Respect and Kanban

The value of Respect in Kanban starts as soon as you decide to implement Kanban under the Principle “Start with what you do now”. This first principle is all about respecting and understanding what you have today, and how you ended up there. Too often change programs ignore a critical element – understanding and respect what got the organisation to where it is now. The change agents drive forward without giving respect to history.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana – The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress

Part of “Start with what you do now” is to “Respect existing roles & responsibilities and job titles“. By respecting the people in the organisation their abilities, qualities, and achievements, you begin to bring them on the change journey from day one. Nothing can disengage employees faster than someone new arriving who disrespects them.

Respecting where we’ve come from helps point your change program in the right direction it also lays the foundation for so much more.

Respecting people helps deliver trust in you and your program. Let’s not forget that trust is an expectation or belief that one can rely on another person’s actions and words and/or that the person has intentions towards oneself. Gaining the trust and respect of people is important at the start of a transformation program.

Respect by all is needed throughout the entire Kanban process.

Team members will need to respect early versions of WIP Limits, Policies and the Definition of Done. All of these will probably be “wrong” when you first start out on your Kanban journey. As a team, you will need to reflect and improve these aspects of your Kanban board.

The team will need to respect each other as they go through the reflection processes. Often it is a good idea to start your first reflection meeting by creating a blameless safe environment. Opening remarks such as Norman Kerth’s Retrospective Prime Directive:

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

I note using this directive every single retrospective has some serious flaws. For a new team starting their journey, providing them with the idea that retrospectives should be a safe place to discuss – how the performed in a respectful, open and honest manner is a good idea. This is especially true if you are working with non technical teams who have never experienced the many agile ceremonies.

Kanban principle – agreement

Another “out of left field” value of Kanban is the one on agreement. But agreement is there in the four foundational principles – “Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change”.

By undertaking the implementation of Kanban, you agree to the pursuit of non-disruptive change. You cannot force Kanban on a team or an organisation – they must want and engage in the change. This change starts with the actual implementation of Kanban and continues through the constant feedback loops built into the system.

Let’s take a look at both sides.

As has been highlighted before the implementation of Kanban is itself a transformation project that is fundamentally a continuous improvement method. By starting the process you agree to the following principles:

  • Start with what you are doing now
  • Initially, respect current roles, responsibilities and job-titles
  • Encourage acts of leadership at all levels

We’ve looked at these before so I won’t dwell on them. Just remember you cannot force Kanban on a team or an organisation,

Once you’ve implemented Kanban, you then move onto the agreement to improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally. Feedback loops are one of the enablers of improvement. The Kanban Method outlines seven different feedback loops at different cadences:

  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Bi-Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Quarterly
  • Per Delivery

Each one is a “meeting”, but most implementations would never have seven meetings; instead, these reviews are often part of existing meetings, or a single meeting covering multiple topics.

At the baseline, you should be doing your Daily Stand Up and Weekly Replenishment meeting. We’ve discussed the stand up but not the replenishment meeting. The replenishment meeting is where you move items “over” the commitment point into your system. You have now committed to deliver that work item.

The rest of the feedback loops focus you on:

  • strategy alignment
  • operation coordination
  • risk management
  • service improvement
  • flow
  • customer delivery

Regardless of how you execute on the above, the key to remember is you are evolving with experiments to drive evolutionary change with no planned endpoint. A Kanban system is never “done”.

The value of true understanding

Our 7th value of Kanban is understanding – which, as described by Mike Burrows is less obvious on the surface. As you peel back the layers while implementing Kanban, you will start to see that understanding is a core part at every step of the way.

The concept of understanding Kanban starts with the implementation process –  “Start with what you do now”. This process of looking at your current process, respecting the existing roles, responsibilities and job titles helps you uncover not only the wisdom but also the apparent deficiencies of how you got to where you are today. Without this understanding, it is very easy to repeat past mistakes.

