Kanban for Project Management: Should We Buy In?

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September 2010
In This Issue:

"Keeping operations humming along in the face of change and (sometimes) major budget crunches and keeping business practices current and in line with industry practices and technology progress are perhaps the greatest ongoing challenges we face.”

-- Gabriele Piccoli, Editor

The adoption of a new project management methodology as part of our business practices is always somewhat of a gamble. Will it work? Will it be an improvement over the processes we currently have in place? Will the time, energy, and resources that we invest now in implementing it prove worthwhile in the long run? These are all questions each of us as IT and business professionals must consider as we make decisions to move our organizations forward. Keeping operations humming along in the face of change and (sometimes) major budget crunches and keeping business practices current and in line with industry practices and technology progress are perhaps the greatest ongoing challenges we face. In this issue of Cutter Benchmark Review, we discuss one of the most recent methodologies to enter the spectrum of possible choices for systems development: Kanban.

As one of the "newest kids on the block," Kanban provides us with an option for IT project management that is under consideration (or soon may come under consideration) in many organizations. This method promises to offer a novel approach to managing software development projects, using a "pull through" system that its proponents suggest will significantly improve the development process. For these reasons, Kanban and its current state is a perfect candidate for us at CBR to investigate and, with the help of our standard two-expert panel, evaluate. So we conducted a survey of IT managers and business professionals from across a range of industries to see what their experiences with Kanban have yielded thus far. We then asked our academic and practicing expert contributors to interpret the survey results and provide us with some insight into what they think those results mean.

Injecting a healthy dose of skepticism into the conversation is our academic contributor, Laurie Williams, Associate Professor in the Computer Science Department of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University (NCSU). Laurie, a previous contributor to CBR (Vol. 7, No. 7), is a very accomplished researcher in both agile software development and the security of healthcare IT applications. She was one of the founders of the first XP/agile conference, XP Universe, in 2001, which has now grown into the Agile 200x annual conference. Laurie is also the instructor of a highly rated professional agile software development course that has been widely taught in Fortune 500 companies. She has much insight to share with us, and her words of caution should not fall on deaf ears as we move from thought into action in our drive to stay current and adopt new methodologies. Excitement and enthusiasm should never be the sole drivers of change, as Laurie so aptly reminds us.

Our contributor from the practicing side this month is Masa Maeda, Cutter Senior Consultant for the Agile Product & Project Management practice and founder and president of Shojiki Solutions, a California-based company that provides Lean-Agile and Kanban solutions to diverse industries. Masa has a depth of experience working with customers in the financial and software development industries, the education sector, and the energy, manufacturing, and legal industries. Before founding Shojiki Solutions, he worked in Silicon Valley for world-class companies and startups such as Apple, Netscape/AOL, Ingenuity Systems, Vuze, and When.com; he was a founding team member of the last three. His perspective on Kanban is an invaluable resource for us as we attempt to untangle the results from our survey and arrive at the deeper meaning as it relates to possible best practices implementation for CBR readers.

Laurie begins her contribution with a Kanban overview, following that with a comparison of Kanban to more established agile methodologies. I think that you will find her pragmatic approach to the survey results very useful, as she expresses a more reserved interest in the possibilities that Kanban could potentially represent. While not as enthusiastic about Kanban overall as Masa, Laurie certainly does not dismiss it. Her analysis provides us with an important counterpoint to Masa's more generally enthusiastic overall analysis, allowing us a more well-rounded perspective on Kanban's possibilities when considered in conjunction with Masa's piece. Given the nature of the survey, and the novelty of Kanban itself, it's difficult for Laurie to provide tangible guidelines. However, I am convinced that you will find great food for thought in the competing analysis of both contributors that will help in developing your own evaluation of the Kanban movement.

Though Laurie and Masa differ somewhat in their conclusions about what the survey results mean, their varied perspectives provide us with much to think about as we consider the ramifications of Kanban usage in organizations both large and small. In his contribution, Masa draws significantly from his wealth of experience, providing valuable "from the trenches" advice. He starts by offering an overview of Kanban as well, including a brief history and a synopsis of how it works. He then divides his evaluation of the survey results into sections, focusing on different facets of the survey numbers and what they reveal. One thing I think you will find particularly valuable is the way in which Masa continuously ties the numbers to concrete analysis, providing his expert and unquestionably wide-ranging perspective on the relationship between the Kanban approach and quality, success, and the development process. He does not follow the standard CBR practice of drawing tangible guidelines in his conclusion section; however, his piece contains a number of ideas and insights that you will find readily applicable.

Considering the uncertainty that surrounds the decision to adopt a new software development methodology, a CBR issue such as this one that can help us understand the possible advantages and disadvantages of a new methodology like Kanban as well as equip you with better tools to use as you evaluate its potential adoption in your own IT shop is both timely and useful.

ABOUT THE EDITOR

The adoption of a new project management methodology as part of our business practices is always somewhat of a gamble. Will it work? Will it be an improvement over the processes we currently have in place? Will the time, energy, and resources that we invest now in implementing it prove worthwhile in the long run? These are all questions each of us as IT and business professionals must consider as we make decisions to move our organizations forward. Keeping operations humming along in the face of change and (sometimes) major budget crunches and keeping business practices current and in line with industry practices and technology progress are perhaps the greatest ongoing challenges we face. In this issue of Cutter Benchmark Review, we discuss one of the most recent methodologies to enter the spectrum of possible choices for systems development: Kanban.