Sunday, April 17, 2016

Kanban environment - An introduction - 01

There is a lot of interest, in the project manager community, about Kanban. Since I have noticed some degree of confusion about the topic, I have decided to write a series of posts about the argument. In the series we will examine the characteristics of a Kanban system, how it could be implemented to control a process, common pitfalls encountered during the transition toward Kanban, and advice for a smooth adoption.

What is Kanban?

A parking lot is a perfect description of a Kanban system.
You queue up waiting to be served.
You are allowed in the parking lot just when there is a vacancy.
When you leave the parking lot, someone else is allowed in.
All these events are regulated by the emission and withdrawal of tickets, ensuring that the number of cars in the parking lot never exceed its capacity.

There are many practical reasons for a parking lot to be managed that way. Let’s imagine what could happen if cars were allowed in the lot without any control. The parking lot would rapidly become congested. Many cars would enter the system just to be forced out of it since no place would be available. In the meantime, cars that would leave the parking lot would not be able to do it quickly, since the mass of entering cars will slow them down.

The behavior of an industrial process is surprisingly similar. Too many running jobs could hamper standard activities and sensibly lower the system’s throughput.

In a process monitored and controlled by Kanban, the work to be performed (called Work in Progress or WIP) is continuously maintained under a threshold, called the system’s capacity.

A Kanban environment is a system in which 

  • WIP is limited, ensuring that the system never runs beyond its capacity.
  • A system is in place to allow new work to enter the system.

Can Kanban be used just in a specific industry?

Kanban is a consistency standard; it can be used to monitor and control any process, help to achieve reliability about performances and takt time.
Kanban objective is to optimize processes, walking the path of continuous improvement.
To better clarify the matter, we will provide examples of Kanban utilization both in the manufacturing and the software industry. 

Can Kanban be used to manage Projects?

The short answer is yes.
The long answer is a little more complicated. Kanban can be used to manage projects if the projects is small sized, and it can be modeled as a constant flow of value through different stages. Many times it could be helpful to manage with Kanban not the entire projects but some of its work packages; this is especially the case in agile project management, where a Kanban is used to manage every single development cycle (Sprint if you are using Scrum).

Kanban - an empiric approach

What has to be always kept in mind, is that Kanban is an intrinsically empiric approach. 
Kanban implementation is a perfect example of how to apply the Deming’s cycle. 

  • Plan Map the process that will have to be monitored and controlled through the Kanban approach.
  • Do Dimension the process setting WIP limits. 
  • Check Observe the system’s behavior.
  • Act Map the process with greater/smaller accuracy, adjust WIP limits, Improve the process, or modify the process.

Tools & information radiators

See credit below

The objectives of Kanban are to manage effectively processes (or projects) and to provide complete transparency on what is going on at each stage. 
Given these ambitious goals, it is mandatory to have tools and instrument in place to manage efficient communication towards the process  (or project ) stakeholders.
The most common representation of a Kanban system, used both for process (or project) management and communication purposes, is a simple corkboard. The board is usually divided with vertical and horizontal swimlanes, crowded with pinned small, colored pieces of sheet. The cork board can be optionally substituted with a digital version, very useful when the team is geographically sparse in different locations.   

Nadjeschda via Compfight cc

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