The Future of Kanban

I wanted to know more about what the future hold for Kanban. I decided to go straight for the source, David Anderson’s blog at Lean Kanban Services. It turned out that he has started 2016 in a fierce tempo, publishing 16 blog posts in less than a month! First I felt overwhelmed, no way I could find time to read all of them, but on the other hand I was really curious, so I started to read them one by one in chronological order.


(Picture borrowed from here)

The Future of Kanban

As you might have guessed, this blog post will be quite different from my usual ones. To try to answer the question ”What lies in the future for Kanban?” I read all blog posts and commented on them below. I have also rated each blog post on a scale from 1 to 5, in how good they answer the question mentioned above. Use it as an indication of what to read for yourself, if your time is limited. I also indicate if it is a short, medium or long read. At the end you find my summary. Let´s start!

Is Agile Costing You Too Much?

This blog post is all about positioning Kanban as a more cost efficient path to agility, compared to other Agile and Scaled Agile methods.  Personally I don’t care so much about positioning. Kanban is fit for purpose. Period.

My rating: 2 (long read)

Are Scrum & Scaled Agile Damaging Morale At Your Firm?

More along the same lines as the previous blog posts. Mainly Scrum is under attack here. The story of Janice Linden-Reed is told. How they did Scrum and using Rally software. It worked well in the beginning and for some time after, but then they stagnated. The same scenario has been seen in other companies as well. Scrum had helped them for a while, but after a period of 9 to 18 months, it was clear that it was having an irreconcilable negative impact on staff morale. This is something I’ve personally experienced, and written about here.

As Ken Schwaber (one of the persons behind Scrum) have said, “Scrum works! Scrum is designed to work in a context. Your job is to change your context so that Scrum will work for you”. The really hard challenge is then to change your context to fit Scrum. Kanban on the other hand, is the “start with what you do now and evolve from there”-alternative.

My rating: 3 (long read)

Kanban Does Not Share Your Agile Cross-Functional Team Agenda

This blog post holds this clever quote: ”Visualize, Don’t Reorganize!”. The key point is that Kanban improves collaboration through customer focused visualization, ease the ”stress” from organizing into cross-functional teams (which I personally can’t see as a problem).  I’ve written about something along the lines of this here.

My rating: 4 (short read)

Emerging Roles In Kanban

Despite the Kanban principle: ”Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities and titles”, some roles are emerging (however still optional). They are:

  • Service Delivery Manager (SDM) – Is the ”Flow master” (responsible for flow of work). Played by an existing member of staff. Responsible for Replenishment, Delivery Planning and Risk Review (three of the cadences is Kanban)
  • Service Request Manager (SRM) – Can be seen as repositioning of the Product Owner role as a ”Risk manager”. Is the owner of the policies for risk assessment, scheduling, sequencing and selection. When present, takes over ownership of Replenishment.

My rating: 5 (short read)

When Do We Need SDM & SRM Roles With Kanban?

I think it’s fair to call ESP (Enterprise Service Planning) the Kanban equivalent of SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) or LeSS (Large Scale Scrum). In large scale ESP implementations a lot of SRM:s (Service Request Managers) are needed. In smaller scale implementations, with a short feedback loop between development and the customers, SDM:s (Service Delivery Managers) are needed. Mike Burrows have made the comment: ”I have seen the need for one or the other but never both”. SRM is roughly a Product Owner, SDM is roughly a Scrum Master.

My rating: 5 (short read)

Will Role-Based Training Be Introduced Into Kanban?

No, it will not.

My rating: 1 (very short read)


If your backlog is ”given” and already prioritized, you are doing proto-kanban (and you are in a ”push mode”). But if you at the Replenishment meeting selects from a pool of options withnot committed work items, you are doing kanban (and you are in a ”pull mode”). ”Proto-Kanban” is a term coined by Richard Turner that represents systems without the fundamentals (like WIP limits), but representing systems that can ”grow” into full kanban systems. I wonder what is most common, full-fledged kanban systems or ”proto-kanban”?

My rating: 3 (short read)

Scrumsplaining #1: Kanban Is Scrum Without Sprints

”’Scrumsplaining’ is the phenomena where a Scrum practitioner tries to explain why you can’t use some alternative approach without actually making any attempt to understand the other approach or a different point of view or paradigm.” – David Anderson

Scrumspainers are plateaued Scrum:ers. ”Kanban is just Scrum without sprints”. No, that statement prevents people from seeing the applicability, the benefits, and the opportunity of Kanban!

