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Why Kanban Flight Levels?

The world is a model richer: Kanban flight levels. I really do not believe that it has been waiting with bated breath for someone to summarise Kanban applications but it has been shown that the model can make the life of a Kanban proponent a little easier. You can find a more detailed explanation of it in my blog post “Kanban and its flight levels“.

How did the flight levels model come about in any case? I was contacted constantly by companies who formulated their wish something like this: “We would like to introduce Kanban to improve our team performance.“ To tell you the truth I was often a little confused and wondered why the whole world had decided to improve team performance. But it did not take long until I found out that the whole thing was a major misunderstanding of what Kanban was really about: Many people assume that Kanban is a team-focused approach like some Agile methodologies. But it is not!

Kanban does not focus on teams

The core of Kanban comprises four principles and six practises. Neither in the principles nor in the practices is it written that they are applied to teams. David Anderson even quite specifically says that with Kanban he always has in mind optimizing the service delivery along the value chain and never the improvement of individual teams. Nevertheless, one can of course also use Kanban excellently at a team level. However, it is essential to understand that Kanban does not focus on teams and that there’s other space for Kanban in an organizational context. Maybe you are simply not harnessing a great potential, which I think you would agree would be a great shame?

To make understandable the potential of Flight Level 3 – optimisation of the value stream or service delivery –  I like to use the analogy of a keyboard: Let us suppose our company is a keyboard and each team is in charge of one single key, as illustrated in the following figure:

So now along comes our client and wants us to write a love letter for him. Of course, now the “A Team” can optimize as long as it wants with Kanban until it sets a new record for the Guinness Book of Records for hitting the “A” key. However, the letter will not be completed any quicker through this. When it comes to writing a letter, it is logically not so important that you can use a single key super fast. It is much more important that the right key is pressed at the right time to ensure a real increase in performance. Applied to the real business world, you can conclude that it is not only a matter of increasing the performance of individual teams but that much more performance enhancement is achieved through optimizing the interaction between the individual teams.

Flight Levels is a communication model

Using this image you can communicate in a few minutes that it makes a lot of sense to use Kanban far and above team boundaries. And here we are at the core of the Kanban flight level model: it is a matter of communicating where Kanban can be applied in the company. In LEANability we use the model especially in the initial clarification to find for our clients the best possible starting point for the Kanban change initiative and to find out how Kanban can spread further within the company. It is important to understand that the individual flight levels do not build upon each other. You can launch Kanban on each flight level and in most companies you will notice the presence of several flight levels. With each flight level you can address other problems in a company and the model helps you get this message across.

Do I have to do that? Can I do that? Do I want to do that?

If organizational change is to be something more than putting a fresh coat of paint on the company building, you have no choice but to take people along with you on this journey of change. At the end of the day it is people who make change possible, who drive it forward or hinder it.

The German organizational consultants, Klaus Doppler and Christoph Lauterburg, in their book, Change Management have made a convincing case for the fact that every person in a change process must ask him/herself the following three questions: Do I have to do that? Can I do that? Do I want to do that?

Do I have to do that?

The general question about having to do something is fueled especially by the following lack of clarity:
  • Why change?
  • What are the causes?
  • Is management telling us the whole story or are they hiding something from us?
  • Is it really important – or are there more urgent problems which we should be addressing?
Again and again it is my experience that the approach is to try and address this lack of clarity through information meetings. Viewed superficially one could think that this involves the employees in the change process – however concerns are often ignored or the idea of letting the experience of the staff flow into the change process is simply dismissed. This results in the impression that everything has already been decided in any case and the staff members only have to nod their heads.  Information transfer and true involvement of staff are two very different things. 

Can I do that?

No matter in what way the need for change is communicated – the question “Do I really have to?“ is closely linked to the issue of “Am I really able to?“ at the level of the individual:
  • Can I cope with what is about to be asked of me?
  • Do I have all the skills which I need to master change?
  • What are my chances of good results?
  • What does success mean under these new conditions?
Here trust has a major role to play: On the one hand the trust of others in their own strengths and, on the other, the self-confidence of others, when it is a matter of making a genuine estimation of what one thinks one can cope with in the course of change.  The more radical and revolutionary the change, the greater will be the resistance encountered. When, for example, business analysts become product occupants, team leaders become impediment removers or there is simply no room left for project managers, you can get ready for stormy weather because the next question those people will ask themselves is “Do I really want this change?”

Do I want to do that?

Anyone who has already found himself in a similar situation in a company will know only too well how quickly, almost as if reflexively, previous organisational experiences are assessed. Above all, it is this emotionally oriented assessment which dominates the question about wanting to change:
  • What do I get from change?
  • Are the new activities interesting?
  • What people will I then have to deal with?
  • Is there a risk of losing something: A share of income, a good boss, pleasant colleagues, interesting career perspectives?
  • Or can I reckon that I have something to gain through this change?
The content and more specifically the emotional quality of the answers determine the attitude towards change. It depends on this attitude towards how much change energy is mobilized. Do I have a positive or, in contrast, a negative attitude towards change? What is my personal assessment  in light of all the information that I received, the discussions I had and the conclusions that I have reached? What are my thoughts on it? What does my gut feeling say? And how will I behave accordingly?  
You are well advised to address and take seriously these issues and also the emotions of the employees in a change initiative. Although Kanban is based on evolutionary and gradual change – the issues and emotions are still there, waiting to be addressed.

Kanban Flight Levels Talk at LKCE13

Lean Kanban Central Europe is always worth a visit. This year the fabulous event took place in Hamburg and I was presenting the Kanban Flight Levels Model. Here’s the 30 minutes video of my session:

Kanban goes South Africa

Vom 19.-21. November machten Klaus und Sigi das zweite mal dieses Jahr Station in Südafrika. Kanban Change Leadership war das Motto in ZA – diesmal in Kapstadt.

Doch was kann man sich eigentlich unter Kanban Change Leadership vorstellen? Kurz gesagt, es ist ein Modell, das die Kanban-Werte von Mike Burrows, die Kanban-Prinzipien und Kanban-Praktiken von David Anderson mit Praktiken zum Thema Change und Leadership von Klaus und Sigi vereint. Denn um mit Kanban erfolgreich im Unternehmen starten zu können, braucht es eben mehr als nur ein paar Techniken, die man wie ein Mechaniker ins Unternehmen schraubt. Wie dieses Modell aufgebaut ist, zeigt das folgende Video, das dankenswerter Weise von Peter Hundermark gefilmt wurde:

Das Video zeigt das initiale Modell, am ersten Tag des Trainings. Während des der drei Tage füllte sich das Modell mit vielen nützlichen und konkreten Praktiken, die die TeilnehmerInnen am nächsten Arbeitstag direkt anwenden können. Das endgültige Kanban Change Leadership Modell sah am dritten Tag dann so aus:


Wer auch mal ein Kanban Change Leadership Training mitmachen will braucht nicht gleich nach Südafrika fliegen. Das gibt es auch näher, z.B.

  • 13.-15.1. 2014, Zürich, CH
  • 20.-22.1. 2014, Wien, AT
  • 16.-18.6. 2014, Wien, AT (Details folgen)
  • 30.6.-2.7. 2014, Berlin, DE (Details folgen)