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What is Kanban?

Kanban, the Japanese word for “billboard”, is a visual method for managing work as it flows through a process.  Originally developed to do scheduling in the manufacturing sector, it’s now a Lean management tool being utilized across all industries to visualize and actively manage work in order to optimize productivity.

It’s also a common tool used by management consultants as their approach to client engagements.

Why Kanban?

With so many tools out there, why do consulting companies like Trindent choose Kanban?  It may not seem obvious, but the four foundational principles of Kanban are already found in most process improvement methodologies.   Though they might seem minor, each one of these principles provides a part of the basis for any successful organizational change.

The four principles of the Kanban methodology:

  1. Start with what you are doing now.
  2. Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change.
  3. At the beginning, respect current roles, responsibilities, and job titles.
  4. Encourage acts of leadership at all levels.

How Are These Principles Woven into Process Improvement?

In using the Kanban approach, visually mapping the current workflow – what is being done now – gives consultants the opportunity to step back and see the big picture before jumping into making changes.  This helps to clearly identify improvement opportunities and shows what possible inter dependencies within the process need to be kept in mind.  It also provides a comprehensive baseline against which future workflows can be measured once implemented.  

With a list of opportunities in place, the next step for consultants is to decide how to go about implementing them.   Agreement to pursue incremental, evolutionary change allows an engagement team to get to their overall improvement goals by finding “quick wins” with small, manageable changes that don’t seem overwhelming, which helps drive employee engagement and maintain program momentum. 

When working through improvement opportunities, engagement teams should, at the beginning, respect current roles, responsibilities, and job titles to minimize the potential for resistance from those effected by change.  As the program gains momentum and employee buy-in grows, this principle can – and should – be reduced. 

By inviting input from all levels of the organization to identify and implement improvement efforts – and encouraging acts of leadership at all levels – the Kanban approach encourages employee engagement and support, and ultimate drives buy-in for change.  With this buy-in, continuous improvement becomes ingrained into the culture of an organization, which in turn helps create an environment where improvement benefits can be sustained.

“Brown Paper Process” – a Kanban Tool

Embodying the four foundational principles of Kanban, Trindent uses a method called the “Brown Paper Process and System Map”.   It’s a simple but creative way to involve all levels of staff to help visualize the current workflow and show opportunities for incremental change.  

How does it work? A large piece of wall-sized brown paper is hung in a high traffic area to be used as the process flow background.  Using color coded sticky notes to highlight process strengths and opportunities, the “Brown Paper Process” creates a collaborative forum to produce and display a map of the end-to-end current process. 

What are the advantages?  The public location and interactive format allow staff at all levels to feel engaged and encourages them to provide input.  The end product provides a compelling visual that displays the current processes – showcasing its strengths and opportunities.  The opportunities identified from the “Brown Paper Process” are then used to create a log or “to do list” of potential changes that can be made continuously over a pre-determined period of time at a pace that is comfortable for the teams.

Seeing the Opportunities in Consulting

A Kanban-based approach creates the means to visualize and actively manage work in order to optimize productivity.  Consulting teams can see the current state through the eyes of their client’s staff, which they can use to more effectively identify viable continuous improvement opportunities.  The interactive format enables early buy-in for change and amplified support for implementation and sustainment of a continuous improvement initiative.

At Trident, we work with all levels of client staff to ensure that processes, system and behavioral improvements become firmly rooted in your organization to ensure sustainability of benefits.  Click here to learn more.