Why is Kanban such a popular agile framework for product development teams?

02 Aug 2023

The history of Kanban

The origins of Kanban trace all the way back to the training within the industry during World War II. It’s fascinating to see how a concept born in a different era has managed to evolve and remain relevant in today’s fast-paced, tech-driven world.

The modern structuring of the lean Kanban process, aimed at creating a specific method, was crafted at Corbus International around 2006. The men behind this endeavour were Dan Vacanti and David Anderson. Anderson’s focus was on supporting the methodology through his establishment of the Kanban University, while Vacanti’s approach was primarily centred on product development. Consequently, we now have two primary definitions of Kanban: the Kanban University definition and the Professional Kanban definition. I must confess, I lean towards the pro Kanban version, although both offer immense value.

The appeal of Kanban

So why exactly is Kanban so popular? A key factor is its minimal start-up cost, in comparison to Scrum. Kanban allows you to start exactly where you are, defining your workflow and determining how your team can best collaborate to get a task done.

However, a word of caution here. I’ve seen teams go from performing Scrum poorly to doing the same with Kanban, simply because they fail to address core impediments or organisational dysfunctions within the team. They make the mistake of blaming the process, asserting that “Scrum doesn’t work for us, we’ll do Kanban”, thereby shifting from a poorly performing Scrum team to a poorly performing Kanban team.

High-performing teams, in my experience, will incorporate elements from all the process frameworks they’ve worked with, customising their process with a ruthless focus on delivery. The aim is to foster maximum engagement across the team, where everyone feels empowered and part of the process, promoting an objective approach to improvement.

The Kanban superpowers

One of the standout features of Kanban is the four key metrics it employs:

  • Work in progress
  • Throughput
  • Work item age
  • Cycle time

Applying these metrics to our workflow helps us understand what is holding back our progress and where blockages are occurring. We can then harness these metrics to drive better team behaviour and maintain a clear focus on delivering value to our customers.

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