Kanban looks like it's becoming the next big trend in agile
development. With its simple, adaptive approach to work organization,
Kanban's Lean approach to software development may become even more
popular than Scrum. Although Scrum is fresh and exciting, Kanban has
the advantage, at least in perception, of being the newest method in
software development right now. DZone recently got the chance to speak
with David Anderson, who pioneered the use of Lean methodology in
software development known as Kanban. In this exclusive interview,
Anderson tells us how Kanban got its start and gained momentum. He
also identifies the two main groups that have driven Kanban adoption.
first use of Kanban-like methods, Anderson says, was in the fall of
2004 with a Microsoft IT department. The following year, he published
the results of his experiment. The first implementation of Kanban,
with all the modern attributes, evolved out of work that Anderson did
which started in September 2006. In May 2007 Anderson started talking
publicly about his experiences in Kanban. Its rise in fame, he says,
happened in just the last two years, and its adoption accelerated in
2009. The Yahoo group, kanbandev
has grown to over 1000 members. Anderson says, "If you follow the
Kanban tag on twitter, you'll realize that there can be as many as six
to ten tweets per hour talking about Kanban, and about 90% of those are
talking about it in a software development context." There's also a
large number of blogs that talk about Kanban. "I'm just amazed at how
well the adoption has been going."
Anderson thinks it was an
open space he ran at the Agile 2007 conference that initially sparked
widespread interest in Kanban. "There were about 25 people attending
that, and several of them decided to go back to their offices and try
it out," he said. "As a result of that original open space, a Yahoo
group was started and those early adopters went out, started trying it,
and reported the results to the Yahoo group. Gradually we began to see
more interest in it." Anderson started getting invited to speak at
more events, usually smaller events, during 2008. That's when the
Kanban movement started to gain momentum. Anderson says there's a lot
of traction in the U.K., Scandinavia, and Europe in general. Kanban
has also made its way to countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Israel.
However, he says there isn't a lot of adoption in India and Asia
generally. He recently sent an appeal to various Asian countries to
see if they were interested in hearing about Kanban, but the counties
weren't very responsive. Even in Japan, where the origins of Lean and
Kaizen are deeply rooted in the culture of Toyota, there isn't much
traction for agile software development.
"It actually a fair
comment that there's very little agile adoption in Japan," said
Anderson. "Toyota is very conservative and old fashioned in its
software development methods. Japan generally is a very conservative
culture so it's not a surprise that they have been slow to adopt agile
practices. Outside of the hard core group of Japanese, such as Kenji
Hiranabe, there's been very little evangelism done over there!"
Anderson says that there is some workflow visualization mechanisms,
such as whiteboards, in use, but that's about as far as it goes. The
Japanese refer to their visualizations as "kanban" because it's a
literal interpretation - the word "kanban" means
"visual card" in Japanese. The Kanban that the Japanese are doing is
not Anderson's Kanban because there's no limit to work-in-progress
(WIP) or any other aspect of Lean other than in visualization of work.
Anderson says he hasn't seen much Kanban adoption in China or South
East Asia either.
the Western Hemisphere though, Kanban adoption has taken off. DZone
asked Anderson what the driving forces were behind Kanban growth in the
last two years. He said the companies that were drawn to Kanban and
worked well in the system fit into two main categories. "The larger
group of adopters are people at companies that have struggled or failed
to implement agile software development and/or project management,"
said Anderson. "I feel that the main reason for failure to adopt is
related to the culture of the organization and resistance to change.
Agile tends to be sold and delivered in a way that involves a
significant change that has to happen fairly quickly. In fact, agile
transitions tend to be sold by consultants in a very non-agile way."
Anderson says most agile adoption consultants put together a big plan
with vast, sweeping changes. It usually involves a lot of training in
Scrum, XP, or both, and then they sometimes set a single date for the
complete rollover to agile processes. Scrum, in particular, implies
that some job titles change, and sometimes, a worker's roles and
responsibilities change as well. This kind of rapid change represents
a significant barrier to adoption. Anderson says these changes can
raise resistance among a workforce because it tampers with significant
parts of a person's sense of identity and self-worth, including their
job title and personal skills.
The second category of Kanban
adopters consists of organizations that didn't ever show any interest
in agile. "That was a very early market for Kanban," said Anderson.
It appealed to many non-agile organizations because it's a different
approach that doesn't try and change anything initially. Anderson
explains, "What we'll do is we'll try and understand how you currently
work and let problems reveal themselves." A team using Kanban will
identify and solve problems as they come along. "No one's job title
changes, no one's roles and responsibilities change, and any changes
that we do make will be made incrementally," said Anderson. Over the
last few years, Anderson observed that Kanban seemed to be much more
workable in organizations that had either tried agile and resisted it,
or never tried agile at all. This group of agile-resisters turned out
to be the main market for Kanban, Anderson said. "We're not doing
Kanban to create some sort of religious conversion of people away from
existing agile methods," said Anderson. "Kanban is there to help
organizations achieve greater agility and potentially a number of other
things. I see Kanban as 'post-Agile' in the sense that it introduces
an incremental, evolutionary approach to change while the agile
movement was a rebellion that introduced a revolution against existing
methods from the 1990's." David Anderson
is the Vice President at Lean Software & Systems Consortium and he
also runs his own consulting firm, David J. Anderson & Associates.
The second part of DZone's interview with Anderson is titled "Where
Kanban Works Well - David Anderson Interview"
. Much of the research and case studies for Kanban come from the community, which has forums at the Limited WIP Society website
and the kanbandev