7 Things to Stop Doing in Kanban

As described in the Kanban Quick Start Guide and the Advanced Kanban Practice Guide which I developed a while ago, Kanban continues to be a highly popular Agile method used by all types of teams in a variety of domains including manufacturing and software product development. As a Kanban Coach, I have observed a few common pitfalls that teams tend to encounter. I decided to build on previous works to share a few scenarios that you may want to watch out for. It will also help your team reap the maximum benefits from this way of working.

#1 – Stop mispronouncing the term “Kanban”

Megaphone_Medium_black_coralThis is a bit of a nitpick, I know, but words matter. Further, correct use of terminology is more important than most people realize. The word “Kanban” is a Japanese word, so it is understandable that we may not all pronounce the word correctly. Avoid saying can-ban. Pronounce it as kahn-bahn. Proper use of the term will eliminate confusion, help with communication, and demonstrate confidence amongst your peers and teams.

#2 – Stop referring to Kanban as a “process”

Yes, another terminology thing, but this one is just as important. Kanban is not considered a “process”. A process is a sequence of events that are followed and repeated to produce the expected results every single time. Kanban is a technique for optimizing the flow of work within a process, whatever that process might be. The distinction is subtle and likely difficult for many people to understand. The key is that Kanban’s purpose is to optimize the way we work without defining the exact steps we take.

#3 – Stop assuming a task board is the same as a Kanban board

If you are using a task board with no Work-In-Progress (WIP) limits, then it is not a Kanban board. Why is this important? Without applying WIP limits, the task board is just a container for work with no provisions to control the flow. This is the primary purpose of applying the Kanban method.

#4 – Stop assuming your team doesn’t need to have regular meetings

Even if your team is diligent about maintaining the work items on your Kanban board, communication and collaboration amongst your team is still critical to the success of your team. Kanban does not prescribe any specific events or activities such as Daily Standup/Scrum or Retrospectives. In most situations, teams will still benefit greatly with some regular collaboration to ensure consistent alignment and teamwork.

#5 – Stop assuming you don’t need to refine your work

You can use a Kanban board to track basically any type of work, whether small or large, simple or complex. The versatility of Kanban can lull your team into thinking that they no longer need to refine the backlog, which can be a risky position to take. Kanban will not address poorly-defined work, which means that having sufficient details regarding the task/user story is still very important for optimizing the flow of value to the customer.

#6 – Stop assuming you don’t need to prioritize your work

In my experience, many Kanban teams assume that since they are not practicing Scrum, they no longer need a Product Owner. While this is somewhat accurate in that Kanban does not prescribe specific roles, someone still needs to prioritize the work to ensure the team works on the most important items first. The title or position of this person is not as important as the level of authority that this person has to ensure someone is regularly replenishing and reviewing the backlog.

#7 – Stop assuming training is unnecessary

Lastly, the simplicity of Kanban is often one of the main reasons teams decide to adopt this way of working. However, this simplicity may create an illusion that anyone can pick it up and start doing Kanban with no training whatsoever. Whether formal or informal, some type of basic training is still important to align the team on terminology and concepts of Kanban.

To wrap up this short article, I would like to highlight the importance of continuous improvement within a Kanban team. If you can avoid all of these potential antipatterns, your team has a much higher chance of success, especially if they adopt a mindset of experimentation and adaptation.

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Eugene Lai
Eugene Lai