Wrong and Right Reasons to Apply Kanban

| by Vikas Hazrati Follow 0 Followers on Sep 29, 2009. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |

Kanban translated literally: “Kan” means visual, and “ban” means card or board. Kanban's aim is to minimize WIP (Work-In-Process), or inventory, between processes by making sure that the upstream process produces parts only if its downstream process needs it. Of late, Lean and Kanban are growing in popularity. More and more companies are setting up Kanban Boards, limiting WIP and eliminating Muda. Michael Dubakov investigated the wrong and right reasons for applying Kanban.

Michael suggested the following 5 false reasons for adopting Kanban, along with comments on why he felt they were fasle.

  1. Our stories vary in size a lot from 1 point to 40 points. Large stories just do not fit into an iteration – Team needs to understand how to split the story into smaller pieces. As per Queueing Theory, it is better to have small stories with roughly equal size.
  2. We can’t complete most stories in a single iteration – Having smaller iterations too might have transaction cost associated.
  3. Retrospective meetings are waste, they do not help in process improvement and we want to remove them – The team should analyse the reasons for failed retrospectives. One of the most common reason is "no Action Items after the meeting".
  4. We have a single pool of developers and share them between projects. We can’t form stable project teams - If a team is experiencing difficulty in planning sprints with shared pool of developers, try to fix the root of the problem first - switch to cross-functional teams and eliminate multi-tasking.
  5. Kanban is so simple! No plans, no estimations, no iterations, no overhead – There is no silver bullet and no alternative to hard work, discipline, target on perfection and constant improvements. All this is required to adopt any agile methodology.

Michael also suggested 5 right reasons for applying Kanban, according to him,

  1. Ability to release anytime – Scrum and XP, usually do not release in the middle of the sprint. This is not the case with Kanban.
  2. Ability to change priorities on the fly – Scrum is reluctant to change the priorities in the middle of the sprint. In Kanban, if there is an urgent request to implement or a really important user story, the team can just put it on top of the queue.
  3. No need in iterations – Iterations are perfect for getting into a rhythm. However, after a point, when the flow is established, iterations could rather become a waste.
  4. No need in estimates – Just as iterations, estimates could also become a waste. Michael suggested that in their case, they have a prioritized backlog and they just take the most important user story and implement it.
  5. Perfect flow visualization - Kanban Board provides a very clear view on current work in progress. It visualizes flow and enables fast planning and tracking.

Responding to a comment by Tobias Mayer on other good reasons to adopt Kanban, Karl Scotland mentioned the following,

Off the top of my head, 5 reasons to use Kanban approach:
  1. Model the whole value stream
  2. Visualise the work
  3. Limit work in progress
  4. Establish a Cadence
  5. Enable continuous improvement

Thus, just like any other process, Kanban too has its reasons for adoption. An Agile team should not switch to Kanban just because an existing process is not working from them. The key lies in doing an introspection on what they could improve in the current process and apply Kanban only if they have the right reasons.

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Massive ad? by Stephen Starkey

I haven't been on InfoQ very long, but if an article is advertising a product (which this one seems to be doing, albeit thinly veiled), isn't it more appropriate to tell folks that that's what it's about? I went clicking around looking for an article about applying Kanban, and found a bunch of stuff about TargetProcess and their software. Nothing about what I thought I was going to get.

Bad form, IMHO...

Re: Massive ad? by Mak Steven

I second to this.


- this article has no author.
- this article presents an one-sided view, which is very different from typical InfoQ articles where multiple sources of information are collected on one topic or issue.

Re: Massive ad? by Vikas Hazrati

The reporter name is there now. Corrected the error, thanks for pointing that out. The tone of the post just represented what a person thought as reasons to apply and not apply Kanban. Since these reasons were posted on TargetProcess hence the linking went that way. If you look closely, you would see that the links points to a lot of places including Agile product design, wikipedia, InfoQ, other blogs.
The intention was to discuss the reasons to adopt Kanban and promoting any organization is totally unintentional.

Re: Massive ad? by Abel Avram

Stephen, here is a link to a Kanban article, very detailed:

Re: Massive ad? by Vikas Hazrati

Thanks Abel. This is also linked in the second line of the post.

This is not an ad by Michael Dubakov

C'mon, we are not advertising this way :)
And to be honest no one asked permission to republish this from my blog, but I don't mind :)

Re: This is not an ad by Stephen Starkey

C'mon, we are not advertising this way :)
And to be honest no one asked permission to republish this from my blog, but I don't mind :)

Thanks for clarifying. I hope folks can understand how I might have jumped to the conclusion nonetheless. Perhaps it is simply the quality of the language of the post, but it seemed fishy to me.

Re: Massive ad? by Amr Elssamadisy

Can you help me understand your specific objection to the article? It seems that Vikas read Michael Dubakov's article and found it worth sharing with the community. He did so with a several other references (although only this one consulting company).

Would the story have been different if Vikas had cited Uncle Bob or Martin Fowler?

Am I missing the point and is there more to your objections?

Thanks! Amr

Re: Massive ad? by Bruce Rennie

Especially since Uncle Bob or Martin Fowler advertise far more heavily than TargetProcess could ever do. I'm only half kidding.

In truth, I didn't see any problem with the original article, either.

Re: This is not an ad by Vikas Hazrati

Hi Stephen, Thanks for sharing your feedback. Could you please elaborate on

Perhaps it is simply the quality of the language of the post, but it seemed fishy to me.

We would like to take every opportunity to improve.

Kanban hype is getting bigger and bigger by Ville Heikkilä

See long post on this topic in our blog.

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