Your Kanban pilot passed with flying colors, and now you’re eager to scale across multiple teams in your organization. But scaling without the right foundation could put your Kanban initiative at risk.
Teams face three possible outcomes when practicing Kanban:
1. Continuous Improvement: These teams are constantly looking for ways to improve, implementing feedback loops and evolving experimentally.
2. Plateau in a “Good-Enough” State: These teams maintain their Kanban system but don’t push past the status quo of their initial improvements.
3. Abandonment: These teams lose momentum, stop improving, and ultimately abandon their Kanban systems.
Many teams adopting Kanban quickly experience the benefits of visualizing their workflows. The additional visibility this provides helps to surface immediate improvement opportunities, such as finishing high-priority work and addressing bottlenecks. A sustainable Kanban system, however, requires ongoing learning and engagement – by both teams and managers – to keep you on the path toward Kanban maturity.
7 Questions to Help Scale Kanban Sustainably
This checklist is designed to assess the level of Kanban knowledge across teams so you can scale sustainably. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, use the educational resources listed for each topic to address problem areas.
1. Does your workflow match your team's actual process?
Maybe you’re transitioning to Kanban from a prescribed process, such as Scrum. Maybe your team knows its process, but other teams in your organization don’t. Or maybe you’ve never mapped your process, and don’t know where to start.
Wherever you happen to be, take an honest and thorough look at how your team works. The more authentic your process is, the faster you’ll be able to improve.
Need some practical advice on how to map your process? Learn how to design your Kanban board to visualize workflow, measure effectiveness, and identify opportunities for improvement.
2. Do you have process policies in place?
When your team is faced with an obstacle, who needs to know? How will you seek resolution? While you’re waiting, do you start new work or not? Process policies help answer these and other questions so everyone understands the “rules of the road” for how work gets done. This helps reduce confusion and leads to greater process consistency.
If you don’t already have policies, or if you need to revise them, gather your team together and jumpstart your discussion with scenarios that illustrate the importance of process policies.
3. Are your standups and retrospectives effective?
Many organizational structures position management with the lion’s share of responsibility for identifying and communicating issues. Contrast that with Kanban, where with the aid of Kanban boards, team members are empowered to see the issues and bottlenecks for themselves.
This regularly allows rich conversations to take place between management and team members about how the work flows: What’s moving? What’s not moving, and why? What needs to happen so work will start moving again?
When implemented effectively, standups and retrospectives are powerful tools for teams that seek transparency and open collaboration. Without targeted discussion, however, standups can morph into what’s-on-my-schedule recitations, and retrospectives can turn into personnel critiques.
Whether or not you’re new to standups and retrospectives, these questions can help keep your meetings on track.
4. Have you implemented WIP (Work In Process) limits?
The practice of limiting your WIP is what makes the Kanban board a pull system, rather than a visual to-do list. Using WIP limits, you can improve the flow of work through the process steps you've defined on your board.
Limiting WIP also helps focus the team’s attention on shared goals and encourage collaboration. Having less work in process creates shorter feedback loops within the process and offers more flexibility to learn how work is flowing through the system, allowing you to adjust on the fly.
Learn more about the importance of limiting WIP to improve flow.
5. Have you adopted a culture of continuous improvement?
Managing work with a Kanban system reveals how work is flowing through process. It also provides the tools to evaluate flow and the levers to pull to improve it.
Once you begin to analyze your workflow and measure elements like total WIP, blockers, throughput, or lead time, you’ll begin to see ways you can evolve and streamline.
6. Is there a need for a more structured introduction to Kanban?
Teams with a basic understanding of Kanban may test well on the first five questions on this checklist and won’t need additional education. Other teams may opt for a more structured, back-to-basics approach.
Created to teach the basics of Kanban – and get started quickly – the Kanban roadmap features team activities for each of the five steps of Kanban. Learn helpful tips, key points for team leaders, and real-world examples that support the practical implementation of Kanban.
7. Do you have a plan for continuing education?
Different stages of your Kanban initiative will call for varying educational opportunities. As you add new team members or re-form teams, you’ll likely need to revisit your arsenal of initial Kanban education. Regular departmental trainings around webinars or book clubs can help broaden the team’s knowledge, but certified Kanban coaches and trainers may be necessary to resolve recurring issues.
Achieving a Sustainable Kanban System
When you decide to scale Kanban across multiple teams, it takes constant engagement, reflection, and a commitment to continuous improvement. If you answered “Yes” to most or all of this checklist, you’re on your way to scaling wisely. While there’s no silver bullet for success, combining the right Kanban tool with targeted education can help you achieve a sustainable Kanban system.