“Kanban systems are not just about reliable project delivery, Now it is for perfect deliveries too”;Says Pioneer of Kanban, Mr. David Anderson

Kanban Systems

David Anderson is known for his thought leadership in effective management of technology and professional services businesses. He is the founder of a training, event planning and publishing business that advocates a service-oriented approach to delivery, sophisticated risk management and evolutionary approaches to changes and improvements.

He has 30+ years of experience in the technology industry starting in early 1980’s with computer games. He has led software developments and IT departments using Agile methods in big industry names such as Motorola and Sprint. Currently, David is the Chairman of Board of Lean Kanban, Inc.

He is the pioneer of the Kanban Method, Enterprise Services Planning and the Fit-for-Purpose Framework. David has written several books including the 2010 best seller “Kanban – Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business” and his latest work published in 2017, “Fit for Purpose – How Modern Business Find, Satisfy & Keep Customers”.

TaskQue: David, above all we would like to know what really inspired you in choosing project management and especially Kanban systems as a career field?

David:I didn’t choose them as a career field. I’ve always been a leader – a pioneer – even from the beginning of my career. I found myself in managerial positions facing challenges. I looked for solutions and where there wasn’t an adequately reliable one already available, I developed my own.

Related: What Project Managers Say About Significance of Kanban Boards

TaskQue: You provide training to managers, how do you find experience of teaching management?

David: I have the advantage that people choose to be in my classes and choose to engage with my ideas. I think a lot of managers have often been outstanding individual contributors and because of this they get promoted into managerial positions.

However, they have no managerial training and haven’t been able to develop the skills they need to be successful in their new role. Alternatively, we see professionally trained managers with MBAs. MBAs are great but it is important to realize that the curricula for most MBA courses was developed based on manufacturing and physical, tangible goods industries. Managers in intangible goods, professional services businesses often find that what they learned in university isn’t serving them well in the field.

As a consequence, managers love what we do. Managers fear being seen as incompetent. Many suffer from imposter syndrome. We give them tools to see things more clearly, to frame and make better decisions. We provide them the means to look competent and to be successful.

TaskQue: You have written numerous books on Agile project management and Kanban systems, what aspects and principles of Agile project management and Kanban you find to be most useful?

David: The key differentiator of Agile compared with earlier literature is that it recognized professional services activities such as project management are team sports, performed collaboratively. Agile embraced sociology as a core enabling concept.

Kanban is a surprising animal. On the surface, it looks like a simple mechanism to relieve overburdening, allow a focus on higher quality and to improve predictability of lead times for delivery. From a project management perspective, it reduces risk, lowers the need for contingency and provides the infrastructure for better, more accurate forecasting, tracking and reporting.

However, Kanban turns out to be much more than that. Kanban systems started in Toyota’s manufacturing operations where there are seen as core to the Toyota Production System (TPS) or its broader implementation the Toyota Way (of management). Kanban isn’t just for inventory control or just-in-time replenishment, it lies at the heart of the “kaizen” (or continuous improvement) approach. Tightly controlling work-in-progress provokes conversations, and creates a positive stress that catalyzes the implementation of changes. Kanban is core to continuous improvement at Toyota, and so it is with us also.

Kanban systems aren’t just about reliable project delivery now, they are about continued improvements for faster, better, more predictable project delivery in future.

TaskQue: David as being one of top project management professional, what elements do you see as productivity killers in projects?

Related Read : How Can Professionals use Kanban boards to become Insanely Productive?

David: The biggest killer of project management success is delay. We use a metric called flow efficiency. You calculate it as the percentage of time spent actually working on something over the elapsed time from start to finish. Flow efficiency is typically well below 5%. In an organization that is 1% flow efficient (on average), if you can take that to 2% then you half the delivery time for your project. It sounds incredible, but it is true. And getting from 1% to 2% is easy!

Organizations needs to get better at issue management, escalation and resolution to minimize the impact of delay. Once they good at this then they need to improve risk management: identify causes of delay and work to eliminate them or minimize the probability of occurrence. Kanban helps an organization focus on these things.

I find that many project managers complain they are too busy collecting status, reporting, organizing meetings and fire-fighting to improve issue resolution or pay attention to risk management. Kanban automates a lot of these low level project management activities and frees up valuable time to do project management properly.

Delay is such an important problem that I recommend companies have a Vice President of Delay. Of course, this makes them laugh, but I am quite serious. The reason delays persist in organizations is because they fall between organizational boundaries. Until you have someone responsible and accountable for the end-to-end lead time, then you won’t have any managerial motivation to reduce delay. The result is that things do not improve and customer frustration with long delivery times and unreliable delivery persists.


Agile has shifted leadership style from “Command and Control” model to management of “Servant Leader”, how much useful you find this change in organizations which require functional specialization?

David: Command and Control is an industrial era concept that doesn’t belong in the modern world of professional service, knowledge worker industries. Teaching managers how to empower workers to make their own decisions and how to give commands that empower, yet avoid loss of control is an important skill. For several years now we’ve been incorporating ideas from Mission Command (also known as “Auftragstaktik” or “Commander’s Intent”) into our training.

