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March 26-29, 2012, Software Test Professionals Conference, New Orleans
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

KanBan Redux

Well, Yesterday's post on KanBan generated a little bit more heat than I intended. When I clicked submit, as I writer, I thought I had completed an opinion/editorial piece I would stand behind. Heck, I thought it was good writing.

No, wait. I still stand behind it, and I still think it was good writing.

Then again, it could always be better.

I don't want to white-wash what I wrote yesterday by editing it; that would have the effect of blunting legitimate criticism. So, taking a critical eye at what I wrote yesterday, let me add a few things:

- First, my initial mention of certification had nothing to do with Kanban. The second mention - yes, I do expect some kind of Kanban cert will come, even if it's only a "letter of recommendation" from the leaders in the movement. But that section that talked about ISTQB was only designed to point out that I personally had walked away from a "it's gold baby" idea that I thought lacked merit. I suppose the part where I mention the censure of the term "best practice" accomplished this; If I were to re-write it, I would cut that section.

- For the most part, the essay stood firm with showing over telling. This is an important concept in writing - you don't say the hero is brave, you have him fight the dragon. You don't say he's strong; you have him lift a horse or that his arms are as large as tree-trunks. You let the reader decide if the hero is strong. Then I had to end by referring to some Kanban folks as "Jokers." That was uncalled for, and not even what I meant. If I had to do it over again, I would have used something non-judgmental and objective instead. Perhaps "Coaches."

- The initial article introduced Mr. Anderson as a European. Apparently, he took offense to that, and thought my post was "nationalistic." Well, I certainly don't see a benefit to introducing him as European, so I do cut that single word.

- I believe Northern Europeans are innovative with regard to process and product. I believe we should be studying them for process innovations the way the automotive industry learned to study the Japanese. I am completely serious about that.

- Not every person advocating Kanban is advocating the ideals of Frederick W. Taylor, but I have subscribed to the discussion list for months and that was my personal conclusion. As I tried to say with my white hats/black bandannas comment, I did not intend to color the Kanban movement with too broad a brush.

Now, some of the benefits of KanBan:

- The idea of limiting work in progress is one I find fundamentally sound. After all, if the testers are stuck on iteration 1, developers are on iteration 2, and the business analysts are working on iteration 7, something is wrong. The Analysts will create excess inventory ('analyzed' work-to-be-done), it won't be fresh, the business may change it's mind - when the team could take those analysts, cross-training, and otherwise brainstorming ways to change responsibilities around to get iteration 1 done faster. This would decrease overall time-to-market and get more software done in less time.

- Ditto, and very similarly, the idea of achieving pull appeals to me.

- Limiting Work In Progress will have the side effect of limiting multi-tasking; multi-tasking being a well-documented time/effort sink.

- I think it's good to have teams talking about process and debating merits of various ideas. Kanban is stirring the mix; that's good.

- I have to agree that, while a rose by any other name may still smell as sweet, there are some managers and executives who may be strongly opposed to something called "Agile" or confused by the term "Scrum", yet, referred to as "lean", they may be receptive. To some extent, I'm happy to change my terminology in order to better impact and communicate with the rest of our business.

So yes, I'm worried about Kanban. I think it has it's merits, and it also has some risks. If anyone is interested in a spirited debate where we both have potential to learn, please, drop me a line.


Nayan Hajratwala said...

Folks in this industry are kind of averse to "spirited debates", so you may not get any takers ;-)

Nice followup, Matt.

Karl Scotland said...


Thanks for this follow-up. I'd love it if we could have the spirited debate on the kanbandev list, but if you want to discuss "offline", I'm happy with that too.


James Marcus Bach said...

I don't understand why you are backing off your original post.

Also, why are you saying that Europe is innovative when it comes to process? I would say they are not generally innovative. There are a few exceptions, but generally, in the testing part of things, they are in love with dimwitted certifications, and TMAP is popular over there. TMAP! The antithesis of innovation.

Dennis Stevens said...


I completely missed any real articulation of the risks that you see with Kanban that you don't see with Scrum. Everything you do in XP and Scrum makes sense (in many contexts) in Kanban with the exception of iterations. The benefits you mentioned are explicit benefits of Kanban against a typical Scrum implementation.

Kanban, as taught by David Anderson and demonstrated in experience reports at the two Lean and Kanban conferences this year (Miami and London), is specifically a change management approach where people discuss impediments, skills and capabilities required to deliver software. It builds on the ToC, Agile, and organizational maturity work David has been implementing for the last decade.

Using data to make operations and management decisions is not the same as Taylorism. It is responsible management. At no time does Kanban suggest the separation of the workers from the work or force specialization. In fact, the workers are the ones making every decision about their work. The concepts around generalizing specialists and their assignment of work was the subject of David's presentations in Chicago at Agile 2009.

Its interesting to follow the anti-Kanban discussions. Every point against Kanban is based on speculation and a lack of actual facts.

Matthew said...

Well, Dennis, you're entitled to your opinion, and I'll even publish it!

I can't help but notice that Juren A, over in the netherlands, took a swipe at the same subject area, coming up with some of the same conclusions, but, I admit, articulating it a bit better:

Hey, in five years, my reply might just be "oh hehe, gee, I got that wrong, didn't I?"

But somehow, I doubt it.

As for "based on speculation and a lack of actual facts" - I'd be happy to provide you with my research, my references, and my interviews. Somehow, I suspect, that's not actually what you want.

Dennis Stevens said...

Thanks for posting my comment. Sorry for the hyperbole. This is good discussion.

I agree with Jurgen's post. The majority of the Lean Software Development literature fails to mention that people are actually writing the software. I think that this lack of focus on the social nature of development is harmful.

Kanban (capital K lower case B) that Karl and David are talking about is all about people understanding their work and making situation specific, fact based decisions about how to do it better.

This is very far from Taylorism. It is very far from process focused Lean. It is very close to what Jurgen is talking about. Providing a framework for people to gather together and establish a common understanding of their work and decide how best to organize to achieve an outcome.

I believe we will look back in five years and wonder what we were debating about. Social constructs, innovation, and mature processes are not mutually exclusive.