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Using Kanban for Change: A Case Study from an Insurer

by Ben Linders on Nov 11, 2014 |

Kanban is often used to manage work, but the concepts of kanban can also be used to guide a journey of change in an organization. This is a case study of an insurance company that used kanban to get change done to improve visibility and predictability and engaging their people.

Cliff Hazell and Amjid Ali talked about introducing kanban as an instrument for change at the Lean Kanban Central Europe 2014 Conference in Hamburg. They presented a 1 year change journey on improving the environment and work flow within a division of Momentum, one of the largest insurers in Southern Africa.

Amjid explained how both the stakeholders and the teams were unhappy with the situation. The stakeholders felt that things took too long and that It wasn’t delivering. The teams felt frustrated due to priority shifts that were often happening, and releases were always painful.

There are 3 results that the organization wanted to improve in their change journey:

  • Visibility
  • Predictability
  • Engaged people

At the start of the change they asked for volunteers who wanted to join the change team. When people signed up they talked with them why they wanted to join and checked their expectations. People were eager to participate and to help to get the changes done.

When Cliff and Amjid talked with people from the project management office (PMO) they found out that the PMO thought that main cause of the problems that the organization was facing was a lack of capacity. Based on that they were often moving people between projects. They talked about limiting work in progress but initially couldn’t get that across as it was so different from what the PMO was doing. After some more discussion the PMO started to understand the bottlenecks in the organization and became open to organize the work differently.

The team started to make visible what they were doing. Initially there was a small board which only the project leaders were using. Teams made their own kanban boards to visualize and manage their work in progress. This way the bottlenecks became clear and could be discussed with the stakeholders.

Part of the change was to restructure the IT department. The organization was functionally driven, it needed to be changed to cross functional teams. A meeting was arranged with everybody from the department. Together the people designed the new organizational structure and assigned names to the roles. When people make their own decisions they have a much stronger connection and buy in to the changes. Although preferably you want to have evolutionary and smaller changes, sometimes you have to do a bigger change, said Cliff.

They had an internal change agent who was visibly supporting the change in any way he could. One example that Cliff explained was about a board that he used for people to post their questions. He would answer them, preferably the same day. If he didn’t know the answer then he would get somebody who knew and would make sure that they were answered.

As coaches they have been telling many stories and providing examples to support the change. When people asked questions they provided different suggestions for people to chose. Occasionally they would give only one solution to get people started, but they would prevent it from becoming a recipe that people would do without really understanding why they are doing it.

You have to limit the change in progress (CIP), try to do only one thing at the time said Cliff. If you do two things, they will most probably be interacting so will have to manage the two things at the interaction. Cliff explained that 100% utilization is bad for coaches too. Coaches also need time to do other stuff, so you have to prevent for them to become overloaded.

As a results of the changes that they have done stakeholders are now amazed by how much the teams are doing, and of the flexibility of the teams. In stead of adding new stuff they are discussing what needed to be done now, and what can be done later.

Amjid showed the video the Momentum way of work in which the employees talk about how they have experienced the changes. People in the teams are happy and are enjoying their work much more. They have the feeling that they are more in control. The atmosphere in the teams has improved significantly.

Cliff shared the main things that learned from their kanban driven change approach:

  1. Help people solve their own problems. Try not to inflict help. As a consultant you want to build a legacy, making sure that people are able to continue the journey after you leave.
  2. Evolution, not revolution. You can’t fix everything today. You have to learn how to deal with mistakes, also learn to live with the problems that you are having now and can’t solve yet.
  3. Take people on the journey. Change is about people, and we are not fungible. Give people space and time to do their work and to learn.

Cliff and Amjid concluded their talk by stating that for change to succeed it is important to know each other and have fun together. Sometimes they asked people how many of the people that are sitting close to them they really knew, finding out that many of them have never spoken to each other. They encouraged people to talk to each other, have lunch together, share their personal experiences with team members, and have a laugh to get to know each other better.

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change agents by Ion Bestellers

hey, great use case - it makes me wonder whether it would ever be or had been possible to make such a huge shift without a change agent? Any clue? Seems that whenever I read about a successful Kanban implementation the doer - change agent - has the key role within the operation. Just wondering if anyone tried this with no external help? If so - how small a team can one manage to implement a change with before an outside help is required.
I also liked this uise case here: kanbantool.com/kanban-library/why-kanban/using-... it touches on the same issue and reinforces the success story somewhat.

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