The book's cover. Three people stand in front of a kanban board and the manager is starting the kanban process.

Kanban book review

Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business

By David J. Anderson, ISBN 978-0984521401

Kanban is a process we have been using in the WebTech office for over a year now. We have adopted the system slowly and recently presented our version of Kanban at the Pacific Northwest Drupal Summit. During the Q & A portion it was suggested that I read this book. The last few chapters offer strategies for managing issues we have been experiencing as we move more of our work into a Kanban model.

The book itself is organized into twenty chapters; helpfully the end of each chapter has a list of takeaways that are easily digestible. The book guides the reader through what Kanban is, how to develop a system for your work, and then how to get the maximum performance from the system you implement. Though the book was only published in 2010 it feels dated. Much of the software and websites mentioned no longer exist. However, in their place strong sets of tools have developed.

Kanban is a visual system of identifying work that needs to be completed (the queue), selecting a task to complete, and then following through until it is complete. A challenge we run into is having our queue be a little overwhelming in terms of size. Early in the book, on page 30, Mr. Anderson discusses balancing demand with throughput. He identifies that Limiting Work In Progress (WIP) is the key to Kanban being successful. There are several ways to accomplish this and by implementing a few strategies we have seen our throughput increase dramatically.

Limiting WIP to increase throughput is counter-intuitive but we have been increasing our throughput by about twenty-five percent when compared to not limiting WIP. Chapter 7 deals with visualizing the work. Several ideas were presented that we were able to add to our JIRA Kanban tools including WIP indicators for our columns with the most constraint. There is a thorough discussion of Eli Goldratt’s The Goal when Mr. Anderson delves into bottlenecks and constraints. The gist he tries to get across is that the Five Focusing steps used in The Goal can be a great process to use when finding bottlenecks. Bottlenecks in Kanban slow everything down so you want to make sure a strategy is in place to minimize disruptions to that resource. Chapter 17 deals with bottlenecks in detail and has a fun story about SR-520 and the WSDOT Ferry system to help visualize the myriad of issues around bottlenecks within Kanban.

The last chapter covers issue management and escalation policies. Again, the queue can fill up very quickly and without an effective policy for choosing what gets priority our developers are often left in lurch of indecision.

As our student team grows making sure we that they can confidently self-select issues from our queue is vital to continued success. Mr. Anderson’s book certainly has helped mitigate pain points we have been facing. If you and your team use any sort of agile work process, consider reading this book and giving Kanban a try.

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