Kanban is a fascinating Lean method for improvement of work: both in efficiency and quality. But it is very misunderstood, bastardized and underutilized. In the latest years I have seen a big shift of teams and full companies switching to Kanban trying to run away from Scrum or just trying to find a name for their ad-hoc ways of working. That's why I decided to start a small series trying to clear some misconceptions on the WHY and the HOW behind Kanban practices.
Over the course of a few weeks, I will be posting on misconceptions I see to try and clear the image of Kanban as method. I'll probably tie it all together in a final post and contrast it with Scrum, to show how much of this misunderstanding is harmful to proper Agile practices. Stay tuned!
Now let's jump into the first misconception, the one about cadence. By the end of this post, you will be sure of what are Kanban cadences and why they are important.
What is a cadence?
In a system that is constantly looking for the next improvement such as Kanban, cadence is everything. Cadence is a rhythm, a pulse. How is cadence experienced? With meetings! Getting together in a fixed periodicity, at the same place, the same time, with a very clear outcome for the meeting. People usually run away from "a lot of meetings" because they feel it is not a great investment of their time, period. Let's be honest, most meetings are a total waste: we don't have the right people present, there is no clear intention or outcome for the meeting, facilitation is non-existent, meetings that take too long. On top of all that, on some weeks we meet like there is no tomorrow, on others there is radio silence. I am running away from those too! Now revert what I just said and you might shed a different light on meetings. Make them periodic to reduce complexity of time, of space… of booking! Make them intentional, so I know what is supposed to happen by the end of it. So I know how to prepare and I know how to challenge people and assumptions to make sure we meet the intended outcome. Make meetings properly facilitated so that all voices are heard and interactions are meaningful. Make them short enough, so that my attention won't drift away. How do you feel about that? Kanban cadences have the important task of synchronization. When people come together, decide what to do and then disband they can focus. But they need to come back often enough to make sure they are still all going in the same direction. Start riding your bike on a straight line, deviate 1 (one) degree and continue for a whole hour. Report back where you wanted to go and where you actually arrived. I think it is worth saying that if you are attempting this, please do that somewhere safe! But you got the idea. Had you corrected yourself in the first minute you would have arrived at the intended destination much earlier. You can still course-correct now one hour later, but you will be late for lunch or at least will have wasted time. That is why you check progress _how you are doing, where you are going next_ every so often. In other words, you synchronize.
What are the cadences in Kanban?
Well, Kanban has seven cadences and they are mandatory just like days of the week. A system has pieces and if you remove pieces it will no longer work as intended. Kanban is very attentive to its meetings and they are called cadences because of the arguments I just used: rhythm and intention. They depicted below:
As you can see in the colors, not only Kanban meeting have an intention individually, they are grouped in three distinctive responsibilities:
You want to check if you are getting things to done (blue);
You want to check if you are doing the right things (red);
You want to check if you are doing things better (green).
If you want to concentrate on team-level responsibility only, let's stick to these three: Daily Standup, Replenishment Meeting and Service Delivery Review. Without going too deep, they are:
Daily Standup: as the name implies we verify progress and deviation daily. Are there bottlenecks? Is work flowing? That happens always in front of the board.
Weekly Replenishment: Kanban is strict about how work arrives on the system. It can only be pulled, never pushed. That means, we need to make sure there is work waiting to be pulled into the system whenever the system is empty, aka, whenever the team is done with what they are currently doing. There is no commitment to doing those new items. They are just waiting, in "ready" state. Replenishment happens in front of the board.
Bi-Weekly Service Delivery Review: every two weeks it is time to see the totality of what we have worked on and how we have worked on things. We are both looking back on accomplishments and forward on improvements. This happens in front of the board.
The other four cadences we will skip for now. They are needed for your Kanban implementation to really work throughout your company, but I actually suggest the experiment that you start without them. Mostly because they will be a natural occurrence of you following Kanban right. After you put the "team level" Kanban pieces above in place you will feel the need to organize the bigger picture of how your teams work work together, how to manage your portfolio, how to tackle risks, and what happens after your product or service is in the hands of the customers. The strategic and operational pieces will make a lot of sense once your teams are organized and delivering on a cadence. But you can complete your Kanban slowly as you gain confidence.
Kanban cadences, aka meetings, are the heartbeat of your delivery process. As such, irregularities and skipped beats will signal trouble ahead in the process and lead to inconsistent output. Think of a heart. You want regular, steady beats if the system is to be healthy.
Take the time needed to familiarize yourself with the intention and mechanics of those meetings. They are needed for your Kanban system to perform with quality and fluidity. That is a simple matter of knowledge, willingness and discipline. Discipline is a hallmark of Kanban.