The most important book (if you search for ”Kanban” and order by relevance in Amazon) is ”the blue book” by David J. Anderson. It was released in 2010. This is five years now, but it has kept it’s relevance as the number one Kanban book to read. I’ve had my copy for a while, and after reading some other Kanban literature I was very excited to ”go for the source”.



The book has 20 chapters divided into four parts, they are:

  • Part One – Introduction
  • Part Two – Benefits of Kanban
  • Part Three – Implementing Kanban
  • Part Four – Making improvements

Instead of telling you chapter by chapter what the book includes, I will give you some of that mixed with my personal comments.

Part One – Introduction
The first chapter tells you of David Anderson’s work that lead up to the first implementation of Kanban at Microsoft in 2004 (which is fully covered as a case study in chapter 4). Next chapter lists five properties for successful Kanban implementation, they are:

  • Visualize Workflow
  • Limit Work-in-Progress
  • Measure and Manage Flow
  • Make Process Policies Explicit
  • Use Models to Recognize Improvement Opportunities

Part Two – Benefits of Kanban
After a standard introduction in part one, this is where it starts to get interesting. How do you ensure success? In chapter three David Anderson have prepared a recipe:

  • Focus on Quality
  • Reduce Work-in-Progress
  • Deliver Often
  • Balance Demand against Throughput
  • Prioritize
  • Attack Sources of Variability to Improve Predictability

I can only agree with that recipe. For example I have blogged earlier on how we limit WIP. David also makes a valid point about slack, to use slack to enable continuous improvements. This to create kaizen culture, where continuous improvements to the process happens as a natural of the daily work. How? The workforce is empowered, individuals feels free to take action, free to do the right thing.

Part Three – Implementing Kanban
There is an ongoing debate in the Kanban community if a team shall use a physical kanban board or go for an electronic tool? I’ve always leaned towards the first, but David Anderson tends to the latter. An electronic tool is necessary for teams that aspire to higher level of organizational maturity. The electronic tool gathers data to help the team with quantitative management and process performance.

”There has been some research and empirical observation to suggest that two items in progress per knowledge worker is optimal.” – David J. Anderson

Chapter 13 introduces the idea of horizontal swim lanes across the kanban board. The number of swim lanes will now be the WIP limit.

Part Four – Making improvements
Bottlenecks are discussed in chapter 17 and David states that ”It is often possible to see improvements of up to four times in delivery rate by exploiting a bottleneck”. A ”non instant available resource” is strictly speaking not a bottleneck but they are handled in the same way. I.e., place a buffer in front of the ”non instant available resource”  or ask the person to split their time (instead of performing the ”bottleneck task” one hour in the morning, do it twice per day, 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon to increase flow). Waste is often discussed within the lean/agile community, and a key question is how do you identify it? Here is a another good quote from the book:

”I believe that you ask yourself, ’If this activity is truly value-adding, would we do more of it?’” – David J. Anderson


Is this the book about Kanban? Yes, it is. David J. Anderson is the undisputed king in Kanbanland. However, to spread Kanban further, more kings and queens are needed! Do you want to know more about Kanban and the history behind? Then you can watch this keynote ”10 years of Kanban”, presented by David Anderson.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

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