Kanban – Simplistic Agile?

Sitting quite a distance from the technical coal face, I hear many views and opinions aimed at many topics. For three years I’ve heard Kanban mentioned in discussion, blogs and conferences, with really little explanation or air time. So I took it upon myself to read 3 articles from well known Kanban authors and form an opinion. Instantly I thought this is just another refactoring of Agile, another play on the same thing, a buzz word in the making! I went back and read through this again and seemingly there are some positive differences to be mentioned and be impressed by. Interestingly enough there was a mention of time boxing, which automatically put’s me into DSDM mode. Maybe this is deliberate, maybe not, but it sure does keep it all conveniently linked to everything, but with a spin. Someone somewhere will one day have a radical new way! 

Is Kanban a revolutionary idea?

No, just a different take on a subject of which has no clear measures, i.e. Agile Fundamentally the differences or positives that I spotted are: 

  • Kanban is not just for the Agile experienced; it is for everyone at all levels (providing you understand the three levels of Kanban)
  • Kanban can be described as focussing on improving, rather than Scrum focussing on being Agile which may lead to improvement.
  • Too many people concentrate on being Agile (they don’t really understand Agile in most cases), where Kanban takes the hot air away and strips the process back to the bones.
  • Kanban allows for iterations to be delivered for what they are in terms of time, not just being put into a week because everyone works on a 1 week iteration.
  • Kanban planning works on a one piece flow, rather than the Agile grouped batches. ie WIP
  • Priority given to the importance of each card, thus the most important card gets delivered first.
  • Task estimates are taken away – they just get delivered.
  • Flexible build and release, again time constraintless.
  • There is commitment to deliver at an agreed output, ie. Rate of stories/release, rather than Velocity

Arguably Kanban makes Agile even more lightweight as a method, allows freedom to deliver alongside freedom to develop. So often new ideas come along that complicate or simplify process or delivering product.
Personally I think that if we lived in the ideal world, this would be a natural progression to the modern day Agile, but reality tells me that extreme Agile is still very unique and niche and the true worth of Kanban will only affect the small minority. It’s taken many years to get the world Agile, but with rife Waterfall greyness still dominating our world, Kanban will be a one hit wonder. 

I hope I’m wrong!

2 Responses to “Kanban – Simplistic Agile?”

  1. Ged Byrne says:

    Interesting article, but I’m curious about what you mean by ‘Kanban’.

    I’m familiar with Kanban from the Toyota Production System, the key principle being that

  2. Ged Byrne says:

    … a simple, visible method be used to demonstrate production flow.

    Is there also a specific software practice that has taken on the name?

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