When talking to my friends about Kanban I noticed that many of them have never heard about it. And those that did, were confused and didn’t quite understand the methodology. But it’s not (entirely) their fault. There are so many half-truths and misinformation about Kanban on the Internet that people with little or no knowledge on the subject can’t discern what to believe in.
That’s why I would like to help clear some of the confusion surrounding Kanban and debunk some of the most common Kanban misconceptions and myths. Let’s go through them one by one.
#1: Kanban is a Process Improvement Tool, Not a Workflow Method
Many people are confused about the purpose and nature of Kanban. Among the common Kanban misconceptions is that Kanban is a knowledge building tool as opposed to a workflow management method. It is true that Kanban adds a layer of transparency, allowing new ways of seeing what the process involves and informs everyone about the tasks’ current state. However, it is not a workflow management method in the traditional sense since it doesn’t tell you how to work, but only serves as a visual addition to your existing process.
But adding Kanban to your current method does greatly influence how your workflows. And for that reason, Kanban is called a method. There is also an astonishing number of teams that don’t use a specific method of work but do use Kanban to guide their efforts. So whether you call Kanban a workflow method or not is more of a technical argument since it has very little impact on how teams structure their process, but it definitely improves it.
#2: Kanban is Strict, Rigid and Doesn’t Allow Any Breathing Room
Some approaches allow slack time for team members that wait for items to reach them from previous steps. Everything is visible, and each team member can see what others are working on. Additionally, since policies need to be explicit, people feel they must be rigid too. As a result, people feel like there’s no breathing room. Unfortunately, a common Kanban misconception is that, as a project management method, Kanban is strict and not flexible. Truth is, they can still take time to relax and learn new things even when the Kanban methodology is in play.
Team members need to understand that transparency exists to help them collaborate better to find and fix problems in the process more easily. It is not put in place to punish people because they don’t have ‘in progress’ tasks. Kanban is about process optimization and continuous improvement. Working smartly and efficiently is more important than being constantly overworked. So even though process polices are explicitly stated, they are there to make sure everyone is on the same page. And yes, they can change as the team grows and improves.
#3: Kanban is Not ‘Real’ Agile as the WIP Limits Remove Flexibility and the Ability to Respond Quickly
Another Kanban misconception: Kanban is not an Agile practice. In fact, there is an ongoing debate about whether Kanban belongs to the Agile family. But no matter what side you are on, there is no doubt that Kanban is one of the alternative paths to agility. Kanban helps you get control over the process and find your bottlenecks. And once you react on these matters you will automatically get more agile. The WIP limits only help with agility. They make sure your teams don’t get overburdened, thus delivery will be faster and in better quality. And of course, you can always switch from 3 planned to 3 urgent tasks if the need arises.
Using a Kanban software allows you to measure progress in lead times, wait times, flow efficiency so you will know you are well on your way to higher agility. Moreover, Kanban gives you a set of options to either start optimizing your value stream team by team, or scale it on the program or strategic level. You can choose what best fits your organization, but you need to follow certain rules if you want to make the most of it.
#4 Kanban Can be Used Only for Linear Processes or in Support Teams
Another interesting Kanban misconception is that it works only in linear processes probably stems from the fact that the board presents the workflow as linear. But the board is there only to visualize the current stage of work items, not to dictate how the process is organized. Which leads me to the next point – Kanban can be used in every team, especially to teams that do service delivery.
Kanban doesn’t care what you do, it only cares to help you prioritize tasks, improve the process flow and increase the value you deliver to your customers. And more importantly, Kanban can be scaled and used the whole organization. So teams that are dependent on each other can have greater transparency. They will be able to identify and remove dependencies and blockers faster. Thus work more efficiently and in sync with each other.
#5 Kanban is Easy to Master and Implement
Ugh, where do I begin? Well, yes, it is easy to grasp the main concepts of Kanban. But please, please do not underestimate the complexity of Kanban. And the benefits that come with it. It is not just a simple system of moving sticky notes on a whiteboard. Or a shortcut to be more Agile without going through the pain of Scrum.
Yes, Kanban is easy to start with. Unlike Scrum, Kanban doesn’t require making major changes to the organization’s structure. You start with creating a visualization of where you are and what you do at the moment. But the Kanban method provides a means of observation and identification of problems. Then, implementing incremental and evolutionary alterations to the process. That way, you can take on only as much change as you are ready for at the moment. But Kanban also makes requires you to go from a Push to a Pull system which can be as difficult as some of the changes required by Agile or Scrum.
However, the nature of Kanban is such that it allows you to learn and grow with the process and make informed decisions based on real data. Kanban allows teams to make the more difficult changes later when they have had some success with and built their confidence in Kanban. This is much easier and more economical than a ‘Big Bang’ change approach. Which also means the switch to Kanban may often be more successful in the long run because the learning curve is gentler.
I hope that I managed to clear up some of the most common Kanban myths and misconception for you.
Truth is, no matter what level of experience you have with Kanban, there will always be something more to learn. Don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper or talk to someone who has experience with Kanban. But more importantly, don’t dismiss Kanban cos you read a few ‘bad things’. Kanban is an amazingly useful and helpful methodology. But you need to have your facts straight and implement it properly.
In fact, you don’t have to believe me. Just click the button below, give Kanban a shot and experience the beauty of Kanban first-hand!