Should we ban Kanban?

In the wake of organizations just beginning to reap benefits from agile practices, some of them are already starting to look for the next thing. A natural way to look now is towards Lean product development companies as they seem to have a firm grasp of development practices since decades ago that we in the software industry have been somewhat oblivious to.

Being an early adopter myself, it's hard to argue against trying out new stuff. But when it comes to organizations that find it too hard to navigate their political climate into adopting Scrum, I become a little concerned when they instead jump on flow development, which is inherently even more difficult to grasp and implement.

A brief look at Kanban
Kanban originally was a technique deviced by Toyota to allow workers at different stations in the production halls to signal upstream that more (or less) parts were needed, allowing the workers to control and maintain the optimal flow at any given time. Instead of just sending a note to Buck telling him to "hey, send me more parts, I'm running out", information about the velocity was added. "Hey Buck, why don't you send me five extra units as well, I'm picking up steam here".

The interesting thing about Kanban is when upper limits are applied, essentially giving a tool to limit work in progress thus constraining the flow to the theoretical (and indeed often practical) maximum.


Using your Gmail as a simple mail Kanban

If you use Gmail, or any other similar web mail, you know how it works - instead of a scrolling list of mail, you get to choose to show 25, 50 or 100 mail per page.

I'm a fan of some aspects of GTD and the way to deal with mail in particular as it got me back in control of the constant inflow of mail to my mailbox for the first time in 20 years or so! But the fact that I had to switch between pages to get an overview of all my mail annoyed me, being an old (and avid) Outlook user.

Then I realized that this was in fact a Kanban limit. (Or a WIP limit to be precise, if we consider queued email to be constantly gnawing away at the back of our mind, stealing focus and causing stress)

Every time the number of email in your inbox reach your page setting (be it 25 if you are bold, or 50 if you are more like me), it's time to schedule a few minutes to process mail and empty the page. Or schedule an email-Pomodoro.

Off you go now, you have reached your mailban limit while reading this!