The implementation of Kanban is itself a process of change management. Helping the team members understanding why they are doing something makes them feel informed, engaged and listened to through the process. Like all change management activities, the process needs to be managed with respect, appreciation and above all, empathy to the people involved.

Through the implementation you and your team will go through a series of knowledge discovery steps to broaden everyone’s understanding of the needs of the customer, the way value is delivered, where work comes from, what types of work does the team experiences, and finally the blockers and constraints on the overall system. This is just an example of some of the areas a shared understand happens, there are many more.

It is this shared understanding that at its core is a key enabler of change – all the while, remembering that what you start with isn’t where you end up. Kanban is about evolutionary change as you understand more.

A widespread, method of implementing Kanban is a Systems Thinking Approach to Introducing Kanban (STATIK) which helps team uncover much of what they need to understand to run a successful Kanban process:

  1. Identify Services
  2. Understand what makes a service fit for purpose for the customer
  3. Understand sources of dissatisfaction with the current system
  4. Analyse demand
  5. Analyse capacity
  6. Model workflow
  7. Discover classes of services
  8. Design the kanban system
  9. Socialise the system, board design, negotiate implementation

Almost every aspect of Kanban is designed to help to team gain a deep understanding of their processes and customer value.

The columns and swimlanes mapping out the process of delivering value to the customer. The metrics of Kanban force you to understand and focus on the customers’ need and expectations.

WIP Limits bring with them a pull vs push system that creates a healthy tension within the team. These limits are designed and evolve through careful observation and optimisation of work in progress. Team capacity is highlighted and managed in a way that ensured we do not overwork the team, there is no partially completed work and a the same time the team is increasing the rate of delivery while still improving quality.

The cards that makes up work items in the overall system provide an understanding of work. What types of work goes through the system, how long does it take for an item to move between stages? These elements ensure that everyone has a detailed understanding of the work.

The value of this deep understanding by the team can’t be overlooked. When employees have a shared understanding of what they are doing and why they become more engaged. Engaged employees have:

  • Lower turnover
  • Higher work quality
  • Higher health
  • Fewer safety incidents
  • Improved productivity
  • Collaborate more

Who wouldn’t want a more engaged workforce that genuinely understands the work they are doing and the value it brings to the customer?

Leadership in Kanban

A true leader is one who designs the cathedral and the shares the vision that inspires others to build it.

Jan Carlzon – Moments of Truth

Leadership is a Foundation Principle of the Kanban Method in that it should – “Encourage acts of leadership at all levels in your organization – from individual contributor to senior management”.

Real leadership isn’t about a title or authority it’s about inspiring others to bring out the best in themselves. Leadership is about communication, learning, influence, empathy, courage and respect (more on respect later).

Kanban allows nature leaders to emerge at the right time. Kanban allows leadership to be shared amongst members of the team, depending on the obstacle being addressed.

How does this work?

Because the work of the team is visible, it allows anyone in the team with an idea, observation or thought to bring it to the table. The Kanban Method encourages Kaizen (改善) or continuous improvement at many levels. That means ideas can be shared through many regular feedback loops – starting daily with the stand-up. (Actually, they can be shared at any point as we will see below with the solving of blockers.)

I’ve spoken a lot about WIP Limits, but they also encourage leadership. Take a scenario where the testing work is blocking newly developed features from moving from Development to Test. The team has to work together to overcome the obstacle – the easy answer might be the Developers help out the Testers or it could be more complicated.

Through their day to day interactions the team learns how each other works, and with their respect (that’s an upcoming next topic) of each other, they can use this knowledge to build a better outcome. This process allows natural leaders with the right skills at the right time to emerge. Kanban enables the process to happen organically without the need for fancy titles.

All this doesn’t make the role of leadership any easier it just allows leaders from all levels of the organisation to participate.

Kanban accelerates change in work practices, culture and overall team performance – without a manager having to dictate what happens.

Where do managers fit within the Kanban Method?

