agendas of kanban


The 3 agendas of Kanban have been created to provide context about how to tackle change from a Kanban system perspective. Kanban has been known for incremental evolution as opposed to radical change when it comes to improving processes and systems. One of its main principles says, “start with what you do now” followed by another principle that says, “agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change.” 

While it may seem easy, some people think that Kanban doesn’t take change seriously or accept it at all. On the contrary, Kanban is the humane approach to change. The natural response to change is resistance. Just think about coming to work one day and hearing your boss say that your role is going to be different from thereon. What would you feel? How would you begin to process that sudden change? If you’re like most people, and I bet you are, you’d start questioning the change and resisting the thought of pushing through with it. 

Approaching change in this way will not only be met with resistance. Pushing your employees to agree to radical and sudden changes will only produce mediocre results. And with lackluster performance, you can’t expect to scale or progress through your business. But how do you execute evolutionary change? 

The nine Kanban values and three agendas were created to provide more context and a working guide for organizations to implement Kanban’s principles and practices. In this article, we’ll take a look at the three agendas of Kanban and how they align with the nine values.

The 3 Agendas of Kanban for Implementing Change

Kanban Zone Agendas Of Kanban

Sustainability Agenda

The sustainability agenda focuses on helping teams self-organize by using the power of visualization. Sustainability aligns with these three Kanban values:

  • Transparency
  • Balance
  • Collaboration

Transparency is achieved by using a Kanban board. When work is made visible, it’s easier for teams to self-organize. The heightened transparency also makes it obvious when and why teams can be stuck and what options there are for them to move forward. This approach appeals to human nature as we are highly visual beings. 

When work is made transparent, it’s easier for teams to plan how to balance the workload. Kanban as a pull system helps teams balance the workload with the team’s capacity. WIP limits are installed in Kanban systems precisely for the purpose of maintaining balance and achieving a well-managed flow.

Transparency and balance help teams collaborate. Collaboration pushes teams to learn together while continuously improving their Kanban system and overall performance. For any team who embarks on their Kanban journey, the first focus in the agendas of Kanban is paving the way for a sustainable pace. The problem with methodologies that push radical changes is that the efforts become unsustainable. This is because of resistance and passive-aggressive submission by team members. 

When you approach change through a sustainability lens, you focus on applying methods that make it easier for your team to accept the change little by little. But having your mindset on learning and continuously improving as you go. 

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Service-orientation Agenda

Next on the agendas of Kanban is service-orientation. Sustainability can only take you so far. Collaborating at scale can be challenging for some organizations, especially enterprise-level companies. Oftentimes the emphasis for teams pursuing the sustainability agenda is becoming a high-performing team. This can turn into internal competitions or siloing. But when the focus turns externally wherein the purpose is not solely for team growth but rather the satisfaction of customer needs, the dynamics of teams evolve. This is where the Kanban values of customer focus, flow, and leadership expand their roots. 

Knowledge work such as software development is a highly service-oriented business. The main purpose is to satisfy customer needs and wants through features developed in an application. We are highly reliant on customer feedback to validate whether what we’ve built matches their expectations. This provides direction to how we will progress in our product’s continued growth,

We take advantage of the traction built through the sustainability agenda when managing flow. When work is blocked, the team can immediately diagnose the problem and resolve it. The goal is to make the flow efficient and optimized so that there is no delay in the delivery of our services. 

Leadership is a key ingredient in any organizational change event. No change can effectively happen without solid support from organizational leaders. When scaling Kanban across teams and functional groups, it’s important leadership is displayed amongst everyone in a way that it encourages collaboration. Everyone in the organization is empowered to lead, no matter their role. 

How can they do so?

When there is clarity on what needs to be achieved (customer needs) and how to achieve it (well-managed flow), it becomes easier for teams to take charge. And when transparency and balance are maintained, collaboration becomes natural for teams. 

In a way, the service-orientation agenda amplifies the sustainability agenda and helps teams focus on why they are doing things in the first place.

Survivability Agenda

The last in the agendas of Kanban focuses on the disciplines and foundations of Kanban as a method of change and improvement. Survivability is built upon the Kanban values of understanding, agreement, and respect. 

Kanban is a management method. It is a way of making people understand the current process and why change is needed. Building upon the Kanban values of understanding, agreement, and respect emphasize that the approach to change is a cultural one. When organizations see change with the goal of understanding it, the focus is on the learning process. There is also the commitment to pursue evolutionary change which talks about agreement.

All change needs to be approached with respect. If you want change to be accepted, you must respect your current hierarchies and roles. When these underlying philosophies are ingrained in the organization, any change can be survivable and organizations can thrive. 

The survivability agenda provides a different lens to change. It sets the tone on how change should be implemented and scaled.

Kanban Agendas for Change Management

The three agendas of Kanban offer options at how company leaders can ease their teams into organizational changes. If introducing Kanban to your organization as a change management method, you can be explicit about what you are trying to achieve. Assess what your team’s current pain points are and what agenda is most suitable to use at that time. You may find that you need to only pursue one agenda or would draw from multiple ones at a time.

In any case, one thing is clear: deep adoption of Kanban enables organizations to achieve a sustainable pace to change and continuous improvement while satisfying customer needs and organizational goals. Kanban can also be the agent to establish the right working culture where change is met with acceptance instead of resistance. Organizations will not only survive but thrive.

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About the Author: Lena Boiser

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Lena Boiser is an Agile enthusiast. Starting off her career as a Software Business Analyst in 2010, she eventually performed other roles including Project Manager and IT Business Manager. When she was immersed in Agile methodologies in 2014, Lena found her way through honing her craft and eventually became a Certified Scrum Product Owner. In 2017, after 7 years of working in the corporate world, Lena started her own remote consulting practice. Today, she provides project management and Scrum Product Ownership services to various businesses including software development companies, e-Commerce business owners, and small to medium sized companies. She believes that even teams working remotely can harness the benefits of Agile in order to deliver results for their companies. In her free time she likes to write. One day she could be writing about Agile, the next she could be writing anything about fashion or travel.