2016 – The Year of Kanban and ESP

Lean Kanban ESP

It’s been more than 10 years since the launch of the body of work that ultimately led to the Kanban Method for knowledge teams by David Anderson.

During last month’s Lean Kanban India conference (the very first official Lean Kanban conference in India), which we were very proud to co-host and be a Title Sponsor of, David presented a journey down memory lane of 10 years of Kanban. During this period, Kanban, and the Kanban Method, have emerged, depending on who you talk to, as an “alternate path to Agility”, an alternative to Scrum, a way to improve your Scrum, a Visual Project Management method, and of course, what it was always originally intended for – a method for improving whatever you do!

We have been part of the journey for the last 5 years, since we started to work on SwiftKanban. That is also when our association with David Anderson began. Along the way, we met and have become friends with so many other luminaries in field of Lean/ Kanban and Agile. To say the least, it has been an exhilarating journey!

Today we have customers using SwiftKanban as part of their Lean/ Kanban journey in a variety of contexts – application/software development teams (some doing Scrumban, others doing just Kanban), IT/ Ops teams, DevOps organizations, engineering teams, as also marketing, advertising, legal, HR, procurement and other business functions.

Teams, entire functions and multiple departments have been delighted and almost caught by surprise as to the level of impact Kanban has had on their specific functions and projects. They have seen cycle times reduce, throughput improve and overall employee morale go through the roof! Kanban has helped teams and departments completely turn around the tone and content of management reviews and meetings, customer engagement and collaboration and team/ employee morale.

All of this has been possible to a large extent due to Kanban’s fundamental principles –

  • Evolutionary – non-disruptive – in it’s approach. Starts with your existing process helps you gradually improve as you see opportunities for improvement.
  • Visualized – proving again and again that a picture is worth a thousand (or more!) words. Just having all of the individual work items on a physical or virtual (electronic) board is a powerful medium of and catalyst to team collaboration.
  • WIP limited – encourages team members to limit work-in-progress (WIP) and first finish what they started before taking up new stuff, something that dramatically improves flow.
  • Pull-based – truly empowering team members to signal their readiness to take up a new piece of work and establish flow. So, team members are really able to finish their work at hand before having to take up something new.

Simply put, Kanban is an amazingly simple method to change gradually and improve! Over the last 4 years, we have now worked with hundreds of teams, thousands of users who have benefited from these simple principles!

Kanban for the Enterprise

While Kanban has been adopted enthusiastically at the team and departmental level, there has also been a lot of interest in its ability to scale at the Enterprise level. Some of its basic characteristics lend Kanban to apply naturally to the Enterprise level – that is cross-team, cross-function and cross-departmental applications.

  • End-to-end Value Stream Mapping: While value-stream or workflow – or other terms have been interchangeably used, and you can pick your favorite term, the Kanban board has proven to be very flexible in it’s ‘scope’. In the context of software development, you can define a Kanban board that tracks only the Development work, another for Deployment and Maintenance work or another for the early stage – or upstream – backlog management and requirement definition work. Or you can have one giant Kanban Board that tracks the end-to-end flow, from Requirements to Deployment/ Monitoring in one single board.
  • Hierarchy Mapping: Kanban Boards are hierarchical in nature. Any workflow that is visualized on a Kanban Board can be either abstracted into a higher-level workflow or broken down into more detailed workflow steps. So, Kanban by nature supports “portfolio” management and this has been recognized in such terms as Portfolio Kanban or Enterprise Kanban.
  • Risk and Cost of Delay: Other aspects of Kanban, such as its focus on risk management, cost of delay, opportunity cost, demand and capacity planning, etc. are all applicable at the enterprise level, as CEOs and executive management grapple with the challenges of running a highly efficient organization.

These capabilities or characteristics of Kanban allow hierarchies of products or projects – such as Programs or Portfolios to be easily mapped and managed via a hierarchy of Kanban boards. This has found recognition in other frameworks, such as Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®), which in its recent version 4.0 adopted Kanban more than ever at the Portfolio and the Team Levels.

As Kanban has been applied across the enterprise, and teams have used it to their advantage to deliver their products and services better, the need to have them work look at their overall Kanban system in a cohesive manner has begun to manifest itself.

Over the last 2 years, David Anderson evolved the idea of applying Kanban to “modern management methods” and then on to “Enterprise Services Planning” or ESP. In the last 12-15 months, ESP with Kanban has emerged as a powerful framework to look at an enterprise’s services delivery model (to both internal and external customers) and help executive management analyze enterprise capabilities.

Enterprise Services Planning (with Kanban)

In their daily life, most managers and executives are dealing with questions such as “What is the demand for my products or services going to be next year or next quarter?”, “What is my capability or capacity to meet that demand?”, “Will I have enough resources?” or “When can I start latest on this work so it gets completed in time for a market release?”, “What are the possible risks to my plan?” – and many more such questions.

Enterprise Services Planning deals with precisely all such questions. It helps you analyze incoming demand, outgoing capacity, the organization’s capability (in terms of lead-time, cycle-time, throughput, flow efficiency and other such delivery metrics) to meet that demand, the organization’s risk appetite, and so on, and provide statistical analysis and forecasts of the likelihood of meeting customer or market needs, so that management can make realistic commitments to customers.

David has written extensively about the ESP in his blog, and presented the concept in a number of conferences last year. (Here are links to one such blog post and his ESP presentation from Lean Kanban Central Europe last November.)

Lean Kanban Esp

With Kanban being central to most of these concepts, it was natural for us to work closely with David to build ESP functionality on top of SwiftKanban to support the ESP practices. Earlier this month, we were thrilled to launch the initial version of our SwiftKanban ESP module in a limited release. Over the coming months, we plan to bring out more and more of ESP functionality to help our customers implement enterprise services planning effectively.

In the last 6 months, we have worked extensively with a number of customers to fine-tune the requirements of ESP and build a powerful analytical capability in the ESP module. In the coming months, you will see features that cover upstream Kanban, Risk Analysis and many more.

In Summary

Kanban has come a long way to help teams and departments optimize flow and improve throughput, quality and time to market with their products and services. With Enterprise Services Planning, it promises to be the next big revolution in helping organizations scale Agility at the enterprise level and build high-efficiency services delivery systems that help them gain market share and dramatically improve their bottom-lines!

Mahesh Singh
Cofounder/ SVP – Product

To learn more about SwiftKanban’s ESP capability and to see a personalized demo, please contact us at [email protected].


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