Kanban is not a novel idea. It is a well-practiced and known method for organizations to increase productivity and efficiency, reduce the lead time of processes and improve delivery flow. However, historically Kanban has been frequently misunderstood. Many people think that Kanban is just a whiteboard with stickies in columns of to-do, doing, and done. Or just a visual representation of a board in their agile tool. This resulted in many organizations missing out on the full potential of Kanban.
The Kanban Maturity Model (KMM) is challenging this idea by defining certain steps for growing the maturity of the organizations that use the Kanban Method. The KMM collects and summarizes a decade of experience applying Kanban across diverse industries, in businesses of all sizes. By codifying these experiences, it addresses two common problems experienced in Kanban and agile implementations: overreaching and plateauing. We see overreaching when organizations or teams learn about some interesting practices and try to take them on before they are ready for them. While the practices have shown to be valuable in evolved environments, when taken on too early they can backfire. Plateauing happens when improvement levels off as the original problem that initiated the change initiative is abated. While there have been some improvements, there is potential for significantly more improvement. The KMM addresses this by identifying a road map and coaching tools for taking teams or an organization to the next level of improvement.
As defined by Teodora Bozheva, Kanban trainer and consultant, and co-author of the “Kanban Maturity Model” with David J. Anderson, “The Kanban Maturity Model provides guidance for developing cultural values and management practices that enable enterprise agility, better customer satisfaction and business outcomes. It is an organizational maturity model that helps organizations evolve their agility and resilience.”
The KMM maps Kanban practices as well as cultural values against seven organizational maturity levels. At first sight, the KMM may look complex. However, by advancing through the different stages, organizations are helped in a variety of ways with a road map to achieve their improvement goals. For example, it can help relieve staff from overburdening, make processes more predictable and sustain a balanced workflow. In addition, businesses can deliver faster to market, align around a shared purpose and strengthen organizational values.
When used in conjunction with software technologies such as Kanbanize, a Kanban automation solution for Agile Project Management, the model helps users fully optimize the workflow across all business functions and bolster the full intent of Kanban. Kanban software solutions and the KMM are stronger together. When companies simply invest only in Kanban automation solutions, they lack the required guidance and resources to fully maximize such tools. Similarly, without the automation of processes, insights and metrics provided by Kanban software technologies, deeper organizational maturity on the KMM scale is difficult to achieve.
KMM: Understanding the Maturity Levels
Transitioning from individual gain to the long-term company goals, each level represents a different step in the organizational journey toward agility with Kanban. The seven levels are arranged based on the company focus, main values, how stable the business is and what benefits it receives from Kanban. It is important to understand that each level of the model includes transition and consolidation practices. The transition practices are key to getting past the plateau and helping move from one level to the next, causing the company to reflect on what can be improved in the process. The consolidation practices are then pulled to achieve the outcomes that the maturity level describes.
Level 0 – Oblivious
If your organization is not aware of the need for a structured work process, you are at maturity Level 0. Most organizations at this stage do not have a systematic approach to organizing the way they work and have a difficult time applying Kanban on a team level. At this stage, organizations typically visualize work on a personal level using either a physical or online Kanban board.
Level 1 – Team Focused
At maturity Level 1, team members already have built the habit of using Kanban on an individual level. After individuals start to recognize the advantages of simple workflow visualization, it is time to transmit the benefits of Kanban from an individual to a team level.
An indication that an organization has initiated the transition toward using Kanban at the team level is that the work from the personal Kanban boards is moved to a shared team Kanban board using per-person swim lanes. This way, team members will easily recognize their own tasks, but at the same time, have an overview of what others are doing.
An important step at this stage is to define and visualize initial policies. These are norms or rules that the whole team agrees to follow for the sake of normal functioning and improving work processes.
Level 2 – Customer-Driven
So far, your team should have an understanding that using Kanban helps to boost collaboration and bring transparency to the work process. The next step is recognizing the workflow. In other words, the team starts to understand what and how things are done and realize the need for a defined work process. The goal is for workers to understand what is expected of them and what they can expect of their colleagues with a shared vision of what finished product should look like.
However, at this stage, while the process, policy usage and decision frameworks are consistent, there is still inconsistency of the desired outcome.
Level 3 – Fit-for-Purpose
By the time a company reaches maturity Level 3, they get a deeper understanding and better definition of their processes, workflow, policies and decision frameworks. It is important that the whole team agrees on all of them and understands how they help them achieve better results.
As you start to outgrow maturity Level 2 and begin the transition from a customer-driven to a “fit-for-purpose” process, an organization becomes better at meeting customer expectations in a sustainable manner, as well as balancing upstream and downstream flow. The steps for maturity should be dedicated to complete alignment of the organizational requirements and processes needed to consistently meet customer expectations with predictability, a fast and balanced workflow, actionable metrics and shorter lead time.
Level 4 – Risk Hedged
Maturity Level 4 introduces risk-hedging practices, data-driven decision-making frameworks and use of predictive models. At this level, organizations embrace a model-driven management approach to strategic planning that anticipates risks, forecasts outcomes and results in consistent economics. All these improve overall business economics and robustness against unforeseen events and exceptional circumstances.
Level 5 – Market Leader
At maturity Level 5, not only have design, implementation and service delivery become routinely “fit-for-purpose,” the business is now entirely “fit-for-purpose” from a shareholder and end user perspective. The focus of this level is now on continually optimizing the workflow for efficiency and improved economic outcomes without sacrificing quality, increasing margins, minimizing costs and optimizing the value of work done.
Level 6 – Built for Survival
The deepest stage, maturity Level 6, is when a business can be established as “built to last.”
The business is capable of questioning and assessing:
- Is the way we do things still competitive?
- Are new technologies, processes, methods or means becoming available that we should be investigating or adopting?
- Do we offer the right products and services? and if not, how should we change?
- Are we serving the right markets? Do we have the capability to serve our chosen markets adequately?
- Who are we as a company? Is our current identity relevant and appropriate, or do we need to reinvent ourselves?
These questions are strategic concerns, and the answers can help establish capabilities and services that align with the broader company strategy and bottom-line.
A Road Map for Business Resiliency
Over the past few years more and more people have learned, understood and applied the Kanban Method correctly and demonstrated significantly improved results. Knowledge work of all forms, from operations to project management to product innovation, the use cases and impact of Kanban across industries and business functions are extensive but sometimes underutilized. The KMM provides a greatly detailed map on how to take your company from a shallow practice that helps sort out individual needs to a fully functional business model. When adopted in conjunction with Kanban automation software, the KMM enables organizations to evolve and improve processes, business outcomes and customer expectations, and drive business resiliency and robustness.