Kanban and Lean Startup: Making the Most of Both


Innovation Accounting Is Independent from Kanban
The third and fifth lean startup principles are about execution and are based on lean thinking and the kanban method. The fourth principle, innovation accounting, is about guidance and is independent from kanban. Innovation accounting can tell the founders when to pivot and when to persevere. It can inform them that something is a vanity metric or point them to an actionable metric. The fourth principle is about how entrepreneurs can use validated learning to guide their companies to new, successful business models. You cannot expect to get all this from kanban.

Kanban Can Help Lean Startup, and Lean Startup Can Help Kanban, Too!
Although we have so far considered ways the kanban method can help lean startup, we need to consider an alternative pattern: Lean startup can help kanban, too! I strongly encourage you to check out the work of Canadian kanban consultant Jeff Anderson [5]. He lays out a process of improving an existing software delivery process—a gradual enterprise change enabled by kanban. Anderson is the “entrepreneur,” the improvement process is his “startup,” and how the organization responds to change is the validated learning. He applies innovation accounting at each step of his improvement initiative. As Anderson’s ability to guide his improvement initiative to its next pivot point and onwards produces validated knowledge of how the process change is working.

Another good example of this pattern can be found in the work of Israeli kanban coach Yuval Yeret ([6]). “Start with a minimally viable change based on the core principles of the kanban method,” he writes to describe his approach to coaching organizations in kanban, which parallels the work of many Internet entrepreneurs who release minimally viable products to their users in order to obtain validated learning.

Optimizing build-measure-learn kanban systems is difficult, as many of today’s agile and lean implementations seem concerned only with the software delivery process or the “build” part—and even that is proving difficult. The build-measure-learn system is more complex and gives a preview of what the future holds for today’s agile practitioners.

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Alexei Zheglov's picture Alexei Zheglov

Alexei Zheglov was introduced to agility before he was introduced to Agile. In 2002-06, he worked in a startup that built, measured, and learned (yes, the motto of future lean startups). He learned that releasing software and getting feedback from users can take a lot less time than he had previously thought.

In later years, Alexei studied and practiced Agile more systematically, starting with unit testing and code craftsmanship and then moving into “process” topics. He had a short Scrum phase as his quest quickly lead him to Lean and Kanban.

Alexei's current interests are Lean thinking, understanding flow, process improvement, Kanban, and combing them with agile engineering practices.

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