Kanban is an approach that can be used in various contexts throughout the stacey matrix to visualise workflows. Yet Kanban can be especially useful when the team has to manage complicated workflows with some uncertainty and complexity.

The Japanese word Kanban means card and board, because it visualises the workflow of deliverables as they move from lane to lane on a board until they reach completion.

There are six core principles for the Kanban method that we’ll illustrate with the workflow of a pizza restaurant.

The six core Kanban method principles

1. Visualise

Visualise the workflow to see what’s going on at any time. In our example, the whole workflow from order to serving a fresh pizza is transparent.

2. Limit work in progress

Bottlenecks can be a real issue in production workflows so instead of overloading the system,  the workload should be limited to the capacity of the system. If there is a bottleneck in our workflow because there is only one oven just allows for two pizzas to be placed at the same time, the workflow might need to be limited downstream in the order process, by offering other dishes as well, or accepting fewer clients. 

3. Manage the flow

Transparency allows for inspection of the process and an adaptation to make it more efficient. In our example the bottleneck at stage five could be eliminated by investing in another oven and a bottleneck at stage four could be relieved by either pre-preparing some of the toppings or hiring another helping hand for that stage.

4. Make policies explicit

With each item that flows through the board, something can be learned and these learnings can translate into clear policies-best practice rules that can be clearly defined. This will reduce the level of complexity and complicatedness and allow for some simple and obvious solutions even within a generally more demanding process. This is why the key principle of “making policies explicit” requires to document the learnings as explicit rules that are clear to everyone involved.

5. Feedback loops

Review meetings are paramount for the team to learn from their own experiences and customers feedback.

6. Improve and evolve

Just like in the Lean approach, constant and never-ending improvement is a key element of Kanban. The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle will help the team to keep moving towards more efficient workflows, while maintaining the necessary flexibility.

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