What is Lean Kanban: Everything You Need to Know

lean kanban

People often confuse Kanban and Lean methodologies. This is because Kanban is itself a Lean methodology. It’s best to think of these two concepts in a hierarchy. Lean is the overarching mindset and approach. Kanban is a practice that achieves Lean principles in your organization. 

The lean methodology aims to improve your business processes continuously. It does this via respecting your employees and cutting waste. 

If you are looking to implement Kanban, a basic understanding of Lean philosophies and Lean Kanban will help. Lean is above all a way of thinking. This article aims to clarify how Lean and Kanban work together, the benefits of Lean Kanban, and the simplest ways to implement this approach.

What is Lean Kanban?

Lean Kanban combines the Lean and Kanban methods, which were developed separately. Lean is a business methodology that promotes continuous improvement and respect for people as a means of increasing value and productivity. It focuses on reducing waste and improving efficiency. 

Originally pioneered for manufacturing, Lean management now applies to processes across multiple sectors. It enables firms to optimize across an entire value stream, improving speed, reducing development times, improving delivery, and improving quality. 

In terms of software development, Lean aims to identify potential improvements, deliver project efficiency, and get rid of product development obstacles. 

Kanban was also developed in a manufacturing context. Engineer Taiichi Ohno wanted to optimize the manufacturing process by regulating the supply of raw materials. Software developers adopted Kanban 20 years ago as an Agile method of software development. 

Kanban is a project management framework and method. Kanban practices include workflow visualization, limiting work in progress, and continuous improvement. Kanban teams use boards to visualize and track workflow. 

lean kanban

Kanban emphasizes delivery. It can help teams improve their efficiency and increase output by helping to identify and resolve potential bottlenecks and resource issues.

Here are some differences and similarities between Lean and Kanban:

 LeanKanban
PrinciplesEliminate waste
Amplify learning
Decide as late as possible
Decide as fast as possible
Empower the team
Build integrity in
See the whole
Start with what you do now
Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change
Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities, titles
Encourage acts of leadership at all levels in your company
PracticesSeeing waste
Value stream mapping
Set-based development
Pull systems
Queueing theory
Motivation
Measurements
Visualization
Limit work in progress
Manage flow
Make policies explicit
Implement feedback loops
Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally

Lean Kanban combines these goals and thought processes into an approach that aims to improve project efficiency, team communication, and the continuous flow of product delivery. In many ways, it could be described as applying the visualization techniques of Kanban to achieve Lean goals. Such goals include reducing waste, empowering the team, spotting, and resolving key process issues, and being based on pull systems. 

Benefits of Lean Kanban

With a Kanban system, teams execute their tasks at the same time as improving how they do them. This ability to spot issues and practice continuous improvement is one of the reasons people regard Kanban as a Lean method. 

{Add button} Kanban Board vs Kanban System

There are several benefits to Lean Kanban, including:

Understanding where teams are spending time

With Lean Kanban, teams understand how they are using their time. Most online Kanban tools provide tracking and productivity data that helps teams identify this.

Identifying problem areas

Those same Kanban tools’ tracking and productivity data help the team to identify potential problems that are slowing down production and increasing costs. Maybe some team members are overworked, while others don’t have enough work to do.

With a better understanding of potential problems, teams can develop solutions. In the case above, a manager could delegate tasks to team members with more bandwidth or assign more team members to trickier tasks. 

Improving communication

Many project teams use Kanban as one of several methods, including Agile Scrum or Extreme Programming (XP). Even where Scrum and XP teams follow different processes and project management techniques, they still use Kanban boards to visually communicate information that is otherwise difficult to explain or understand.

When using Lean Kanban, boards communicate information so that everyone on the team – and many on the broader organization – can understand it at a glance. 

monday kanban alternative

Flexibility

Kanban is flexible because there are no prescribed phase durations or specific deadlines. Instead, work begins when there is demand for it from the client. Furthermore, teams can constantly reassess priorities based on up-to-date information. This is thanks to Kanban’s use of a continuous feedback loop.

Optimized product development

Lean Kanban helps to shorten the planning cycle because the team focuses on building a given project in smaller phases. 

Focus on continuous delivery

Another benefit to using Lean Kanban is the focus on continuous delivery. Breaking down projects into smaller parts means the team can deliver them continuously. If the client’s business needs change, the team can adapt future phases accordingly. This helps to ensure the quality of delivery.

Reduction of wasted work / wasted time

Continuous delivery and continuous improvement reduce the time spent on less valuable work. They increase the time spent on more valuable work, cut duplicated effort, and reduce unnecessary or less valuable work. 

Better predictability

Through the use of multiple relevant delivery metrics, team members are more able to predict when they will deliver tasks based on current and past performance. 

Fewer risks

Team members have fewer risks to deal with, thanks to shorter feedback loops and a phased approach to project development. In other words, the smaller the chunks of work that need to be delivered, the less of a problem it is when individual tasks are delayed, because these can more easily be dealt with, and they will have less of a drag effect on the project as a whole.

How to implement Lean Kanban in 3 easy steps

Because Lean Kanban is both a mindset and a method, it can be difficult to implement effectively if you’ve never done it before. Here are the three steps we recommend to make it easier. 

Step 1: Understand how Kanban works 

Knowing more about Kanban, what it is, and how it works is essential to being able to imagine how it could help your projects. That’s why we recommend reading as much reliable research on the subject as you can, including our rapidly-expanding library of Kanban resources and research.

Step 2: Model others’ use of Kanban

Every kind of firm in every industry and sector can use Kanban effectively, so the easiest way to work out how it could for you is to research how others in your industry are using it. Search for case studies online to see how other teams apply Kanban. It is a good idea to look for teams with similar processes to yours. Here are some Kanban board examples from our customers.

Step 3: Book a demo and talk through your specific challenges

Alternatively, book a demo to see how Teamhood’s Kanban system could work to help solve your specific project management challenges:

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