What is Kanban and why is it so popular?

03 Mar 2023

A brief history of Agile

In World War 2, all the men left the factories to go fight the war and women were brought into those factories to continue manufacturing and production in their absence. They had to learn quickly and effectively to ensure continuous delivery of products, goods, and services.

The Americans created a process known as TWI (Training Within Industry) which is a process of sharing knowledge collaboratively and learning from that.

When Japan had to rebuilt post World War 2, General McArthur knew about TWI and brought together 50 mid-level executives from many Japanese companies and taught them this TWI approach to learning and manufacturing.

There was one person that it really resonated with, Taiichi Ohno, and he created The Toyota Way based on what he had learned through TWI.

The Japanese motor industry took the world by storm after that, and LEAN manufacturing was born.

American car manufacturers simply couldn’t compete with quality, productivity, and cost effectiveness of Japanese manufacturers.


Kanban is one aspect of the LEAN manufacturing process.

Fast forward to the 1990s and software engineering is starting to break away from traditional project management and explore more lean, agile ways of working.

The boom of home computing and the integration of computing into every aspect of our lives meant that software needed to evolve to facilitate that evolution and play an active role in helping people capture and create value in their personal and professional lives.

Two individuals from the Corbus International Company were already working with fast feedback loops and iterative approach to software development in the form of Scrum, and they began to explore the opportunity of Kanban in leading product development.

One of those individuals, Daniel Vacanti, used Kanban to inform product development, whilst the other individual, David Anderson, used it for a maintenance and support team.

Their work, and success, led to the creation of the two most popular Kanban systems for software engineering and product development. Kanban University and Professional Kanban.

The fundamental focus of Kanban is how work flows through the system.

So, define your workflow.

  • What is the starting point of work in the system?
  • What is the end point?
  • What are the steps between the starting point and end point of the system?

From there, it’s incorporating Empirical Process Control to manage the flow of work. Empirical Flow Control or Empiricism is about Transparency (making work and terminology transparent), Frequent Inspection (observing what is being done), and Adaptation (using data and evidence to inform what you should do or attempt next).

Your goal is to effectively manage the amount of work in progress (WIP) to ensure that work flows effectively and efficiently through the system.

The more you overload the system with work, the slower that work flows through the system and the more your team focuses on productivity (output) rather than effectiveness (quality), so it’s a double-edged sword.

To get more stuff done, you need to focus on doing less.

It sounds counterintuitive but it has been proven time and again in a diverse set of applications.

Kanban is an approach filled with a set of practices that will help make work visible, the flow of work throughout the system visible, so that teams are increasingly more self-managing and autonomous.

They understand the small picture and they understand the big picture.

At the end of the workflow in Kanban, you achieve the same point as you do in Scrum, and that is what is known as the ‘definition of done’. A very clear set of criteria that must be met for the work to be considered complete and ready to deliver to a customer.

The Kanban system allows teams, leaders, and executives to visualize all the work in the system from the top of the stream all the way down the stream. It allows people to plan, estimate, and collaborate effectively in pursuit of organizational and customer objectives.

About Advanced Product Delivery

APD offer private, tailored training courses as well as business agility and coaching. Our public training courses are delivered by practicing Agilists: Product Owners, Scrum Masters and coaches who are expert trainers and facilitators.

Whether you are looking to become a #scrummaster or #agilecoach, we have a range of internationally certified and recognised #agiletraining courses that are perfect for you. Visit https://www.apd.coach/training-courses/ for more information.

If you are looking for professional, deeply experienced and skilled #agilecoaches and #agileconsultants to help you transition from traditional #projectmanagement to #agile #productdevelopment, we've got the ideal team to help you make that transition a success. Visit https://www.apd.coach/about-apd/ to find out more about us.

If you have identified Lean Agile Procurement as a great opportunity to enhance #agility within your organization, visit our Lean Agile Procurement page on https://www.apd.coach/training-courses/lean-agile-...

#agile #scrum #agilecoach #agileconsultant #agiletraining #agilescrumtraining #scrumtraining #scrumcertification #scrummaster #productowner #leanagileprocurement #apd #businessagility #organizationalagility #productdevelopment #projectmanagement #agileprojectmanagement #agileproductdevelopment

Pragmatic | Positive | Professional

APD will help improve the way you build products in an iterative and incremental way. Get in touch today for a free 30 minute consultation.

I'd like a free consultation