There is no “right” answer in my eyes. The method calls for two roles to be played by people in the team Service Request Manager and a Service Delivery Manager. The first is responsible for understanding the needs of the customer and selecting work items. The second is responsible for the flow through the system. The manager could take one of these roles or take no part in the day to day running of the process.

As I’ve said before I’ve ended up doing more craft to help build and maintain a teams’ board than actual “management”.

Whatever the team manager is doing, they really should be a servant leader focusing on the needs of the team before their your own.

It’s all about the flow

This is our 5th post in our look at the Kanban Method Values, and today we are talking about Flow.

Not just the type of flow that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about in his TED Talk on Happiness also like the flow a physics and engineering Professor would rap about fluid dynamics and finally the flow of value.

Managing the flow through your Kanban system is one of the most critical aspects of the overall system.

Without flow, you have nothing!

Without flow, your customers receive no value.

Without flow, at best you are standing still, at worse going backwards.

If you don’t manage the flow of work into a system overburdened it, like traffic clogging a freeway, and nothing gets done. Flow management allows your Kanban system to be smooth and predictable. This smooth and predictable flow is what helps you deliver the value and quality to your customers while managing their expectations and service level agreements. Flow and customer focus are closely related as they help deliver the value.

So how do you manage flow?

Using many of the items we have discussed before – WIP Limits, Policies, Pull vs Push, Cost of Delay and Visual Boards. You need to start to look at your work as a flow of value, not discrete work items.

WIP Limits help ensure the team are not overwhelmed with work and can focus on one task at a time. Something we haven’t explored yet is a WIP Limit forces the team to ensure we don’t have partially completed work in the system. Partially completed work is wasteful, in that you’ve done work but not delivered value and that effort could have been spent on work that is completed and delivered to the customer.

Policies, like WIP Limits, help smooth the work coming into the system and leaving the system. A policy around when work is ready to enter a stage ensures only work that can be completed, Done, gets pulled into the stage.

Another critical item to managing flow is understanding the different types of work that comes into the system. Most of the time, you will be working with the business as usual regular items. But we all know urgent, last-minute items always appear – why on a Friday I don’t know. You need to build a process to handle work items with fixed delivery dates, urgent dates and the like. Having the system set up ahead of time for this means the team can adapt as required.

The concept of Pull vs Push helps manage flow. Only pulling work into the “Doing” column when the team has capacity ensures we don’t end up with partially completed work. Pulling work allows the team to manage their capacity without a manager telling, pushing, what to do next. Allowing individuals work independently in a self directed manner.

Finally, the visual aspect of the Kanban board allows the entire team, and others, to see the flow of the teams work. The team get to move their work from start to finish. Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik who found incomplete tasks were easier to remember than compete ones, so make a ceremony out of moving items to Done so they are remembered! This physical process of moving work items provides a level of satisfaction not found in digital tools.

Smooth and predictable flow adds something else to the team. It removes stress, and it allows the employees to focus on their work without interruption due to last-minute urgent work. And if there are last-minute urgent work items as we’ve cover the system is built to handle these to flow through in an expedited manner.

The flow that allows focus creates the environment Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about meaning your employees find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities they are doing. Once again, this drives their happiness and their overall engagement.

How do you manage the daily flow of your work?

How to make successful customers?

At the most simple level, your customers are successful when they achieve value from using your product or service – ideally, you are solving the problem that encouraged them to buy your product.

Or to put it another way:

Success is when customers achieve their Desired Outcomes through their interactions with your company.

Lincoln Murphy

The key for most organisations is to ensure that their customers are achieving this desired outcome as fast as possible after the “purchase” – time to first value. In a world of SaaS if this process takes too long, you are not setting them up for long term success with your organisation, and they are likely to churn – in a month to month SaaS business that could be in less than 30 days from purchase.

At HROnboard we focused on how fast did a customer send out their first offer using the platform – and to drive that metric down to as low as possible. For the Customer Success team, that was the one metric that mattered to us.

