Kanban – Build Adaptive Capability

Kanban – Build Adaptive Capability

Kanban – Build Adaptive Capability

As a coach I often hear people debating on Scrum vs Kanban. They go to lengths with rationale of contexts and situations when either is applicable or not applicable.

More informed people do know that this debate is pointless. This is because the premise of these debates often is flawed. Scrum is the entry point to agile for most people, given the reliance of the training/certification world on scrum and reinforcing loops it has created with adoption over the years. Also by design, it is a prescriptive framework. It tells you what it is that you must do. It is good advice and indeed helpful in many situations.

Kanban is Visual Boards and No Time-Box

For Kanban, on the other hand, the learning essentially starts with visual boards. The second thing you learn is that it has no time-box. Unfortunately however, the understanding rarely moves beyond this for many.  Limiting WIP is when things actually start to get interesting. However, WIP limits are not so commonly used. Anti patterns set in. That is such a superficial understanding and application of Kanban. We need to leverage in full perspective the Kanban method and not just with some elements of a Kanban system.

If you actually think deeper, the principles and general practices of Kanban Method very well apply even when implementing a Scrum process. And so it is not a process discussion or comparison. 

“There is no such thing as the Kanban Software Development Process or the Kanban Project Management Method.” David Anderson

Adaptability Is Survival

In the increasingly VUCA world, adaptability is not an optional skill for competitive advantage. Indeed, it is essential for survival. The Kanban method – an evolutionary approach to change helps us to approach this endeavor and build our organizations towards that in a structured manner.

“The Principles and General Practices of the Kanban Method are designed to lay the foundation for an adaptive capability with an organization. Adaptive capability is how organizations cope with and respond to complex environments. Adaptive capability is required for resilience in complex environments.  The improvements to workflow processes represent emergent behaviour. The outcome cannot be predicted far in advance or several steps in advance. The future processes of the organization emerge rather than are designed.”

Building Adaptive Capability

Going beyond the principles and general practices, the Kanban Maturity Model lays out about 150 specific Kanban practices as well as cultural values that map to observable business outcomes. The business outcomes go from Maturity Level 0 – Oblivious to Maturity Level 6 – Built for Survival. At ML-6, among other things the organization is a truly learning organization. It has double loop learning embedded into the ways of working. Aligning strategy continuously to operational capabilities is another of ML – 6 characteristics.

Fred Emery, a leading psychologist and a pioneer in the field of organizational development (OD) said –

“Instead of constantly adapting to change, why not change to be adaptive.”

In business and organizational context, building adaptive capability is definitely a worthy goal to aspire for. It makes perfect sense to use Kanban for that.

You will start with a visual board. Maybe even a few WIP Limits. Dare to venture beyond that. An amazing world awaits.

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Hrishikesh Karekar

Agile Expert

Hrishikesh is a Director, Financial Services BU at Capgemini. He has 19+ years of experience in IT software industry playing high responsibility roles as Agile Transformation Lead, Agile Coach, Program Manager, Delivery Manager, Technical Project Manager, Technical Lead & Software Engineer. Hrishikesh is passionate about building high performing teams, taking individuals and teams on a journey of excellence and satisfaction. His vision of Agile is not just about implementing effective, efficient and lean processes, but transforming people’s mindsets – to deliver better ROI and real business benefits. Hrishikesh holds a Bachelor of Engineering, Production Engineering from VJTI, University of Mumbai.

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