Today, in software development, if you used the term Kanban you’d be faced with a growing number of principles, values and maturity models. It’s becoming increasingly complex. However, it’s rooted in some simple concepts which are worth considering from time-to-time.

Kanban is translated as signboard or billboard in Japanese. It’s nothing more than a signal system. It originated from a simple, visual stock replenishment system. The signal for more work was an empty box. This created a ‘pull signal’ to another team to replenish the stock. Instead of the replenishment team just continuing to fill the boxes based on their own plan (which is a ‘push’ model) they waited for the signal from the team consuming their goods.

During the 1980s and 90s, and continuing today, there was a revolution in manufacturing based on this simple idea of signalling when more inventory is required or more work is needed. It made the whole process more efficient, less wasteful and more productive. There are not many manufacturers out there today that don’t work with a visual, pull system. Most of the firms that continued to use push systems went out of business because of the amount of waste it creates.

In knowledge work (product and software development, change management and other similar work), it’s even more important to have work and signals of capacity visualized so other teams and people know the current demands and the bottlenecks, and capacity needs are understood. Without visualization, it’s easy to end up back in a push system with too much work (or inventory) being produced which is unproductive.


Does your work visualization technique help different teams (or team members) know when more of their work is required? What could be done to improve the signalling across teams to create an effective pull system?

Learn more in our Kanban VFQ session book.

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