • Process improvement based on feedback and performance indicators from the Kanban systems through which the product and services are developed and delivered.
  • An understanding that an excess of work in progress, stress and individual overburdening affects negatively the expected outcomes.

The integration of KMM and CMMI requires on the first-place knowledge of the Kanban method.

Once this knowledge is available and put in practice, a significant portion of information needed for the CMMI processes comes from the Kanban system data, such as:

  • Time estimation is based on the historical data of lead time for each work type
  • For stable Kanban systems Little’s Law can be used for estimating resources necessary for delivering a project or service
  • Kanban boards provide real time information of the status of the projects as well as the issues that impede their smooth development. In addition, they serve as communication means for relevant stakeholders
  • The Kanban system data, such as lead time, throughput, blockage time, rework rate, can be used to define process performance objectives
  • Risk management takes advantages of the study of the causes for work blockers
  • The classes of services are based on an understanding of the business risks associated with them, in particular the cost of delay

Anderson: We provided guidance on the specific mapping to CMMI and we've made the models easily compatible by keeping the levels the same. There has been evidence since 2010 that use of Kanban enables organizations to achieve CMMI appraisals faster - much, much faster than traditionally recognized. Hillel Glazer has appraised organizations where start to level 2 appraisal happened in only 12 weeks, while there were several reports of maturity level 2 to 3 being achieved with Kanban in only 9 months. This compares favourably with the general guidance that it takes 2 to 5 years for such a transition. An example of these achievements is Asynchrony’s experience.

Meanwhile, I believe that KMM will enable real tangible business benefits. CMMI initiatives often struggle to show real business benefits. KMM and adoption of Kanban will help make CMMI professionals more successful.

InfoQ: How can organizations assess their maturity with this model?

Anderson: We are introducing an appraisal method and program. The official beta period will start after our Lean Kanban India conference in September. For now, we are piloting the program with a few hand-picked businesses including one of Europe's largest banks, based out of Spain.

Bozheva: KMM can be seen as means to assess the depth of Kanban application in an organization. Without doubt people will use the specific practice map to assess their own depth of Kanban implementation and examine gaps. However, the official KMM appraisal program will go much further. Appraisal of organizational maturity must take into consideration the extent to which the cultural values are adopted, as well the improvement in business outcomes as a result of adopting Kanban practices. The current beta version of KMM facilitates the self-assessment of the depth of Kanban. For now, it will be up to the organizations to complement it with cultural values and business outcome evaluation. Later this year, Kanban Coaching Professionals (KCPs) with specific additional training will be licensed as KMM Lead Appraisers. They will be able to conduct full appraisals using tools we are still developing to assess culture and leadership against the expectations of the maturity model.

Anderson: It is important to understand that appraisal in KMM will always come from observable business outcomes first; mapping practices and observing gaps in practice implementation is a secondary concern. A practice map is a tool to provide guidance and advice on improving the probability of the desired business outcome. The KMM has also mapped the value system behind the Kanban Method. As Teodora mentioned, there will be a Kanban Maturity Model Extension (KMMX) published for use by coaches, identifying cultural aspects of businesses that may be missing. This will enable leadership coaching to put in place the necessary social conditions to enable the desired outcomes. Ultimately this is the acid test for leadership: Is their pursuit of a stated goal just lip service, or do they really mean it? Are they prepared to make the leadership and cultural changes needed to bring about positive change? Lou Gerstner said, speaking of his position as Chairman of a major public company, IBM, that "culture is the game!" Gerstner understood that his role, his "level 6 leadership" role, was to create the right culture to enable everything else to happen.

About the Book Authors

David Anderson: Pioneer in the use of Kanban systems for improved service delivery in professional services and creative, knowledge worker businesses. Originator of the Kanban Method and Enterprise Services Planning for improved service delivery. Co-creator of the Fit-for-Purpose Framework for strategy, market research, marketing and organizational measurement. Management trainer and consultant. Popular conference speaker and presenter. Author of the books "Fit for Purpose - How modern businesses find, satisfy & keep customers", “Lessons in Agile Management”, “Kanban – Successful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business” and “Agile Management for Software Engineering.”

Teodora Bozheva is a Lean Kanban trainer and coach helping organizations to construct the right work management solutions for their unique contexts which allow them to deliver better products and services faster, increase their efficiency and adopt continuous improvement culture. She leads Berriprocess, based in Bilbao, Spain. Bozheva publishes her insights on her blog, mainly in Spanish. You can follow her on Twitter at @tbozheva.

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