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Them’s Fighting Word!

I should start this post with some qualifications. I’m an consultant for a company called Imaginet. We’re a full service IT consultancy. Imaginet is a LeanKanban University (LKU) Founding Member organization. I am Imaginet’s Accredited Kanban Training Program Advisory Board representative and I also sit on the LKU Management Board. I’m an Accredited Kanban Trainer (AKT) and a Kanban Coaching Professional (KCP) with LKU. That said, I’m going to try and be as unbiased in my responses as possible, but please bear with me if I rant a bit. 😀

This week seems to have been a particularly interesting week in the volume of rhetoric and misinformation that is being spread about The Kanban Method. I’m not even sure where to start, but I’m compelled to say SOMETHING!

What is Kanban

I saw a tweet from Alan Shalloway (@alshalloway) talking about a great blog post from Joseph Hurtado (@josephhurtado) discussing What is Kanban? In this article, Joseph describes the current state of confusion in the industry around the word kanban and tries to start a movement to provide some clarity.

I’m the first to agree that there is a lot of confusion around the word kanban. In all of my webinars and presentations, I take a moment to provide some clarity on this issue. I think it’s very important that we all do this.


Link to webinar

Joseph goes on to add some definitions, which is great.

This is where I start to take exception to his blog post because he then goes on to start actually misinforming his readers. He states:

The problem is that David Anderson, LKU and some other Kanban Consultants have decided that there can be only one valid Kanban method for business or even IT, theirs. In their view if you do not follow exactly The Kanban Method, dare to call Kanban Agile or add any Lean or Agile practices to it you are wrong.

This is so blatantly wrong that I hope it is unbelievable to his readers, but I feel compelled to respond because Imaginet and I belong in the group “LKU and some other Kanban Consultants”.

Our understanding of The Kanban Method (as per wikipedia) is:

The Kanban method as formulated by David J. Anderson[1] [2] is an approach to incremental, evolutionary process and systems change for organizations.

I’ve heard David (@djaa_dja) speak many times defending this definition of The Kanban Method because as far as I know, he is the originator of the name and the definition attributed to it. That seems reasonable to me. And in those conversations and in David’s classes, I have often heard him embrace specific improvement tactics from other industry-specific methodologies like Scrum or XP. Many of the LKU Kanban practitioners that I have personally spoken with embrace many of these same improvement tactics. David even goes ones step farther than many “Agile” evangelists and embraces improvement tactics from traditional project management methodologies like PMI when they make sense in a context.

What I think Joseph (and others) are doing is trying to define the meaning of the word kanban in a manner that suits them and at the same time belittle David, LKU and it’s members, for trying to protect the definition of “The Kanban Method” which we also sometimes just shorten to Kanban. Joseph and Alan also seems disturbed that we often shorten The Kanban Method to simply Kanban.

There was a time when I thought somewhat like Joseph but in a Scrum context. I often thought that people, who said “You are not doing Scrum” when a team was doing some of the tactics that the Scrum Guide but not all of them, where wrong and mean. Of course we were doing Scrum, just not all of it. I then had a conversation with Ken Schwaber and he put it very simply and it made sense and my thinking change. Ken used the game of Chess as an analogy and said to me  (paraphrased) “If you use the rules of chess, you can say you are playing chess. But if you change the rules, are you still playing chess? No. The same goes with Scrum. If you follow the rules provided in the Scrum Guide, you are doing Scrum. If you deviate from the rules, you aren’t doing Scrum.” It seems to me that this is the same issue that Joseph is having an issue with, except we’re going one step further and using an abstract word (in this case) like kanban.

Joseph then goes on to create a new ‘thing’ which is great. Open Kanban. Sounds good until he describes it. And it starts to re-describe things that The Kanban Method has described. It describes some things that LKU Kanban practitioners have described. Which is honestly really flattering. As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The problem though is that now there is a competition. The Kanban Method vs. Open Kanban. And we’re back to rhetoric and bickering because honestly, we are all here to make money and grow our businesses.

To wrap up this portion, here are a bunch of thoughts that I hope counter some of the misinformation in Joseph’s article.

  • The Kanban Method has a definition. I don’t think we should really argue about that.
  • The Kanban Method has a singular purpose. Catalyze (encourage?) incremental and evolutionary process changes for organizations.
    • David freely gives credit to all of the people who have influenced his journey and his continuing growth in this space.
    • David strives to stimulate continuous improvement of The Kanban Method, especially by reaching out to the community of practitioners.
  • Whatever your process is or the process that emerges to help your organization create value, that is NOT The Kanban Method, but simply what The Kanban Method helped you create.
    • You’re process will likely evolve towards being flavoured by Agile or Lean thinking. They are both #reallygoodthings
  • The Kanban Method is not Scrum. It does not compete with Scrum.
  • The virtual kanban system that may be used to help your organization evolve WILL compete with Scrum. The Kanban Method does suggest the use of virtual kanban systems to better manage work. This doesn’t have to be viewed as a bad thing unless you are a Scrum evangelist who isn’t interested in new ideas. Scrum and Kanban both have noble goals.
    • Scrum has a virtual kanban system at the heart of its work management system. It just uses larger batches than most kanban practitioners like and couples cadences unnecessarily.
  • The virtual kanban system that may be used to help improve your organization will probably use some sort of kanban (visual signals, signboards)
  • The Kanban Method does not advocate the exclusion of any kind of improvement tactic for the process or the organization. It just doesn’t necessarily provide specific guidance, which is fine. You are MORE than welcome to pull in unit testing, team formation, automated builds, continuous integration, iterations, tooling improvments, etc. if the specific tactic is anticipated to improve the system.
  • The Kanban Method, as a methodology, won’t give you advice on a specific improvement tactic. It does not understand the context and it would be deemed “tampering” (and perhaps arrogant) to suggest improvements without information.
  • The Kanban Method does provide guidance on several high-level improvements tactics that will help you create an environment for your organization to improve.
    • These high-level tactics usually lack specific implementation details. Let’s call them meta-tactics that will allow for the creation of context-specific tactics.
  • Don’t let myths and misconceptions cloud your assessment and the opportunity to learn about The Kanban Method, or any of these other methodologies. Please go out, learn and make your own decisions.

I’d love to talk to you about this. I’ll be at Agile 2013 in Nashville next week. If you’re going to be there and you’d like to discuss any of this, I’d love to catch up with you. Please message/mention me at @agileramblings on twitter and we’ll figure out a way to get together over a pint or two.