Real-World Kanban

David J Anderson showed in a presentation (slide 16-17 if you are interested) that the best breeding ground for Agile and Kanban in the world is found in Scandinavia. If I do a search on ”Kanban” in Books on and sort by relevance, four out of twelve books on the first result page is written by Swedes. I think this is quite remarkable for such a small country (9.5 million in population). With that said I was quite excited when I first learned about the book ”Real-World Kanban” written by Mattias Skarin (from Sweden). The book has 140 pages with the full title ”Real-World Kanban – Do less, Accomplish More with Lean Thinking”, foreword by Henrik Kniberg. Mattias and Henrik are colleagues at Crisp. I know for example that they have been working together at Lego.


”Your leadership is only as strong as the conversation you are ready to have.” – Mattias Skarin


The book consist of four stories of improving using Kanban. Before the stories are introduced, the first chapter holds some more information about Lean and Kanban. It’s told that an organization goes through three steps as they improve:

  1. Focus on resource usage efficiency
  2. Focus on flow efficiency
  3. Optimizing value.

The stories are found in chapter 2 – 5, and they are:

  • Enterprise Kanban: Improve the Full Value Chain – The challenge was to improve time to market for a traditional company (that had been in business for 100 years). The result was that lead times were halved over a period of 18 months.
  • Kanban in Change Management – The problem to solve here was to manage dependencies without burning out. Time dropped from 60 to 30 days for solving a ticket.
  • Using Kanban to Save a Derailing Project – The challenge was to restore trust by solving the right problem. Much like ”the flat line syndrome” that I have experienced personally. Anyhow, they managed to almost double their velocity.
  • Using Kanban in the Back Office: Outside IT – Here, the challenge was to keep up with growth. The result was that the team moved from working as individuals, pulling tickets off queues, to come together as a team.

Each valuable story (it’s always good to hear about someone else’s problems and how they solved them) ends with a ”Make Your Own Improvements”-section with good advices. Below I have selected some of them:

  • Visualize the whole value stream.
  • Try making changes by applying small experiments.
  • Focus on active work.
  • The effect of improvements is cumulative, so don’t underestimate the effect of small improvements.

In the appendix of the book, Mattias Skarin presents something he calls concepts. It is basically ”an A3 sheet of paper (12” x 16”) with predefined sections for questions that should be answered before you enter into a conversation with the development team”. The idea is that the passionate person that comes up with a product idea stays with it from start to finish, without handing it over to a product owner.


For me that have been using and read a lot about Kanban, I find this book very useful! It’s always good to hear real-life stories, this is the most effective way to learn I think. However, if you are new to Kanban there are other books you might want to check out first, before getting hold of this one.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

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