Not all kanban is alike

In the series of “not all work is alike” and “not all change is alike” I could not resist the temptation to write a blog titled “not all kanban is alike”. Mainstream kanban systems (which I will refer to as delivery kanban) as we know them today are mainly focussed on improving fitness for purpose of service delivery. I have a firm believe that the scope of Kanban systems is much wider if we also take Discovery Kanban systems into account. I intentionally use the word system to stress the fact that what I am talking about here is more than just kanban boards and visualisation with sticky notes. Kanban systems have a set of properties that make them systems. Both mainstream kanban and Discovery Kanban share a set of properties. They are also fundamentally different. Below you can find an overview of how mainstream and Discovery Kanban are similar but different Kanban systems. The comparison should be relatively self-explanatory. If something needs some more explanation, please leave a comment.

Delivery Kanban Discovery Kanban
Purpose Improving fitness for purpose of service delivery Improving the fitness for purpose of organizations in an uncertain and changing business landscape
Assumption Demand is established and there is more demand than capability Demand can stagnate or be disrupted requiring not just delivery against established demand but also timely  creation of new demand
Who pulls Workers pull the work Workers pull work, Customers pull product
What is visualized Work More than work alone: opportunities, options, risks, issues, learning, improvement, …
What is limited Work in progress Unvalidated assumptions as well as work in progress
What is managed Flow of work Flow of work as well as flow of customers; being in the flow (balance discovery and delivery)
What is measured Fitness criteria of service delivery: Lead time, due date performance, quality, etc. Fitness criteria of delivery and discovery: cycle time, AARRR or other innovation accounting metrics, etc. as well as service delivery criteria
Feedback loops Internal feedback loops at different  levels in the organziation Customer feedback loops as well internal feedback loops
Change Evolutionary change Mixed change approach
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2 Responses to Not all kanban is alike

  1. Hi Patrick, Thanks for the insight. I specifically like the visualization part (OODA) for visualization of non IT work products. This is what I believe to be the natural next step when organizations upscale their IT-Agile initiative both in size and in width towards other disciplines and non-IT departments. Real benefit lies in an Agile organization, not an Agile project or department. Only then flow can be realized for customers.

  2. Hey Arno,

    Fully agree with you. The value stream is not limited to the IT or engineering “department”. Value is not created by delivering a system. It is only created when we solve a business or customer problem. This is why, with discovery kanban we focus on the end-to-end value stream which includes the discovery process.
    Thanks for pointing this out. I may modify the table in the blog post to better reflect this.

    Kind regards,


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