Knowledge Workers include academics, accountants, architects, doctors, engineers, lawyers, software engineers, scientists and anybody else whose job it is to think for a living. They are usually independent-minded people who do not appreciate project managers dishing out detailed orders. Kanban project management resolves this by letting them choose the next task themselves.
The word ‘Kanban’ comes from a Japanese word meaning ‘billboard’ or ‘signboard’. Before going into more detail how this works let’s first examine how Japanese beliefs of collaboration, communication, courage, focus on value, respect for people and a holistic approach to change fit into the picture.
The Four Spokes Leading to the Kanban Hub
- Visualise the Workflow –You cannot improve what you cannot see. The first step involves team members reducing a project to individual stages and posting these on a noticeboard.
- Create Batches – These stages are further reduced to individual tasks or batches that are achievable within a working day or shift. More is achievable when we do not have to pick up where we left off the previous day.
- Choose a Leader the Team Respects – Without leadership, a group of people produces chaotic results. To replace this with significant value they need a leader, and especially a leader they can willingly follow.
- Learn and Improve Constantly – Kaizen or continuous improvement underpins the Japanese business model, and respects that achievement is a step along the road, and not fulfilment.
The Kanban Method in Practice
Every Kanban project begins with an existing process the participants accept will benefit from continuous change. These adjustments should be incremental, not radical step-changes to avoid disrupting the stakeholders and the process. The focus is on where the greatest benefits are possible.
Anybody in the team is free to pull any batch from the queue and work on it in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation. That they do so, should not make any waves in a culture of respect for people and a holistic approach to working together. All it needs is the courage to step out of line and dream what is possible.
The Kanban Project Method – Conclusions and Thoughts
Every engine needs some sort of fuel to make it go. The Kanban project management method needs collaboration, communication, courage, focus on value, respect for people and a holistic approach to work. This runs counter to traditional western hierarchies and probably limits its usefulness in the West.