Book Review: Kanban from the inside

Kanban from the inside by Mike Burrows

Over the weekend I read through Mike Burrows’ new book “Kanban from the Inside” which was hot off the press, newly released this month.

Mike works as UK Director of DJAA – David J Anderson & Associates, relevant because David is considered to be the father of Kanban as it’s applied to knowledge work and IT.

I’ve followed David’s writing and presentations since reading his seminal book “Kanban: Successful evolutionary change for your Technology Business”. I was definitely interested in buying Mikes book after I saw his announcement on Twitter.

I’ve previously written about Kanban for The ITSM Review. I described the differences between Kanban and Scrum, preferring the former for it’s more pragmatic approach towards roles and ceremonies and it’s wider application across a range of types of work.

“Kanban from the Inside” defines a model for managers wishing to introduce an evolutionary shift towards business agility, improved quality and to achieve flow.

The Kanban Method, as codified by David Anderson, focuses on existing business processes and introducing change through focus on quality and reducing work-in-progress. The work itself remains unchanged at least initially. Done by the same workers in the same way but being measured and visualised in an effort to find “flow”.

Inspecting quality and reducing work-in-progress leads to a shift in work being delivered more often, where organisations can then focus on balancing business demand against throughput and improving prioritisation techniques.

You can see that Kanban doesn’t require a revolution in the way that you work, it’s a series of steps taken over time.

In his book Mike describes four “Foundational Principles” and six “Core Practices” that teams work through.

The Foundational Principles describe the mindset and attitude that leaders take towards adopting Kanban

  1. Start with what you do now
  2. Agree to pursue evolutionary change
  3. Initially, respect current processes, roles, responsibilities, and job titles
  4. Encourage acts of leadership at every level in your organisation – from individual contributors to senior management

Throughout the book Mike provides real-world, pragmatic, examples that support these foundational principles.

With chapter titles such as “Understanding”, “Agreement” and “Respect” he deals with the dangers of changing workflow without first understanding (remember… evolutionary change), how to secure a commitment to change, and how to deal with existing roles and responsibilities respectfully. Always a challenge whilst you are acting as an agent of change in an organisation.

The six “Core Practices” are more hands-on and dogmatic.

  1. Visualise work
  2. Limit work-in-progress (WIP)
  3. Manage flow
  4. Make policies explicit
  5. Implement feedback loops
  6. Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally

Following the existing literature about Lean and Kanban, Mike talks about how to apply techniques to work to shift an organisation to focus on quality, flow, learning and experimentation.

Kanban: Successful evolutionary change for your Technology Business by David J Anderson

Mikes “Kanban from the Inside” is in no way an alternative to Davids “Kanban: Successful evolutionary change for your Technology Business”. I was thinking of the best way of describing why you should buy both books to read.

The best I could come up with was this. If you enjoyed Robert Downey Jr in the Sherlock Holmes movies you’re more likely to enjoy Benedict Cumerbatch’s portrayal. Watching one doesn’t detract from the other.

Mike’s book is a great accompaniment to David’s. If you are interested in starting with Kanban I would seriously recommend buying both and starting with the Blue book (David’s).

The blue book is a little more gentle on the beginner I feel. It takes you through the introducing change into a organisation in a very thorough way. Mikes book is more formulaic and is a hands on guide to the individual techniques involved.

Although Mike takes his readers through a journey, it takes some effort and concentration to keep up with him. This isn’t a criticism of writing style or narrative – it’s because this is a practitioners guide and goes deep into some very interesting areas.

The book progresses through three parts: Explaining the Kanban method; describing other methods that are useful in applying Kanban more effectively; a step-by-step implementation guide in part 3.

In an evenings reading you aren’t going to progress from Drum-Buffer-Rope to Critical Chain Project Management without going to bed with an overactive mind. This is more a manual that you’ll keep referring back to as you progress through your adoption.

This isn’t taking anything away from “Kanban from the Inside”. It’s a great book and it’s already earned a place on my desk. I’m buying more copies for my team leaders.

If you are looking for more quality and efficiency from your teams I’d absolutely recommend this book and David Andersons “blue book” as a pair of books that have the potential to change your organisation for the better.

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