Kanban Method: Using Principles of Flow to Identify, Measure, and Reduce Delays

What is the Kanban Method?

It’s not about replacing your current software development process.

It’s not about changing or removing your team’s current titles and roles or adding new ones.

It’s not about a process that is only for support teams, maintenance teams, or “dev ops” teams.

Does any of the above surprise you?

In a nutshell, the Kanban Method is learning how to optimize your current workflow process and how to find opportunities for effectively improving it.

The Kanban Method is learning the importance of these four principles:

  • Start with your current context (start with what you do now)
  • Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change to improve performance
  • Initially keep current titles, roles, responsibilities, and business cycles
  • Encourage acts of leadership at all levels in the organization

The Kanban Method is learning the six core properties of a kanban system and applying them in practice:

  • Visualize Your Workflow
  • Limit Work in Progress (Create Pull and Surface Delays)
  • Measure and Manage Flow
  • Make Policies Explicit That Govern Your Workflow Process
  • Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally (Using Models & the Scientific Method)
  • Develop and Implement Feedback Loops

The outline below represents a general scope of topics that could be covered to introduce teams to the Kanban Method. It represents a core of topics that would be customized (emphasizing or adding topics) after gathering more information specific to your context, as well as considering the type of coaching and tutorials desired (ex. given as a single-day or multi-day classroom style workshop, or several smaller just-in-time 2-4 hour workshops over several weeks as part of a fixed period embedded coaching engagement).

 Introducing and Applying the Kanban Method

  1. Visualize Your Workflow
    • Work types in your workflow
    • Started but not finished (work-in-progress)
    • Actively being worked on, by who
    • Items “delayed, waiting, idle”, why, who is working to get it moving
    • What is done, ready to deliver
  2. Limit Work in Progress (Create Pull and Surface Delays)
    • Learn to apply basic principles of flow & queueing systems
    • Identify capability (capacity) and develop meaningful service level agreement options
    • Provide needed exception (expedite) work items options
  3. Measure and Manage Flow
    • Measure quantitatively the time to complete work items
    • Measure quantitatively the rate work items are completed
    • Visualize trends, expected variation, bottlenecks, and outliers (basic charts and metrics)
    • Develop strategies for addressing constraints and delays
  4. Make Policies Explicit That Govern Your Workflow Process
    • Project Planning (when) vs Production Planning (how)
    • Criteria for how work items progress through workflows
    • Criteria for selecting (pulling) work items to work on
  5. Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally (Using Models & the Scientific Method)
    • Queuing Theory
    • Principles of Flow
    • Lean Product Development
    • Information Theory
    • Deming’s 14 Points
    • Theory of Constraints
  6. Develop and Implement Feedback Loops
    • Daily feedback loops at workflow levels
    • Delivery cycle feedback loops at inter-workflow levels
    • Monthly and Quarterly feedback loops at department/organizational levels
Tutorials based on real-world hands-on experience!
If you’re interested in a tutorial to introduce the Kanban Method at your organization, or would like to “seed” a public offering in your metro area, please contact Frank Vega.
Learning Outcomes

A typical two-day tutorial is loaded with several interactive and “hands-on” exercises introducing how to apply the Kanban Method to software development, including these key learning outcomes:

  • Brief history of lean-agile principles and foundations of the kanban method.
  • Importance of starting with current processes and roles and applying an evolutionary continuous improvement approach.
  • How to identify work items types, model workflows, and bring visibility to your software development process.
  • Set and use work-in-process limits to create pull and begin optimizing your workflow.
  • Measure and manage flow to identify meaningful and predictable SLAs.
  • Recognize how your current implicit (unstated) policies impact your workflow today.
  • How making policies explicit helps to catalyze changes and directs enhancements to your workflow.
  • Exploring possible uses for multiple class of services in your workflow.
  • Strategies for managing bottlenecks and variation.
  • Using models to guide further evolution and improvements in your process.


Day One

  • Introductions
  • Hands-on basic flow exercise
  • Kanban Method: brief history & foundation
  • Start with current process and roles
  • Make work visible
    • Identifying workflow and work item types & exercise
    • Modeling workflow & exercise
  • getKanban (simulation) game & debrief
  • Limit work in progress
    • Common starting points and considerations
    • Identifying initial WIP limits & exercise
  • Retrospective

Day Two

  • Day one review & burning questions
  • Measure and manage flow
    • CFD fundamentals
    • Little’s Law fundamentals
    • CFD analysis & exercise
  • Review &analyzegetKanban game charts
    • Scatter plot fundamentals
    • Percentiles and lead time targets
    • Scatter plot analysis & exercise
  • Make policies explicit
    • Pull vs push scheduling
    • Managing pull systems
    • Data distributions and SLAs (on-time performance)
    • Cadences for replenishing queues, releases, retrospectives
  • Use models to evolve
    • Opportunity costs
    • Cost of delay and class of service
    • Queuing and flow principles
    • Queue and batch sizes
    • Variability
  • Parking lot items
    • Addressing other identified real-word issues
    • Final Q & A
  • Retrospective

Other Details

After completion of the tutorial, attendees receive a PDF of slides.

Note: Number of attendees is typically limited to provide and ensure a quality experience for all participants (usually 18 max).

Kanban Coaching Professional

This tutorial is offered by Frank Vega of VISS, Inc., a Lean-Kanban University Kanban Coaching Professional Charter Member. For more information on the KCP program click here.