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Next Level Kanban Workshop

Beginning of May 2017, we held a 4-hour workshop “Next level Kanban” at the Lean Kanban North America (LKNA) 17 in Washington, DC. It was a mixed group. Attendees were from different domains, including construction. Diversity, in terms of learning objectives, is always an asset for a workshop.

Our Agenda

  • Pains and Gains
  • Brief review of the Kanban Method
  • WHAT could a “next level” be for your kanban system
  • WHY would you try to get to the next level?
  • HOW to get there: Patterns and experiences from our coaching work
  • Check-out

Pains and gains

As a start into the topic, we asked attendees what their gains were so far from their Kanban adoption, and what pains or issues they would like to tackle next.

As gains, attendees named things such as improvements in efficiency, transparency gained through visualization, a more forward thinking, and less meetings – more time to do the actual work. All common observations when organizations beginn their Kanban adoption.

As topics for further exploration (pains), things like dealing with silos and high utilization mindset, using metrics, or defining policies came up.

Brief review of the Kanban method

As we had a very mixed audience, we started with a brief review of the Kanban method. Andreas started with a quick dive into the foundational principles of Kanban – the change and service principles. For getting your system(s) to the next level, they are at least as important as the Kanban practices.

What could a “next level Kanban” be for your system

We first did a bit of group work where attendees discussed what they could do with their respective kanban systems. In the debrief, we structured the results and explored further options.

Mapping attendees’ ideas onto different flip charts, two main approaches crystallized:

(1) Deepening your system

This usually refers to the application of more of the Kanban practices, or applying practices more thoroughly within one kanban system or “node”.

Typical examples here are introducing / improving system policies, gathering and analyzing metrics to improve flow, improving the visualization to better support the workflow, etc.

(2) Scaling your system

There is nothing particularly extraordinary about scaling a kanban system. It is an inherent property of the method, and therefore a built-in capability of any kanban system. How would you “scale” pizza dough? Well, by pulling it in different directions.

So how do you scale with Kanban? Similar as with dough, you expand in multiple directions. Thus, you can let your kanban system or system of systems develop width-, height-, or depth-wise, see also [1].

Growing width-wise
  • Consider end-to-end workflows
  • Include e.g. upstream and downstream
  • Go beyond hand-offs
Height-wise (flight levels)

As a second dimension, you can alter the “height”: Imagine you’re flying in a helicopter above your workflow. The further up, the fewer details you see, the larger the chunks of work get that move across the board. You can add and / or combine systems at different flight levels in order to reflect how work organizes.

Typical levels are:

  • Individual
  • Team
  • Product or service delivery
  • Portfolio
  • Depth-wise

Growing in depth outside a single node helps you achieve balance across the network. This is closely related to Kanban’s service orientation: View your organization as a network of interdependent services.

In practice, this means addressing things like:

  • Blockers
  • Dependencies
  • Balance and flow across all services

Why would you try to get to the next level?

Before jumping into the “How” to do this, we took a step back to reflect why this is worthwhile to pursue. After all, it will take some of your effort and attention to achieve. The approaches outlined above can be matched to the Kanban Agendas.


When improving your Kanban system itself, you work towards the _Sustainability_ agenda: You get relief for your individual contributors and teams from overburdening, you achieve a sustainable pace in your work.


Once you grow your system left and right (particularly), you increase customer focus and strengthen the service delivery mindset. This benefits mid-level management, including department leads, project managers and the like who need to be able to answer tough questions from the top and are expected to lead their groups with confidence at the same time.


Improving execution and getting it aligned to your strategy will help you with the long-term survival of the organization.

How to get there: Patterns and experiences from our coaching work

In the Kanban community, we value pragmatic / actionable guidance. In the last step, we therefore showed four exemplary patterns that could be considered when you want to take your Kanban system to the next level.

We structured the patterns as follows:

  • Indicators – “Try this, when…” (on yellow stickies)
  • Recipies – What you could do (green stickies)
  • Effects – impacts / changes you might observe (green stickies, starting with arrows)

We presented and discussed these patterns, see the images below:

  • Classes of Service
  • Manage Dependencies
  • Separate work from options
  • Improve customer focus

We really enjoyed running the workshop and the good interactions involved. All attendees took away something they wanted to try out once back in the office.

Thanks to the LKU for inviting us to the conference, it was a great experience!

If you would like us to run a similar workshop at your event or organization, let us know 🙂

[1] Essential Kanban Condensed by David J Anderson and Andy Carmichael

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