Kanban is great, but overuse is annoying and waste.

I’ve been reading a very interesting book this week. I won’t name it because it’s got lots of good stuff in, and I don’t want to tar all that with one specific complaint.

In this book, the author conducts meetings using a simple Kanban method. All agenda items are written on small post-its and an A4 pad is used as the board, divided into Backlog, Current and Complete. As the meeting progresses, and each agenda item is started, it’s moved from Backlog, into Current, and when finished, it’s marked with a big tick and moved into Complete.

Now, as my regular reader, you’ll know that I’m very much in favour of visualising your work. And I can see that getting people into the Kanban discipline can be helpful, but this just seemed dogmatic to the point of annoyance.

Because where you have

  1. a process as simple as ‘Waiting/Doing/Done’ (ie a single task that’s not really complex enough to be called a process)
  2. a WiP limit of 1 (ie you’re taking all items in simple sequence, one at a time – if a meandering multi-simultaneous-discussion is a problem, you shouldn’t need Kanban to spot it)
  3. attendees who can recognise which item from a list is being discussed (ie people who are paying attention)

then all you’ve done is reinvent a to-do list, with more processing involved than is strictly needed to achieve the goal. A simple list will do it, with either ticks or crossing out to show what has and has not yet been discussed.

Originally posted on my Martin Burns: PM PoV site at http://writing.easyweb.co.uk/overprocessing-with-kanban

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Martin Burns

EMEA Director, Digital Advisory & Consulting Services at HCL Enterprise Studio
Previously: Leader of software delivery portfolios in large scale orgs.
Specialism: Transforming complex delivery organisations to be more Lean/Agile.
Mindset: Continuous Improvement Obsessive
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