My rating: 3 (medium read)

Scrumsplaining #2: There Is No Sense Of Urgency With Kanban

The second one is ”If we adopt Kanban we’ll lose our sense of urgency”. An example is given where a manager needs Scrum to keep pressure on 600 ”lazy” developers (I can’t relate to this at all). Kanban on the other hand is designed around the assumption that knowledge workers are intrinsically motivated (which I can relate to).

My rating: 2 (medium read)

Fitness For Purpose Score

NPS (Net Promoter Score) is explained, and that it is no good. Instead an alternative is presented: Fitness for purpose score. This will probably be a key strategic tool in ESP.

My rating: 2 (medium read)

Market Segmentation For Enterprise Services Planning

To understand “fitness” to enable and drive evolutionary improvements, we first need to understand our market and what defines “fitness for purpose”. An example is given: Neeta (a project manager and mum) are ordering pizza:

  1. For her team at work one evening.
  2. For her four children the other evening.

Her criterions for selecting the pizzeria is context based, i.e. a individual customer can be in several segments. Companies often neglects ”customer facing staff” in strategic planning (that can know about these segments), which is a loss.

My rating: 4 (medium read)

Defining KPIs In Enterprise Services Planning

”All KPIs should be recognizable by your customers and addressing aspects of how they evaluate the fitness of your product or service.” – David Anderson

This blog post continues from the previous one (Neeta and the pizza ordering example). The conclusion is that you should have KPI:s that reflects what your customers care about, otherwise you will have an organization that optimize on the wrong things.

My rating: 4 (medium read)

Evangelizing A Product Concept By Validating A Design

This article was first posted in the year of 2000. It describes a project to create a design for a set of wireless data applications for Nokia at their Americas office. For me this was also a walk down in memory lane, because I too worked with WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) at the time! This is an interesting read on how to do prototype development with a small cross-functional team.

My rating: 3 (very long read)

What We Know About Duration: Individual Activities

This blog post talks about estimation and how hard it is to do for creative work. I think this summary says it all: ”If you are trying to ’estimate’ the duration of a task such as designing, coding, testing a user story, you are basically guessing”.

My rating: 3 (long read)

Your KPIs Probably Aren’t! But What Are They?

David Anderson have found out during the last 18 months that the KPIs companies are using aren’t fitness criteria metrics, but rather general ”health indicators”. Lead time is considered a fitness criteria metric, and should always be measured! Often KPIs are thing ”that are easy to measure”, but without any useful purpose.

My rating: 4 (medium read)

Kanban’s Change Management Principles

In this blog post Kanban’s change management principles are introduced and explained. They are:

  1. Start with what you do now
         – understanding current processes, as actually practiced
         – respecting existing roles, responsibilities and job titles
  2. Agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change
  3. Encourage acts of leadership at every level
         – from individual contributor to senior management

My rating: 5 (medium read)

Kanban’s Service Delivery Principles

This is the second post (so more is to come) outlining the 6 principles of The Kanban Method, this one is about the 3 Service Delivery Principles:

  1. Focus on the customer
    – Understand and focus on your customers’ needs and expectations
  2. Manage the work; let people self-organize around it
  3. Evolve policies to improve customer and business outcomes
    – Policies determine the characteristics of your service delivery system; evolve policies so that customer satisfaction and business outcomes improve

My rating: 5 (long read)


It’s clear that David Anderson has scanned the market and looked what is out there. On a high level you can see Scrum and SAFe as ”pre packed”-solutions that you take in to your company and ”implement”. It feels that Kanban now is moving in the direction of becoming a more ”pre packed”-solution, by the introduction of ESP and the two new roles – SDM & SRM.

This can be seen both positive and negative. On the positive side is that Kanban can become a better known alternative to choose, i.e., be comparable with ”the same things” as it’s competitors. On the negative side is of course moving to a more of a ”one size fits all”-solution is in strict contradiction with Kanban’s management principle: ”Start with what you do know” (and evolve from there).

If you want to read even more about the future of Kanban, I can recommend the ”Essential Kanban Condensed Guide”.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist


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