Implement Kanban in 3 easy steps

Are you new to Kanban and don’t know where to start? Here we walk you through, step-by-step how to start your first Kanban implementation. Trying anything for the first time can be a little intimidating, and implementing Kanban is no exception.

Don’t worry though, the first rule of Kanban is to start with what you do now and you agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change. This minimises the fear of change, and to be fair, it’s a much more humane approach to change.

If you’re moving from an existing framework or methodology and are worried about job titles or roles then rest assured, Kanban will not affect this initially as it respects current roles, responsibilities, and job-titles.

Step 1: Run a workshop with your team to understand the fundamentals of Kanban

Run a workshop with your team to cover the following:

Alternatively, book onto our certified Team Kanban Practitioner course and receive professional instruction from our Accredited Kanban Trainers.

Step 2: Use the Systems Thinking Approach to Introducing Kanban (STATIK)

kanban board

To learn more about what a Kanban board is and to see some examples, here’s a useful article.

  • Understand what makes your service “fit for purpose”
  • Speak to your service users  or customers and understand sources of dissatisfaction regarding current delivery.
  • Analyse sources of and nature of demand.
  • Analyse current delivery capability.
  • Model the service delivery workflow. 
  • Identify work item types and associate with an appropriate class of service – expedite, standard, fixed date, intangible.
  • Design the Kanban system (see coaching notes below)
  • Socialise, design, & negotiate implementation.

This overall implementation process is iterative.

Step 3: Schedule a regular continuous improvement meeting

This is possibly the most important step and yet it’s the step most frequently abused! You need to be reviewing and improving your ways of working as frequently as possible. To get into the habit, start by calendarizing a 1hr session, every week.

Special Notes for Agile Coaches and Kanban Coaches

If you are an Agile Coach, Kanban Coach, or some other form of Change Agent introducing Kanban to a team then please pay special attention to the following coaching notes:

  • To map your value stream, start at each end of your workflow and work inwards until you meet in the middle. Create a column heading for each step.
  • Make sure you include a commitment point on your board. Teams tend to call this Select or Next. Agree prioritisation and selection policies for this column. Write the policy down and publish it below the column if necessary.
  • Implement queues in the form of WIP & DONE columns where appropriate.
  • Populate your Kanban board with work items.
  • Agree replenishment policies and cadence.
  • Use magenta post-it notes to indicate blocked or impeded work items.
  • Hold a daily stand-up each day around the board.
  • Columns should reflect hand-off points, not process steps!
  • Don’t impose WIP limits straight away. Instead, simply visualise the current WIP to understand how much WIP there is in the system. This honours Kanban’s humane approach to introducing change. Once the team can see clearly that they have too much WIP, only then should you start to reduce WIP with the use of WIP limits.
  • Take extra time and attention to explain why a Pull system if important.
  • Keep an eye on body language during the daily stand-up to understand engagement.
  • Don’t rush or force change! Every organisation or team has a different pace of change.

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