At Timely the focus is similar – how quickly does the salon begin taking bookings on our platform. But unlike HROnboard, which is Enterprise SaaS Timely is month to month credit card – we live and die on how “good” we are each and every month. It totally focuses you on your customer.

In both instances, different customer segments achieved their Time to first Value through slightly different journeys. The overall focus is always the same to quickly demonstrate value to your customer after the purchase decision.

The trick to demonstrate value is to ensure the journey the customer has with your organisation is appropriate.

Running a B2B company focused on small business whom self serve with a low average sales price? This experience is most likely mostly low touch – digital. Selling into larger businesses with medium average sales prices, then the experience will be a mixture of low and high touch. You guessed it at the enterprise end the appropriate experience will be mostly high touch.

While this experience needs to start with your sales and marketing messages, I want to focus on post-sale – where your Customer Success team steps in.

The number one priority of a Customer Success team immediately post sale is the onboarding of that customer. This process is the key to increasing the life-time value and ultimately reducing churn. A poor onboarding experience will almost always result in churn – and churn is bad.

The number one goal of onboarding is to have the customer achieve their Success Criteria as fast as possible. The best way to find out what their Success Criteria? Ask.

In a low touch scale model, this is not always possible directly, but there’s no reason your product can’t surface up a number of the key problems your product solves and then ensure your onboarding journey guides the user to that goal. I am always surprised how many products don’t do this simple step.

In a higher touch model, the onboarding journey is a lot easier. You can ask the customer or the sales executive.

This critical step of asking should form part of your onboarding process that is followed for every customer.

You have processes, don’t you?

The onboarding process should cover each step of the journey, the expected outcomes and time frame. I say expected as once you are in the high touch arena, you will find every customer is different, and their journey will need to be adjusted to suit. But this doesn’t change the ultimate goal – to have the customer achieve their Success Criteria as fast as possible.

The final stage of onboarding is once your customer has achieved their success criteria and are receiving value, you need to set them up for upsell. There is no better time to bring up the option of an upsell than when the customer has just seen the ROI your product delivers.

From here, it is rinse and repeat onboarding customers and setting them up for success. You will know if you are successful at this by watching your metrics – a topic for another day.

It’s all about your customers, stupid!

Shareholder value is

the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products….

Jack Welch 2009

There is a lot more to that quote, so read the article. The key message I want to call out is that customers and the value you bring to them drive shareholder value.

That’s all the Corporate Finance 101 I’ve got in me so let’s move on.

It’s not rocket science that by focusing on your customers first and foremost and delivering value in a consistent, high-quality manner is good business.

If you’ve been playing along at home, you will know today we are going to look at the Kanban Value of Customer Focus.

The Kanban Method has several foundational principles used for when implementing Kanban, outlined in two portions:

  1. Change Management
  2. Service Delivery

Today I want to focus on the Service Delivery side.

During service delivery is where you must understand and focus on your customers’ needs and expectations.

A good Kanban board maps out from the point a team commits to doing work to the point work is completed and delivered to the customer – the value part. But there are a few more steps in the process.

In our discussions on Collaboration and Balance, we looked at how WIP Limits focused the team on solving issues holding up work on the board. To get the best outcomes it is while resolving these blockers, by using tools like the 5 steps for eliminating constraints, that the team needs to be focused on the customer.

The real magic is that resolving blockers, constraints and adhering to WIP Limits the team actually increases the rate of delivery to customers and improves the quality at the same time.

I haven’t discussed the concept of policies within Kanban yet, another part of the Kanban magic.

Policies are the “rules” that govern how the board works – such as defining when a work item can enter or leave a process stage, and the Definition of Done. These policies need to be explicit and visible for all to see. The team can then work to evolve and tune the policies as they find ways to improve customer and business outcomes. The best policies are built by and agreed to by the team. Policies are never set in stone, as the team learns by experimenting the policies evolve.

