With Kanban, the purpose of visualization and other forms of transparency is twofold: to make the need for action visible and to help people make good choices. These operate at two levels:
- Action in the form of work that needs to be done; good choices in the selection of work items
- Action in the form of changes to the system; good choices in justifying, scoping, and implementing change
There’s a virtuous circle at play here:
- The kanban system organizes the work.
- People organize themselves around the work.
- From their fresh perspective, people see that the kanban system could organize the work better than it currently does, and they change it.
Balance Demand versus Capability
Inside the system, we balance workload against the system’s capacity, both for the sake of the people doing the work and for the improved performance and predictability that comes as a result. But it doesn’t have to stop there.
Interesting things happen when your system’s capability to deliver against each category becomes known. You can help your customers to make better-informed choices. This in turn has an upstream effect, an effect on how work flows from the customer. Managed proactively, this is demand shaping, a way to improve outcomes still further by promoting balance across a broader scope of a system and over longer timespans.
Work item categorizations and classes of service help you manage to multiple time horizons simultaneously. There’s no point in remarkable delivery rates in the short term if we’re busy bankrupting ourselves through insufficient attention to sustainability. Likewise, we can’t be forever spending our investors’ money on long-term work so nebulous or grandiose that customer value will never be delivered.
In a nutshell, Kanban helps you balance demand versus capability over a range of timespans. This is a powerful management strategy to apply both inside and outside the system.
Balance is a strange thing—we really enjoy it when it’s there, but achieving it takes anticipation, vigilance, and effort, sometimes even the occasional breakthrough. For me, it is this—as much as the significant technical merits of WIP-limited pull systems—that makes balance such an important value.
To help bring balance into your application of Core Practice 2, try prefacing it with “Find ways to”:
- Find ways to limit work-in-progress, using every available lever.
- Find ways to limit work-in-progress at every organizational level, looking for ways to bring those deeper imbalances to the surface as trust is built.
Perhaps you can come up with a phrase that captures the essence of your organization’s current need for balance. It’s a trick that works with other practices too.
I find it helpful to think of collaboration as something quite concrete, bringing to mind some specific examples of famous creative collaborations. Lennon and McCartney, Watson and Crick, Marie and Pierre Curie—these are collaborations that have made huge impact, not just in their chosen fields, but in popular consciousness, too. These aren’t just people being nice, cooperating with each other in some general way; these are relationships in which the whole is somehow much greater than the sum of its parts, where creative energy exists between those involved as well as inside each one individually.
We can’t expect every workplace collaboration to be quite as spectacularly productive as these examples, but if our knowledge-based organizations can’t generate some excess creativity over what each individual can generate on his or her own, why do they exist at all?*
*(footnote) Why do firms exist? Economists still wrestle with that. Seehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_the_firm andhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge-based_theory_of_the_firm