This is the fourth installment in a roughly weekly series of short excerpts from my book, Kanban from the Inside. Chapter 4 covers the fourth of the Kanban Method’s nine values, customer focus.
Core Practice 3: Manage Flow
Is this a mistake? How do we get from Manage Flow to customer focus? Indulge me for a moment—let me cheat a little, expanding the wording of this core practice to express more fully what this practice really means:
CP3 (expanded): Manage flow, seeking smoothness, timeliness, and good economic outcomes, anticipating customer needs.
This chapter focuses on customer needs and how to anticipate them better. Smoothness and timeliness are covered in the next chapter, on flow. Keep in mind “good economic outcomes” as you read both chapters; economic decision-making is covered in Chapter 15.
Why Customer Focus?
Task focus, role focus, team focus, project focus, product focus, company focus, technology focus . . . the list goes on. So many ways to lose sight of what we’re in business for!
Just as it does inside the delivery process, effectiveness upstream depends on the values we’ve explored so far:
- Transparency: The system must make visible the difficult choices that need to be made. The decision-making rationale should itself be explicit. Decisions are the focus of feedback loops (prioritization meetings, for example).
- Balance: The amount of WIP in the system is controlled, both to maintain a reliable supply of high-quality ideas and to force timely decision making. If needed, additional control can be gained by allocating WIP by customer, budget line, risk category, strategic initiative, and so on.
- Collaboration: The work of qualifying items for further development is shared among the originators of those items and the people who will service them. Instead of sucking risk into the system prematurely, all parties (and there may be several involved) keep their options open until commitment is timely.
Let’s see what customer focus adds:
- Whose needs do we think are met by these ideas?
- Are we meeting needs fast enough?
- What is the data telling us? What are people telling us?
- What might lie behind those needs?
- What needs might be going unmet?
- How can we test that?
In short: Can we develop a better sense for what will be needed?
If there’s a single idea that I’d like you to take away from this chapter, it’s making the mental shift away from doing what is asked, taking orders, fulfilling requests, meeting requirements, and so on, and reorienting the process toward discovering and meeting needs. It’s a shift from an internal perspective (what we think we know) to an external one (what’s still out there to be discovered). It’s also a shift from the past (what we’ve been told) to the future (when the customer’s need will be met).