What I really think about Kanban

Previously on this blog:

My first book, Kanban from the Inside (2014), remains a top book for Kanban so I really ought to complete that list.

Earlier this week I was interviewed by Michael Leber. The hour (livestreamed) flew by very quickly and I’m very pleased with how it came out, so thank you very much Mike! If you’re on LinkedIn, this is the better link to the recording:

Otherwise this one:

It was a wide-ranging talk but we started with Kanban (the method as well as the tool) and I said a few things about it I haven’t really said before. A couple of key quotes:

I don’t find that [evolutionary change] principle exciting. I don’t get excited about evolutionary change – it’s like the wrong metaphor for a great tool.

If you’re serious about it, it has got to be with some intent. If you’re just fixing problems just because you see them, it doesn’t actually meet needs, it doesn’t get you to where you want to get to. And if you’re going to get to where you want to get to, you’ve got to have a conversation about where that is, what that looks like, what direction it’s in. … If you’re serious about the outcomes and their obstacles, serious about where you’re going to focus your efforts, serious about understanding the relationships between outcomes, you’re actually doing strategy.

To be fair to Kanban (the method), it tries harder than most Agile frameworks to get to that, but it doesn’t really get there, and nor will it so long as a tool (the kanban system and its supporting structure) is the predetermined answer. That’s why I am where I am now, non-aligned framework-wise, developing Agendashift as a way to help organisations and their leaders approach change and transformation strategically. If you want change, learn to have the strategy conversations around it. Don’t start with a solution (an Agile framework, say); start with agreement on outcomes. Done authentically – the right people in the room, the results of the conversation not prejudged – the rest follows so much more easily.

Finally, some of the links mentioned:

And my books (all of them now available also in German):

  • Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (2nd edition 2021)
  • Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (2019, audiobook 2020)
  • Kanban from the Inside (2014)

What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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