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?

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