BY Mahesh Singh | August 14, 2014 | Blog

In the last few weeks, I read 4 very interesting articles that underscore the value of using Kanban for Project Management, and yet represent two extreme ends of how Kanban is gaining recognition in this field. First, there was a series of 3 great blog posts by none other than our friend, philosopher, and guide, and Kanban pioneer, David Anderson.

Simple Kanban Board

Starting with the first one – “Project  Management with Kanban”, David has outlined very nicely how Project Management can truly benefit by using the various techniques, models and measurements that make effective use of historical data – and in fact produce project schedule forecasts that would be much closer to what the projects actually do than the traditional method of getting all developers to estimate each and every piece of work that needs to be done and adding that up to produce a project plan.

Project Management with Kanban

In the first post, “Project Management with Kanban”, David lays out the basic premise that the fundamental role of the Project Manager is making policies that govern the project explicit. The project management job becomes one of project governance and risk management, with the project manager using the project policies to select, sequence and schedule project work based on risk and cost of delay, forecast the project completion date instead of estimate – and work towards delivering the project with ‘acceptable economic outcomes’. In the process, they improve transparency, governance and risk management.

Scheduling Driven by Risk (Cost of Delay)

In the second post, “Project Management with Kanban – Sequencing Policies”, David has described the use of Risk Assessment to select and sequence the project work. In general, requirements that are at lower risk (of change due to a variety of factors) can be taken up first, while those at higher risk should be deferred till later, when the risk is lowered and required has become well understood. Risk can have multiple dimensions – such as Market Risk, Technology Risk, Execution Risk, etc. – and each needs to be considered separately in order to schedule work effectively. Requirements that have the same level of risk need not be sequenced – that is they can be taken up in any order. This substantially reduces the complexity of the task of sequencing work in the traditional prioritization-based approach.

Project Forecasting instead of Project Estimation

The final post, “Project Forecasting”, deals with the statistical tools of Kanban – lead time distribution of work in a Kanban system and Little’s Law equation from queuing theory – powerful yet simple tools for project managers to build a schedule forecast of all work, clustered by risk (class of service). Using the by now famous 3-phase “Z-curve” model, David describes how an overall project schedule can be built using an initialization phase when the project is ramping up and flow-efficiency is low, a hyper-productive phase 2 with high flow-efficiency and a final phase when the project is ending. This would necessarily need to be done for each class of requirements – and build a schedule for each; which also provides the opportunity for capacity allocation by requirements risk type – e.g., regulatory requirements.

Project Managers – Rejoice!

All of this may sound daunting, but it really is not.  As David says at the end, “While using historical data to form lead time histograms, developing best fit distribution curves, forecasting completion rates, establishing WIP limits, setting capacity allocations and influencing capacity allocation policies all sounds very complex and involves some basic understanding of statistics, making project plans this way is actually very fast and easy. Given that the requirements have been assessed and tagged with risk categories, it ought to be possible to build a project forecast within a few hours.”

All this means that for Project Managers looking at Kanban, there is an exciting journey ahead and a quiver-full of new tools to help you manage your projects far more effectively, and in many ways, far more easily than ever before. You just have to take that first plunge!

Well, you can read all about it in David’s posts starting here – AND you can also check out his Kanban Master Class schedule here to take advantage of some fantastic Kanban training for your project management functions! And like David said, you could also check out SwiftKanban and reach out to us to see a demo of Monte Carlo simulation model!

Kanban as an Enabler for PMs

The other interesting article I was “The Kanban Board – A PM’s New Best Friend” (published on ProjectManagement.com, earlier GanttHead.com) by Andy Jordan, in an ever-increasing recognition for the need for simplification of the communication and coordination tools that project managers need to manage their projects more effectively; however, the article is a more early-stage prescription to the use of the Kanban board as an enabling tool for Project Managers.

It is a pretty detailed article that establishes the basics of Kanban, explains the mechanics of using a Kanban board – and of course espouses its use as a simple yet powerful visualization, communication and collaboration tool. As Jordan says at the end, the Kanban board represents ‘the better way’ that so many practitioners seek!

The article – and the comments by many of the readers – represents a vast number of people in Project Management (and possibly the Agile) community who are in the very early stages of evaluating and possibly adopting Kanban. While they have come to or are coming to appreciate the benefits of visualization and value of WIP limits, they have not yet really achieved flow due to WIP limit constraints, nor yet explored the deeper value propositions and the potential impact of Kanban. In other words, they are still in the very early stages of a shallow implementation of Kanban! (You can read the full article here – though a (free) membership to ProjectManagement.com is required to read the full article.)

Kanban – Crossing the Chasm!

To me, these articles are a good sign!

On the one hand, we have the evolved thought-leadership of the Kanban community, led by the Lean Kanban University and David himself, along with so many other leaders who have devoted a good part of the last decade evolving Kanban for use in the knowledge industry.  David’s articles and others, such as the recent webinar we did with Dimitar Bakardzhiev on Probabilistic Approach to Project Planning are just a small set of the overall body of work being created by this community to help project managers across the board get a better understanding of Kanban and help them manage their projects far more effectively.

On the other hand, there is a large tsunami building up of the community of practitioners who are getting increasingly frustrated by the rigid/ complex tools and processes of their trade and are seeking a simpler yet very powerful and effective way of doing their jobs better. They are embarking on a journey of discovering just what Kanban is – and how they can benefit from it.

The Kanban community has a huge responsibility to welcome the tsunami – and continuously expand and extend the tools it can provide to the newcomers to Kanban to help them make their transition as smooth as possible. I am happy that at Digité/ SwiftKanban, we are already a part of the Kanban community, playing our part as we get to meet some of them almost every day.

Are you evaluating Kanban for project management or other functions at work – or for personal use? Do share some of your stories with us.

Mahesh Singh

Co-founder/ Sr. VP – Product, Digité, Inc.

2 thoughts on “Has Kanban truly arrived for Project Management?

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