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Kanban does not force you to do Kanban

Last week I held an accredited Kanban training in Brno, CZ. There was quite a lot of Scrum knowledge in the room as Scrum trainers and practitioners were participating which of course led to some discussions regarding Kanban vs. Scrum. I am really not a fan of these discussions, nevertheless it turned out to be quite fruitful.
We could agree that Scrum tells you what a team has to do in order to become “hyper productive”: cross functionality, Scrum Master, Product Owner, sprints, review, sprint planning, etc. are some of the prescriptions in order to improve within the Scrum mindset.
Let alone that Kanban is not a team-based approach, it can also be used on a team-level in order to improve. Kanban is about encouraging people to find their own way. So the Kanban way is not to prescribe what companies should do but rather help them find out for themselves what they have to change in order to improve. 
So what’s the point now? I often feel very pushed when talking to Agile people. They sometimes appear to me like missionaries proclaiming the good news that they have the patent remedy to heal the world. I think the Kanban mindset is completely different. For me, a good Kanban coach or trainer does not force people to do Kanban. This would be a contradiction in terms! When it is about to encourage finding the own way, how could you force people to do it your way? It might turn out that some people prefer following prescriptions of a book or method instead of finding their own way. However, in this case following prescriptions is their own way. There are for sure plenty of reasons for it and in the end it might boil down to fears, personal believes and assumptions.
My assumption is there is not only one truth on how to run your business. I made a quick book search: Amazon finds 6,355 books on “software project management” (http://amzn.to/UKTMOj), 65,238 on “software development” (http://amzn.to/UKU3kt), and 813,167 books on “management” (http://amzn.to/UKWRhq). If there’s only one truth, we should probably tell Amazon. They would be lucky to free some stock.


  1. Kurt Häusler Reply

    Why are you trying to set Agile and Kanban up against each other like that?

    “They sometimes appear to me like missionaries proclaiming the good news that they have the patent remedy to heal the world. I think the Kanban mindset is completely different. For me, a good Kanban coach or trainer does not force people to do Kanban.”

    Completely different is a huge overstatement. Agile and the Kanban mindset are basically the same thing. Both are reactions against ideas that tend not to work. Push, 100% utilization, unlimited WIP, centralized decision making, failure intolerance etc.

    Approaches like Scrum and Kanban are also vary similar in that they both require some changes or initial setup, they both have a handful of minimal rules to be followed, and they both make problems visible so that people can choose which way to improve from there.

    Both also tend to work better with decisions that reflect a high-trust, theory y culture, and tend to clash with low-trust, theory x cultures.

    If you want to start some fight between the Kanban community and some other community, then the Agile community is the last one you should choose.

    The world of management is currently dominated by a mindset hostile to product development, and knowledge work, and has a huge amount of momentum behind it. If anything, the Kanban community and Agile community should hold hands and struggle against this monster, not each other!

    • Klaus Leopold Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Kurt. I didn’t intent to start a fight whosoever. The pointe of the post was that I prefer if people find their own “right” way and at least my interpretation of the Kanban method follows the same path. E.g. if people don’t want to limit WIP, don’t push them to do so. Encourage them to find out what the benefits are. Go “one step deeper”. Avoiding WIP limits (and any other thing that appears to be “necessary” from the coach’s POV) usually boils down to fears, believes and assumptions.

      I prefer to observe emotions & assumption and use them as a driver for the change initiative instead of ignoring them and telling people something like “you’d have to limit your WIP otherwise you’re screwed because I know it and by the way, you’re of course not doing kanban” (overstated). I too often see the latter behavior of coaches and trainers and that was my motivation to write this post. And yes, unfortunately I see this behavior also within the Agile tribe.

    • Mike Leber Reply

      Klaus, then I don’t understand, what you are teaching in your classes. And I don’t understand, why you are doing this under an “accredited flag”?

      If you would prefer people to find their own way, even David’s Kanban core practices might be prescriptive already. Talking about shallow and deep goes further. And accreditation would not be needed at all – because either the people tell, what’s working (“their own way”) or you tell what’s working (“your way”).

      Its clear a coach should not force anyone for anything. But coming with a method the way you do, raises expectations. And you are not really offering variations. So what’s the point then of a Kanban coach?

    • Klaus Leopold Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Mike. I agree, if you would teach the kanban practices in a way like “that’s what you have to do” it would be prescriptive. However, my understanding of training is all about gaining new knowledge and understanding. It is totally NOT about telling people what they HAVE to do. More knowledge means more options – more options you can incorporate in your own way. Surprisingly I don’t tell my students they will burn in kanban hell if they don’t “manage flow” 😉

      Regarding accreditation: The accreditation body (LKU) assures that the trainer’s knowledge and the content the trainer is teaching complies to the quality standards defined by LKU. If you’re e.g. visiting an LKU accredited Kanban training it’s very unlikely that your trainer teaches you what you have to do but helps you to learn. If you value quality assurance from LKU you do good to visit an LKU accredited training. If there is no value in quality assurance for you, you would probably visit a non accredited training.

  2. Mike Leber Reply

    Well as an educated systemic coach I am the last person believing in single methodologies. 😉 That’s where I don’t get your point. Who is teaching Scrum and would ever prescribe somebody to follow certain practices …? If you go with LKU your are obviously bound to tell certain things, even if

    Same counts for content or quality, where I don’t believe this kind of black / white thinking makes sense. As you know I attended David’s 3 day class last year – well, he did not yet officially tell about LKU yet, but guess not much changed :))

    To me your statement looks like a simplification trap 🙂 Sorry, not following LKU is even not neglecting their standards, but at least not following their policies in terms of money.

    Still there are more people in the community, who do high quality training / consulting on Kanban et al without LKU 😉 .. and even quality assured … because there are many more instances out there, who do quality assurance, maybe even with better focus … 😉 LKU is pretty the same as Scrum Alliance – nice teaching and standards. But you get pretty good stuff everywhere else, just with more options in terms of diversity & emerging practices.

    Here Toyota (somehow related to Kanban) nicely demonstrates that limiting practices at any point in time makes no sense, because their context changes and therefore also applications. Something many authors had to recognize, when things they had written about, had been dropped at Toyota already 😉

    • Klaus Leopold Reply

      I think we’re a bit going off topic with the accreditation discussion now. Hmmm… Well, again, if you value quality assurance __FROM LKU__ you do good to visit an LKU accredited training. I read this is not important to you. Fine for me!

  3. Mike Leber Reply

    Personally I value people’s and organization’s beings and mindsets, diversity and emergent practices. And that brings me exactly back to Kurt’s opinion, which I share.

    • Klaus Leopold Reply

      So, I assume you think I do not value people, organizations, mindsets, diversity and emergent practices? For me, “encouraging people to find their own way” is a pretty strong statement of these values.

  4. Mike Leber Reply

    No, very sorry, if you misinterpreted it this way!
    My answer was referring to what *you* were reading might be important to me 😉
    I just tried to outline that what you read does not comply with what in fact is.

  5. Mike Leber Reply

    True, as mentioned, my turn to pay 😉

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