As I’m lagging a bit with my reader I read recent Jurgen Appelo’s article on networked Kanban yesterday. An interesting reading, especially that it ignited a few thoughts (and a great discussion on Twitter with Jabe Bloom, Jim Benson and a few others).
First, Jurgen’s experiments with Kanban boards are perfectly coherent with Kanban principles. We are told to visualize workflow, not to use a specific Kanban board design.
Second, value stream mapping, which is used as one of the basic techniques by many Kanban proponents, is limiting and it brings you back to a standard Kanban board design. David Anderson avoided using the term in his writings and it wasn’t without a reason.
Third, we use examples of typical board designs as it is so hard to explain the whole thing without showing these examples, yet it makes people fixated on typical boards and eventually their board designs are suboptimal.
Finally, I sometimes feel we actively harm people showing them standard Kanban board designs. We prompt them to use one of our well-done solutions instead of looking for the one which is adjusted to their context and reflects their process well.
Now, this is tricky, we’d like people to start with a clean whiteboard and totally open mind and to come up with something which reflects the way they work, presents important information in accessible and understandable way. It is pretty open-ended task, isn’t it? Unfortunately also the one which may make people totally confused.
I’m not sure if I’d even be on the Kanban land now if I was starting with such task. I was more than happy to use the most common board design as a starting point. Now I don’t have problems using uncommon designs (just wait to see my portfolio level Kanban boards) but yes, it took some time to get here.
Either way, my message is: no matter whether you’re just starting with Kanban or are rather advanced don’t stick to standard Kanban board designs. If you have no better idea, use them – that’s what they are for. But please, please, please, don’t treat them as the one and the only way to visualize workflow.
On a side note: I find it amusing working on visualization with people from industries different than software development. They aren’t constrained with the good old process of building things, which was being hammered into our heads for years, namely: analyze, design, build, test, deploy. And they often come up with uncommon designs on the very first approach. Quite a lesson for us I would say.