May 19, 2010

Book Review: Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business

It is very rare to find a good technical book that is also a good management book and addresses both aspects in a balanced way. But what really makes one's chin drop is finding a book that goes beyond the methodological, the mechanical, and the administrative aspects to address the ever so important--but way too often ignored--human aspects required to make a project successful. David's is such a book.

Kanban is a relatively new lean-agile method that allows teams and the projects they work on to be built in a true continuous flow manner in which improvements over the product being built and over the process itself occur. I indicted it is relatively new because its origins started back in 2004 as David writes on chapter 4. David is the person behind the creation and evolution of Kanban as a mechanism for software development. Although Kanban started in manufacturing, it has evolved to become rather unique in many aspects so don't expect a 1:1 mapping. Meaning, you should read this book cover-to-cover to get full benefits.

Part One describes David's journey of revelation to develop the Kanban model and explains why Kanban is a very effective method. In many ways it is due to its ease of acceptance, adoption, and the highly collaborative and communicative nature that allows people to bring change and evolution to processes what makes it successful.

Part Two explains the basics of Kanban as a mechanism. From work-in-progress to lead time, figuring the right cadence to maximize productivity, and prioritization; all of them paramount factors to mature enterprises. Using the case of an IT division from Microsoft, David explains how Kanban made the best out of the worst department at a division of Microsoft's IT division. Kanban brought high visibvility to the issues that affected the department and through waste elimination, limitation of work-in-progress, adequate policies, and cadence the department became amazingly successful. The last chapter treats in detail the importance of generating a culture of continuous improvement within an organization.

Part Three is the core of the book and explains how to implement Kanban. It introduces Value Stream Maps from a kanban perspective and goes into full detail on how to create a kanban board, the anatomy of the cards, and how to treat aspects such as concurrency and unordered activities, which are hard to deal with under other methodologies. How to use the board as a control and pull system as well as an scalable mechanism for daily standups is treated on Chapter 7. True sustainable pace is explained on chapters 8 and 9. Chapter 10 provides some strategies to limit the work-in-progress. One key factor in the communication within and outside the team are the service level agreements and are explained on chapter 11. Kanban metrics are particularly useful and fun to use, as shown on chapter 12. A problem with most methodologies is that they do not scale well. Kanban is better suited for such situations and chapter 13 gives insights on how to do that. The last two chapters focus on operational and strategy issues to increase its effectiveness and adoption.

Par Four is the next-step. That is, once you have a functional kanban mechanism in place at your organization here's how to make it evolutionary to create significant impact at the organization. Consider eliminating or at least reducing bottlenecks, waste and variability; better usage of resources; identifying wasteful activities; understanding and treating variability; and the importance of properly treating blocked work.

I introduced Kanban to a financial institution recently and even use it as an administrative tool for ma work and personal activities. The results have been no less than awesome.

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