Why You and Your Clients Will Benefit from the Kanban Approach

  • Dr. York Roessler
  • October 04, 2022

The one thing all clients want from you is results. Whether their desired result is a more engaged workforce, a better-performing management team, or increased profits, having a robust work management method can help you achieve it. 

Work management methods ensure a workplace runs as efficiently as possible. They also allow teams to update and gather information on ongoing work quickly and easily, reducing the risk of miscommunication. 

As independent management consultants, it’s our job to know different work management methods inside and out, to not only help clients successfully implement them but to be more effective at managing our workloads.

If you’re working with a client that uses Kanban, they’ll expect you to jump in at the deep end and support their team while working within the Kanban method. So, it’s worthwhile knowing more about the Kanban approach and the benefits of implementing it in your and your client’s businesses. 

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a method for managing knowledge work developed by David J. Anderson at Microsoft in 2004. It is built on concepts used by Toyota and applied to knowledge work rather than purely in automotive industrial plants.

With Kanban, work is represented on boards, allowing you to optimize work delivery across multiple teams and visualize even complex tasks on one platform. Aside from Scrum, it’s the most important agile approach.

However, unlike Scrum, it’s not only used in the IT industry. Kanban can be used in marketing, sales, HR, legal services, accounting, procurement, auditing, and more, and it’s a great way of giving individuals a cross-organization look at work. 

My Kanban Experience

I’m a consultant that helps companies implement Kanban, and have personally experienced its benefits many times with my clients. 

I worked with a bank on a project and was asked to coach their employees on how to use Kanban. I was hired by the bank’s CEO—a genuine visionary who offered employees the opportunity to speak to me and discover more about the Kanban method. 

If an employee thought Kanban could benefit their workflow, I’d offer them training. At first, some were (understandably) a little reluctant to find out more about the Kanban approach. It can be challenging to change your working style, especially when the approach is unfamiliar. 

Changes in workflow and mindset at an organizational level—such as proposed by Kanban—aren’t always straightforward, but selling new ways of working to employees is part of our job. 

Eventually, excitement about the Kanban approach spread across the bank, and employees saw their co-workers implementing it with excellent results. The more people began to see the benefits of Kanban, the more invitations to meetings I received. 

Most of the bank’s departments adopted the Kanban method successfully, and while some employees dropped it when key drivers left the company, the majority still use it. 

This particular project was eye-opening for a couple of reasons:

  • The bank took a top-down approach. In most cases, I was first put in touch with a team leader or manager with 10-100 people working under their supervision. 

While the CEO offered all employees access to my training, they were never obliged to attend. This made using Kanban a choice, so employees felt happy to incorporate Kanban into their workflow instead of feeling forced. 

  • The bank implemented the agile approach across all departments, not just IT. The sales, marketing, and HR teams, for example, used this approach to visualize the workflow and status of ongoing projects. 

This project taught me not only the benefits of Kanban but also the best way to implement it: with authentic buy-in from all employees across the organization.

How to Use Kanban 

Having established the importance of the Kanban approach, let’s dive into how it works. 

1) Visualize your Workflow

Using a physical or virtual board, map out your current process to deliver work with a few columns and tickets. The Kanban board will represent the state of your workflow.

Each column should represent a step in your workflow. However, we do not use a simplified to-do, in-progress, and complete approach but model the actual workflow. Each ticket represents a work item, which can be as broad or as detailed as you want, depending on the complexity of your work.

Once an item has started, move the ticket to the column that corresponds with its status. You’ll be able to see the progress you’re making on the Kanban board and get a better view of the barriers your progress is facing. If a team finds a ticket stalling unexpectedly, this will trigger a discussion on how to resolve the issue. 

2) Apply work-in-process (WIP) limits

One of the aims of the Kanban method is to ensure that only a manageable number of actions are in progress at any given time. To make this feasible, limit the number of Kanban tickets on the board at one time.

Applying WIP-Limits will result in the creation of a ‘pull system’, that offers many benefits such as more predictability, shorter lead times, more throughput, and better motivation of the workforce. A pull system involves pulling cards into the next step when there’s available capacity. Doing this ensures you’re not promoting inefficiency through multi-tasking.

3) Manage and measure flow

Kanban aims to create a smooth, predictable workflow that enables you to create value in a much faster timeframe. With this in mind, ensure you’re moving through tasks at a sustainable pace.

Another aspect of managing flow is effective blocker management. It’s usually within the nature of people to start a new task instead of solving an issue on an ongoing job. With Kanban, we want to establish a “Stop starting, start finishing”-mindset.

4) Get better results through effective meetings

Kanban aims to constantly improve the work approach in a structured, evidence-based, and hypothesis-driven way. To supplement this, we usually hold three generic types of meetings – replenishment meetings, Kanban Meetings, and Kaizens or Continuous Improvement meetings.

In the replenishment meetings, we prioritize work and decide which work will enter the system. It’s about selecting the best fitting work under the current circumstances.

In the Kanban Meetings – you can also call them Standups or Dailys – we coordinate the work that is already within the system. The Kanban Board helps us have productive and meaningful conversations and make good decisions and manage the flow.

5) Kaizen / Continuous improvement

Kanban aims to constantly improve the work approach in a structured, evidence-based, and hypothesis-driven way. To give the Kaizens a home, you may hold retrospective meetings, in which you identify, analyze and plan the implementation of improvements.

Why Kanban is Beneficial for Independent Consultants

Here are some reasons why learning the Kanban approach is worthwhile for independent consultants.

Improved Productivity

76% of Kanban users reported that the approach was ‘more’ or ‘much more’ effective than other frameworks they’d used. Working with a company to implement a Kanban approach also has effective results when it comes to productivity, so this is worth having in your repertoire. 

Better Positioned to Advise Clients

Many companies are currently in the process of implementing—or considering implementing—agile practices. If you’re familiar with agile approaches, you are better positioned to advise your clients on whether that particular practice makes sense in their usage case. 

Quicker Adjustment Time

If you work with a client that already uses an agile approach, they will likely expect you to work within an agile framework, so having an idea of the key concepts means you can slot right into their working style. 

Improved Organization 

Kanban is not only for your clients. If you’re looking for a simple way to organize your workflow visually and get more done, you will benefit from using Kanban for your own consulting practices. 

The Bottom Line

Kanban offers you a way to visualize workflow and manage it with ease. The method is growing in popularity, so familiarizing yourself with Kanban makes business sense.

Whether you’re helping your clients with agile and cultural change or working with a company that already works within a Kanban framework, understanding this agile approach can revolutionize your consulting work. 

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