I think some people in the Agile community confuse enablement with empowerment. It’s important that managers enable workers to be successful, and this is the true sense of “servant leader” – a servant leader insures that a team or project is set up for success. This is an important but distinct skill from the art of giving commands and empowering people. A proper command defines a desirable end state, and how to report success or failure.

A proper command doesn’t include detailed instructions on how to perform the task. Part of executing the command is to ensure that the necessary conditions for success are in place – the right people, tools, infrastructure, resources, budget and so forth. So, Servant Leadership and Mission Command go hand-in-hand. Servant Leadership on its own isn’t enough to move with agility – you need empowerment.

TaskQue: Your specialty is helping organizations in managing knowledge worker teams effectively, what advice would you give to companies working in agile environments about how to manage teams while keeping them empowered as well?

David: Our specialty is really teaching organizations how to create team behavior at large scale. The definition of a team is “a group of people who work together towards a common goal.” Agile people seem to think “a team” is a group of 6 or so people work together on the same things. We have a much more expansive concept of team.

A team could be 2000 people working together across 4 product units to create integrated systems solutions. They act as a team because they are aligned behind common goals, a common understanding of their mission. They have unity and alignment. Our tools help provide the way to clearly community the purpose and make it transparent and visible to everyone, while Kanban implemented across each service within that organization, helps integrate the parts of keep them moving towards their common goal.

TaskQue: In an interview you said that idea of depending on profound passion for the profession can be useful for small companies but not for big companies such as 300 People Company, do you believe that bigger companies which has dynamic and creative work should also go for some reinforcement of rules and boundaries?

David: If we look back to the early years of the Agile movement, many Agile leaders, mostly from the Extreme Programming community advocated that you should only hire incredibly passionate practitioners and better to have a small team of highly passionate people than a large one of journeymen. In large companies that simply isn’t pragmatic, actionable advice.

You need to develop the leadership and management skills (and it takes both) to get top performance out of an organization of people who enjoy their work, but they don’t live for it. They also enjoy their family life, the free time, their hobbies, their passions beyond the workplace. They work to live – they don’t live to work.

Agile started in the United States where there is a “live to work” culture and if you won’t sacrifice the rest of your life for your job then perhaps you shouldn’t be here? This mentality is slavery. If Agile requires this (as was advocated circa 2005) then Agile is slavery.

True freedom comes from empowerment – from having autonomy, mastery and purpose. Great managers learn how to provide these. Empowerment is about defining boundaries and granting autonomy within them. Mastery comes from both practice and from training. Without staff development their can be no mastery. Purpose comes from understanding who your customer is, why they asked you for something and what their expectations are of you. This third point is the focus of my latest book, “Fit for Purpose – how modern businesses find, satisfy and keep customers.”

TaskQue: You are pioneer of Kanban use, which concept of Kanban do you believe to have greatest impact over performance?

David: Kanban limits work-in-progress and usually this limit represents a massive reduction of work-in-progress compared to what preceded it. Kanban reduces overburdening. It allows workers some freedom to show their mastery, transparency to understand purpose, and space to have some autonomy. The result is higher quality.

So lead time drops dramatically because queuing time is greatly reduced – less WIP, less waiting, while quality improves, and predictability improves because of reduced rework due to higher quality.

TaskQue: Project management is continuously transforming and evolving, what key trends do you see coming in the near future?

David: The biggest trend I see is improved reporting and forecasting tools. The past decade has seen the broad adoption of tracking and reporting tools but these have been very basic. Now the data these basic tools contain is being harnessed by a new generation of tools that enable probabilistic forecasting and continuous or frequent re-forecasting. I think the old world of estimates and deterministic planning will soon be behind us. The new world is filled with mathematical models and Monte Carlo simulations.

TaskQue: Workstation plays a vital role in enhancing productivity, we would be really glad if you show us what your workstation looks like?

David: I work from my Microsoft Surface Pro. I love the touch screen and the pen. For me it is the ultimate productivity tool and I can use it anywhere.

TaskQue: Apart from professional life what leisure activities have you adopted in order to keep yourself relaxed?

David: I believe in working less and focusing more when I am working. I enjoy walking, swimming, cycling and skiing. I believe people should get out of their office at lunch time for at least an hour – take a walk or go for a swim. Compartmentalize your life – don’t always be “at work”. If you can’t step away from work then you are a slave. Freedom comes from having the discipline to say, “it can wait.” In the end, you’ll do better, higher quality, more fulfilling work, and have more time for everything and everyone else in your life.

TaskQue: TaskQue is a cloud based team management application created for making team collaboration, communication and task management more efficient, how do you see such applications in helping teams being more successful?

David: As I said earlier, Agile recognized that knowledge work is a social team activity. Tools that enable more social ways of working can only be a good thing. Ultimately, we can have a 3-sided win-win-win: happier employees who enjoy their work in a team; happier customers who get better products, earlier and with greater predictability; and happier employers who see better economic returns as a consequence of the other two wins.