Kanban offers several great metrics to help you keep an eye on the value delivered to your customers. These metrics allow you to also forecast accurately as to when services will be provided to your customer. Sample metrics are:

  1. Lead Time
  2. Customer Lead Time
  3. Delivery Rate
  4. Little’s Law
  5. Cost of Delay
  6. Time in Process

These metrics are best looked at with actual historical data and mostly just require you to track three dates – Date the Work was Committed, Date the Work was Accepted and the Date the Work was Delivered. If you’ve got some cost data, you are ready to roll. I’ll explore a three here “Cost of Delay”, “Customer Lead Time”, and “Time in Process”.

Cost of Delay – A pretty simple metric the difference between the benefit delivered by a work item without delay vs the benefit if the work was delayed. This, along with lead times, helps you determine what work to be pulled into the kanban system.

Customer Lead Time – This is the time a customer waits for a work item to make its way through the system.

Time in Process – The total time that a work item remains in a stage within the kanban system. This can be used to identify inefficiencies in a system.

By using these three metrics you can drive efficiencies. Predict with a high level of accuracy how long it will take for a certain type of work to move through the system. At the same time be able to make crucial business decisions about which items should take precedence when moving through the system.

For example, if you get an “urgent” request from a customer demanding delivery on X date using the data from the metrics you can with a high degree of certainty say Yes or No to meeting their expectations, before you commit to the work.

The end result allows you to consistently deliver on customer expectations with a far higher certainty than with many other operational management systems.

Finally to really see if your Kanban system is focused on the customer here are a couple of “litmus” tests for you to try.

Has customer interface changed?

This means that the processes you are using to defer commitment and determine what work is sequenced are focused on maximising the flow of value to the customer. Focusing on metrics such as cost of delay and customer lead time can help you maximising this flow.

Has the customer contract changed?

Are you measuring the outcomes of your Kanban process in terms of your customers’ expectation? Whether it is with formal SLAs or just customer expectations you should be looking to your metrics for the results. Are you using probabilistic forecasting to ensure that you as maximising the value you can deliver?

All of this sounds easy, but its not and often takes months of iteration and experimentation by the team to really start to see profound improvements in the value delivered to the customer.

Collaboration the key to high performing teams

If you ask a business leader what they want from their teams, often you will hear one word – collaboration.

Collaboration in the workplace has many benefits which have been written about all over the Internet so we won’t delve into them here. Instead, we shall move forward with an assumption – collaboration is good for business.

So then how do you create a collaborative environment in our interconnected workplaces?

Harvard Business Review back in 2007 gave us “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams” saying:

  1. Investing in signature relationship practices
  2. Modelling collaborative behaviour
  3. Creating a “gift culture.”
  4. Ensuring the requisite sills
  5. Supporting a sense of community
  6. Assigning leaders who are both task and relationship oriented
  7. Building on heritage relationships
  8. Understanding role clarity and task ambiguity

I’m sorry to Lynda Gratton Professor of Management Practice at the London Business School who wrote the article, but all this is a little to “high brow” for most of us to implement on a day to day basis.

I’d want to take a more straightforward view to improve team collaboration – Kanban. A key value of Kanban.

There are many aspects of a successfully implemented Kanban process that help teams collaborate and continuously improve on what they are doing.

First up is the fact that work is Transparency means the team can see whatever one is working on. The work is explored daily in the daily stand up when the team walk through the Kanban board.

However, the critical aspect of driving collaboration when you are using Kanban is the focus on improving collaboratively and evolving through experiments – a core practice of Kanban.

A fantastic example is the WIP Limits that limit how much work in progress at any point in time. The WIP Limits on a specific column act as a forcing function to promote team members to work together to unblock the process. Work can only flow into a column if the WIP Limit is not breached. Too often the WIP Limit is reached because there are blockers further down the process – may be in Testing or QA. The entire team needs to work together to resolve the issues, not just the Testers or QA Team.

