Kanban and Lean Startup: Making the Most of Both


If the software delivery process is optimized for either response time or throughput, it can lead to local optimization in the bigger build-measure-learn system, making the whole system sub-optimal. A company may need to rethink its practices when making a transition from its agile build process to build-measure-learn.

Optimizing for response time may at some point conflict with optimizing for throughput. Startup founders want optimization for response time, but not every human activity has the same optimization goal. If you need to optimize for something else, you may be outside the boundary where you should apply the build-measure-learn principle.

Optimizing for response time is likely to involve a lot of slack in the system. Already, startup programmers are rapidly learning the newest technologies and using their 20 percent time to create many open source tools that make other companies leaner.

Kanban is an important process-improvement tool for technology organizations. Lean startup is a new approach to discovering new, innovative ways to do business. To get the most from both, it is important to understand how they relate to each other.

Lean startup is called lean because it has kanban at its core. The build-measure-learn loop is a kanban system optimized for response time. It is therefore important for those trying to apply the lean startup principles also to understand the kanban method.

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About the author

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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