Positive Incline Mike Burrows (@asplake) moving on up, positively

January 8, 2013

Kanban: values, understanding & purpose

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,lean,Values — Tags: , , , , , , , — Mike @ 8:45 pm

I’ve had a fantastic response to my previous post, Introducing Kanban through its values – it seems to have resonated with a lot of people. Followup discussions in a number of places over the past few days have helped me take the ideas a little further on and finish with some extra clarity.

Here then is the conclusion that I wasn’t quite ready to reach last week. I hope it both satisfies those who expressed disappointment that learning didn’t make my final list and reassures those who worry that values are somehow too fragile to write down.


Kanban has at its heart a value system that includes Understanding, Agreement, Respect, Leadership, Flow, Customer Focus, Transparency, Balance & Collaboration.

Having this list as a commentary on Kanban’s principles & practices is helpful at three levels:

  1. We can cross-check and perhaps reframe (e.g. for teaching purposes) our understanding of the method. As it turns out, this reconciliation will pick up areas where perhaps the method definition itself could usefully be strengthened, though that wasn’t in my mind at the beginning.
  2. At any given time, we can use them to help us reflect on where we are as change agents and validate the approach we’re taking on the ground. This may heighten self-awareness &/or help identify areas of risk or weakness (as it did for me, though retrospectively).
  3. It identifies some characteristics of learning organisations (in the sense of, say, Peter Senge) that Kanban helps to foster. I don’t mean (as some have worried) “Kanban defining for me my company’s values”, but it suggests some good things to expect and encourage, as implicitly or explicitly as your situation demands.

A note of caution: at any level, don’t expect anything good to come from espousing values inauthentically. When in doubt, understand and reflect first.


Some time after identifying that third level I had a lightbulb moment: we often say what the Kanban method is (an evolutionary approach to change) without saying what it is actually for! Change what? To what end?

Let’s fix that then:

The Kanban method is an evolutionary approach to building learning organisations.

Put like that, learning is right up there in Kanban’s purpose. That’s a relief! In retrospect I might have done well to start there but I’m journalling my thinking process as honestly as I can.

Interesting Addenda

On agreement, Greg Brougham brought to my attention Ackoff’s distinction between agreement in principle (a theoretical kind of agreement) and agreement in practice (an agreement to live with the consequences of a decision, accepting that agreement on “better” can be effective where consensus on perfection is impossible).

David Anderson would add Pragmatism (with a big P), referring to a philosophical tradition that describes a process in which theory is extracted from practice and applied back to practice. I expect we’ll see that one again.

Doing some blog archaeology, I revisited my Kanban in a nutshell post (March 2010) and confirmed that I took the same tool-first (or worse, tool-only) approach that I worried about in last week’s post. Health warning needed! I’m relieved to find that Learning together (June 2010, a collaboration with Jabe Bloom looking at Kanban and Agile principles) came not too long afterwards


I really do value collaboration, and I’m grateful (proud, even) to have these as collaborators: Dave “Value System” White, Arne “Learning” Roock, Hermanni “Understanding & Purpose” Hyytiälä, Patrick “Variety & Resilience” Steyaert and Jabe “Learning Together” Bloom. David “Leadership” Anderson has on multiple occasions actively encouraged me to pursue lines of thought or language even when they seemed to be in conflict with his. And if you tweeted, left a comment, posted on kanbandev or Google+ or in any other way encouraged me to explain myself better, thank you.

July 20, 2012

Short post: Problem, Issue, Focus

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,lean — Tags: , , , , , , , — Mike @ 9:58 am

“No problem is problem” might work well at Toyota, but in my experience, many managers don’t like to be asked for their problems or issues, as though having to own up to some would be a source of shame.  “None that need be shared in this forum” is a typical response.

It’s early days, but I’m using and suggesting to others “What is your current focus?”.  A focus (for improvement) sounds more positive, more testable, more likely to carry over in a useful way from one meeting to the next, perhaps an opportunity for an A3-style discussion or report.  Instead of something to get out of the way, a focus is something to take to a successful conclusion.  What manager would want to admit to having none?

Could it work for you, until at least that shame barrier is breached?

December 30, 2011

2011: Another big year

Some highlights (the work-related ones anyway):

  • Feb: Set up Positive Incline Limited
  • Feb: Kanban Leadership Workshop (aka Kanban Coaching Workshop) with David Anderson in London
  • Mar-Sep: Continued part-time dev management role in Budapest, Hungary (and a big thank you to my former colleagues at Encore International, now part of M&C Energy Group)
  • Mar-May: Kanban consultancy in Johannesburg, South Africa as a DJA&A associate
  • Jun: The Kanban Leadership Retreat in Reykjavic, Iceland (#klris)
  • Oct-Nov: The Lean/Kanban conferences in Antwerp and Munich and the LESS conference in Stockholm (#lkbe11, #lkce11 and #less2011 respectively)
  • Nov: Speaking to my local (Matlock) business networking group about Kanban. Not just for techies! (#MBCnetworking)
  • Dec: Joined DJA&A full-time (more on that next year)
  • Dec: Leading my first 2-day DJA&A Kanban class in London

Top posts of 2011:

Older posts still going strong:

June 14, 2011

On remote coaching

Filed under: Kanban,lean,Work — Tags: , , , , , , — Mike @ 1:04 pm

This week I did my first Skype-based coaching session (my first at least as consultant rather than manager) and I’m pleased to report that it was a satisfying experience all round. An away-from-the-Kanban-board discussion avoids getting sucked into day-to-day minutiae; instead it’s an opportunity to step back, review and plan. It has a lot in common with the Agile retrospective, but a good model is A3: we need to get behind the annoyances and what may be over-personalised issues and work hard on finding the words to express root causes and potential ways forward in ways that lead to positive change.

Away from the board we can think bigger too. How can we work better with teams upstream and downstream? Are we involving the right people promptly and effectively enough? Can we help bring about higher level change that would have greater and longer-lasting impact on projects beyond our own?

Of course it helps immensely that I already know the client well, having working relationships and collaborative partnerships that go back several months, spending weeks on site (abroad) getting to know both the issues and the people. From the client’s perspective, it’s a cost-effective way to ensure that progress is reviewed regularly and that appropriate interventions are made before we get to the point where more hands-on support is again warranted (which will happen!). From my perspective, it creates the capacity to support multiple clients at once. Mutually, we learn from each other’s experiences and manage the peaks and troughs in demand. How very Lean!

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