Thought Leaders

Five Lean Lessons From Successful Kanban Implementations

marketing decision planning

Kanban is a workflow and project management method for defining, managing, and improving processes in an effort to increase visibility into workflows and operations. There are two types of ways to leverage Kanban: a physical board and a digitized version.

In practice, a well-functioning Kanban system ensures transparency in projects and processes that enables you to continuously discover improvement potentials and evolve gradually.

Delivering these agility attributes, Kanban offers teams and companies an evolutionary approach to Agile which allows easy process tailoring, while ensuring the focus stays on customer needs and delivering results.

While deceptively straightforward, many companies are hesitant to implement Kanban practices because of preconceived misconceptions about possible resistance to change, expense to implement and concerns about ROI and interrupting processes.

To disprove this notion and demonstrate the benefits of Kanban project management, let’s explore five different customer case studies and learnings from companies that have successfully implemented Kanban to bolster their workflow and project management proficiencies.

Increase Visibility and Improve Workflow Across Distributed Teams

In the case of SCHLENK, a global manufacturer of metal powders, pigments, and foils, the company benefitted immensely from scaling Kanban across distributed teams to effectively manage and execute projects and to strengthen overall business processes. Operating in a heavily regulated industry, defined by long review cycles, with multiple development and testing stages before a product is approved, they sought to create a more efficient workflow and increase visibility in their projects and across teams.

Beginning with visualizing the work of all teams on Kanban boards, SCHLENK was able to reach a new level of transparency that allowed everyone to easily check work that is currently in progress, determine whose work depends on it, and assess what is next in the pipeline.

Visualizing the workflow and all items that are being processed also made it possible to unhide process blockers and dependencies, which created a better understanding of the relevance of different tasks.

Improve Collaboration and Use of Resources

SSOE Group, a global project delivery firm for architecture, engineering and construction management, was similarly able to gain better visibility into the flow of work across remote teams to better allocate and utilize its resources and enhance collaboration.

For example, many employees at SSOE have specialized skill sets. As a result, some tasks can only be executed by one person. The visualization of work allowed team members to transfer non-specialized work items to specific team members for better use of everyone’s time.

This also provided more opportunities for mentoring and allowed junior-level staff to jump in to learn new skills and gain operational knowledge.

Automate Workflow to Reveal the Big Picture

GE Aviation Czech (GEAC), a world-leading provider of aircraft engines and components, needed to coordinate the work of hundreds of engineers on hardware that needed to pass rigorous testing.

Before implementing Kanban, GEAC used Gantt charts that according to their Instrumentation project leader gave little support to drive the day-to-day work, and it was not easy to understand what respective teams needed to prioritize versus what could be delivered later.

Without insight into the flow and magnitude of work, team members’ plates frequently became overloaded. As a first step, the company created and adjusted automated, digital Kanban boards by department and built a network of boards, tailored to the highly individualized workflows that suited their teams’ and employees’ needs and preferences.

This resulted in real-time visibility into all active, concurrent projects and dependencies that strategically mapped back to a common objective that teams worked towards.

Reduce Bottlenecks and Inspire Honest Conversations

One of the most well-known benefits of implementing Kanban method is strongly highlighted by Ekide, a leading engineering and manufacturing technology company.

Managing projects with Kanbanize, Ekide gained a real-time overview of the status of all projects at different levels, including indications of blockages, bottlenecks, delays, and risks associated with them.

This new level of visibility facilitated conversations about the dependencies between projects, decisions about what to start and what to postpone, and the risks associated with the projects, as well as the forecast of when a project could start and end.

Data-Driven Workflow Efficiency

BMWC, a U.S.-based construction company, gathered reliable metrics to analyze workflow efficiency and mapped processes to establish a clear work breakdown structure across distributed teams.

Their priority at the beginning of implementation was to ensure effective communication that was not reliant on manager attention, memory or presence in order to function smoothly.

With Kanban, BMWC team members across regions are now able to communicate across multiple project sites very quickly and effectively, with everyone looking at the same data.

Dimitar Karaivanov is CEO of Kanbanize.

Dimitar Karaivanov
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