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Continuous Improvement with Kanban: Is It Realistic?

blog-140606-is-it-realistic-continuous-improvement-with-kanbanKanban was originally implemented in production, but today it is widely used in other business areas including software development. Regardless of where it's applied, Kanban's benefits include efficiency and productivity.

Kanban is based on the principles of a pull system, pioneered in lean manufacturing. Lean thinking helps refine and improve development in areas such as process flow, waste reduction (e.g. unnecessary code and functionality, delays in the software development process, unclear requirements, insufficient testing, etc.), and it empowers the team by increasing collaboration.

Kanban is similar to the Agile approach in that it is focused on the quick delivery of results, but only features that are of real value to the customer. Lean thinking also forces collaborative learning, strong communication and problem solving by the team.

Continuous process improvement can be achieved by the following three main principles.

1) Increase system efficiency instead of individual performance

The Kanban board helps visualize, monitor, and manage the team as it proceeds through the development lifecycle. By implementing Kanban, it is possible to measure team and organizational performance.

The continuous improvement approach focuses on creating a healthy pressure and balanced workload on team members, and on collaborative problem solving and knowledge sharing. Work-in-progress (WIP) limits help discover bottlenecks, enabling you to implement continuous process improvement.

Kanban is like one continuous sprint, where the main goal is not to force team members to work faster, but rather to optimize the flow of work together. In Lean / Kanban, the system is more important than the individual. Therefore the basic attitude should be that the team can achieve more together.

2) Eliminate waste, balance workload

Lean thinking requires the elimination of waste. When working with Kanban it is essential to identify and analyze any source of waste. Waste may be caused by:

  • partially done work that is left incomplete for some reason
  • unnecessary or redundant processes (with no valued added, e.g. unused documentation)
  • development of useless features (features driven by technology only, features not likely to be used)
  • task switching (multitasking, multiproject involvement)
  • waiting (e.g. delayed reviews/approvals)
  • and defects.

Due to the strong focus on process optimization, waste analysis, and waste mitigation, Lean thinking is a significant part of Kanban-based management.

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WIP limits help reduce inventory and create a pull system upstream. After finishing a task, pull a new one from the preceding stage, freeing up capacity there and giving an opportunity for the preceding stage to pull on its own. This keeps going all the way up to the input queue. The pull strategy supports the elimination of waste, and WIP limits help balance the workload.

3) Increase team empowerment and change management behavior

Traditional project managers define a project plan, estimate the effort and expected deadlines based on historical experiences, and push the team to achieve goals within that given timeframe. Lean and Kanban needs a different type of thinking from management.

Accept a pull strategy instead of a push approach! As a first step, the project manager includes the team in estimating the project plan. This gives them a voice in project management, and results in increased motivation. Applying Agile principles is a subsequent step. Measuring what the team could deliver in an iteration is key. Use these numbers for planning instead of historical estimates that are bound to be inaccurate. Kanban applies a pull model where the team works under supervision but more collaboratively, and the workload is more balanced. This approach has led to a significant increase in value creation and quality according to many success stories.

Lean and Kanban techniques can be real generators of efficiencies across the development lifecycle. codeBeamer ALM provides a Kanban tool for implementing Kanban, and greatly supports the use of Agile methods in software development. To learn more, get in touch with us, or start your free trial right away.

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