Kanban is the opposite of standard transformation projects as you “start with what you do now” and build from here, with the concept that there is no endpoint. There is constant evolution and collaboration. Your processes, policies, boards, cards all continue to evolve as you learn and experience different types of work. Through this process, the team needs to be amplifying useful changes and simultaneously dampening ineffective changes.

The team collaborates daily, not just when there are set “Innovation Activities” in the business. Also a “fully operating” Kanban process has a cadence for improvement with several review processes to ensure that the process is fulfilling the ultimate goal of improving the flow of value to customers.

Ideally, when working through obstacles, blockers and challenges, the team works autonomously in a self-directed way only guided by a team leader. When I have been helping teams with Kanban boards, my job as “manager” ends up being full-time craft extraordinaire – so glad for all that time I spent in Kindergarten cutting out!

By enhancing employee autonomy organisations are creating meaningful work for their employees which leads to improved employee engagement. Kanban allows intrinsic motivators to roam free within the team. So not only does your customer get a high-quality product with increased value the organisation receives a more engaged workforce.

Do you have any tips on how to improve collaboration in your organisation?

The balance beam for business

If you are a parent, you will know the value of letting your kids play on a balance beam – it builds balance, stability, body awareness and coordination. These are some of the most crucial gross motor skills a child can learn.

In business similar “gross motor skills” are critical to an organisation’s success – stability, organisational awareness and collaboration.

Stability, or predictability, of revenue, of employees tenure, of quality of outcomes, and in the end value delivered to customers. These elements go a long way to creating quality business.

Organisational awareness of cultural strengths and deficiencies are essential for day to day management but also when driving change through an organisation. Today business live and die by their culture, and being aware of their culture is critical.

Collaboration between employees, teams and divisions in organisations is critical so that they are all working towards the same business outcome. In fact, as many organisations have moved more and more to being knowledge-based collaboration (and the lack of it) happens even when we don’t notice it.

So how can we deliver these key “skills” to an organisation?

Given I’m exploring the value of Kanban in organisations today’s answer is Kanban. There are many other ways of delivering these organisational skills but let’s explore Kanban.

When a Kanban system is humming along it will be performing like a well-tuned F1 car, you won’t even notice how the system is delivering balance to the team.

There are many ways that Kanban creates balance:

  • Work In Progress Limits
  • Pull vs Push
  • Capacity Management
  • Explicit Policies
  • Feedback Loops
  • Known Customer Lead Time

The essential item in the list above is Work In Progress limits (WIP limits).

WIP limits define how much work, aka cards, can be in a specific column/stage of a Kanban board. When the stage meets a WIP limit no more work can be pulled into the column. The team then works how to get work out of the stage to allow for new work to flow into the stage.

Often work can’t “move out” to the next stage on the board due to a “blocker” in the next stage. Figuring out how to solve this “blocker” is key to the evolutionary, self-directed, continuous improvement a team implements to improve their processes, the quality of outcomes and lead time of value delivered to the customer.

How does this work? Well, WIP limits use a little theory called the Theory of Constraints that we borrow from Lean Manufacturing – well the whole idea of kanban is borrowed from Lean Manufacturing.

“Theory of Constraints is a methodology for identifying the most important limiting factor (i.e. constraint) that stands in the way of achieving a goal and then systematically improving that constraint until it is no longer the limiting factor.”

Lean Production

Implementing WIP limits can seem counter-intuitive at first. Often when talking to teams who are newly implementing Kanban they say “Won’t that just slow down delivery to the customer?” The answer is “No” as its that tension brought to bear by The Theory of Constraints that actually results in faster delivery to the customer at a higher quality.

There is a five step process for eliminating constraints within a system:

  1. Identify the constraint
  2. Exploit the constraint
  3. Subordinate everything else to the exploitation of the constraint
  4. Elevate the constraint
  5. Repeat

This process isn’t easy and will create tension in a team. But this improvement process makes the team work together to solve the problem. The solving of the problem requires critical thinking as we don’t want to solve problem A only to create a larger problem B.

