REAL Kan-Ban is a production control system where you PULL work from the previous operation, and what’s clever is that you are linked to the operations before and after you rather than a conventional Push system where you just send the work on to the next operation regardless of whether then can handle it.. Work in progress is kept down, but more importantly you have to help each other if there is a problem.
The buffer area between you and the previous operation has a limited capacity, so you can stop for a bit, or vary your speed relative to them a little, but if you get a serious problem then the buffer / storage area becomes full so the person running the operation upstream from you has to stop, and come and help you.
Sometimes there are a limited number of Kan-Ban cards that are used for reordering – which again links the operations and keeps the work in progress to a controlled level.
So do the trendy Agile people know about all this – and what is “Agile Kan-Ban?”
Well it turns out that there is a little bit of the KanBan idea in Agile KanBan, but not much
The idea is that you use post-it notes (I like them, that’s a plus) for each job on the board, and you move them along as the jobs get done. The columns are usually “Waiting to be done”, “Ready to start”, “Started / In progress”, and “Done”, though you can divide the in-progress section into more detail if you like: Design, Development, Testing etc.
Here are 4 examples, all the same:
So it’s a very simple project management system, the kind of thing that factories have been using for 100 years.
But it’s weak on seeing the workload by person, and also weak on seeing the workload by project, and also weak on seeing the bigger picture of time. And yet these are the three key things you want to manage.
A Gantt chart shows the time line much more clearly, with a calendar, percentage complete, and what happens next (dependencies), what’s critical and what isn’t, how much float tasks have, when in the future we are going to be busy, etc – none of which can be seen on a Kanban board.
The Kanban board gets its name from the idea that you can limit how many post-its can be in one column, so that when a person has a problem the others can help them out. Which is good.
But otherwise it’s just a facile visual production control system which tells you almost nothing useful. Come on guys, grow up and get some Gantt charts, or even a Gantt of Gantts, like the big boys use!
onwards and upwards, keep telling it like it is…