Yes sometimes one can only solve a constraint through more investment, but 9 times out of 10 there’s always improvements to be made before you get to the “more investment” stage.

The other key part of Kanban that creates balance is the built-in capacity management through WIP Limits and Pull vs Push. WIP Limits and the fact work is “pulled” into the system mean that the system manages the capacity of the team, creating a more sustainable service orientated and future proof environment.

Kanban, when implemented “correctly” and “completely” helps an organisation grow their capacity predictable outcomes, with a positive culture all the while driving up collaboration.

There is lots more detail I could go into around how Kanban creates balance – a lot has to do with concepts like Little’s law, Weighted Shortest Job First and Probabilistic forecasting but for now, I’ll let you go about your day.

The value of transparency in business

Transparency is a relatively new concept in the world of business.

How do I know?

First, I took a look in The Penguin Book of Business Wisdom for a mention of Transparency and nope. So in 1998 when the book was published to cover the “Must-have collection of Business Quotations, Thoughts and Anecdotes for every Business Situation”, Transparency didn’t make the cut.

Second I had a look in another seminal work influencing business today “The Clue Train Manifesto” which has its central thesis that “markets are conversations” and one of the drivers is the need for authenticity. (If you’ve not read it do so and you’ll understand how Facebook has ended up where it is.) But none of the 92 theses in the book specifically mention Transparency.

Third, the Agile Manifesto, the 12 Principles behind the Agile Manifesto also have no specific mention of Transparency. Given everyone and their dog is doing agile now again a surprise.

Finally In Search of Excellence talks about information sharing and trust but not Transparency.

Don Tapscott talks about Transparency in is 2013 book Radical Openness as one of the four principles of success – the others being collaboration, sharing and empowerment.

As I said I will admit there is mention of trust, which is the result of Transparency, in these works, sometimes in the form of distrust but no real mention of the value of Transparency in business.

(I’ve not done a full literary review on all management texts ever written so I could be wrong here. For the benefit of this post play along that Transparency is pretty new.)

So what is the value of Transparency in business?

  • Transparency builds trust and honesty within the workplace.
  • Transparency also allows for what is hidden to become visible.
  • Transparency helps drive decentralised decision-making.
  • Transparency improves collaboration.
  • Transparency improves the quality of an organisation’s outcomes.
  • Transparency improves employee engagement.
  • Transparency, in the end, improves the value delivered to customers – the whole reason for an organisation to exist in the first place.

Transparency is good. Transparency is hard. Transparency is brave.

Transparency is all about trust. And trust is a two-way street, and someone always has to “start” trusting before both parties trust each other. Trust, and the betrayal of that trust has been the source of many a scholarly article. Trust in business is also hard but it is empowering for all.

Organisations who believe in Transparency also don’t just believe in it on the good days, they believe in it on the bad ones. Nothing destroys trust than closing ranks when the news is terrible.

So how can you start to build Transparency within your business?

There are lots of ways to go about it, but today I want to touch on one – The Kanban Method. Transparency is one of the core values of Kanban.

Kanban starts building Transparency by making work visible to all. The Kanban board shows your workflows and processes. The Kanban cards display your work items and what components make up your work. When displayed (which they should be) your explicit policies articulate processes beyond the board driving more Transparency on how the team works. The process of feedback loops, which promote evolutionary change by the team, drives Transparency. When blockers are highlighted, everyone involved in the workflow can see them, but also collaborate on how to resolve the issue.

Kanban displays Transparency within a team. Kanban displays Transparency across organisational boundaries when the Kanban board is physically out in the open for anyone in the business to see. Exposing a team’s work like this is a brave, trusting step – especially at the beginning when you “Start with what you do now”.

Transparency is good for business, and Kanban is useful for helping organisations become transparent.