Implementing Kanban: Three Fundamental Principles

Sarah Jones
September 16, 2023
3 min read


Imagine, before you is a description of an ideal work process, which clearly lists the
responsibilities of each team member, the rules of action, the reporting procedure and other small
nuances. This plan takes everything into account, following it the team should start perfectly,
reduce delivery time and successfully avoid bottlenecks in the process. But in practice it doesn't
work like that at all.
Kanban may seem like an ideal method with clearly established processes, rules of action, tools
and other nuances that will improve work. All you need to do is implement them. But in reality
everything is a little more complicated. A drastic change in work processes may be met with
hostility by the team, and integration will be much more difficult. Which, in turn, can become an
obstacle to the formation of a flexible workflow.
In reality, Kanban does not define how you will work. The method provides the necessary tools,
using which you can improve existing work processes. And even this tool kit does not have to be
used in its entirety. Teams are given the opportunity to keep only the necessary practices, testing
the effectiveness of each directly in their work. This is why it is impossible to find two Kanban
systems that work equally.

The implementation of Kanban involves three main principles:

1. Start with what you are doing now.
2. Agree as a team to improve through evolutionary changes.
3. Approve initiative at all levels.

Let's talk about each of them in more detail.

Start with what you are doing now

“People are not afraid of change, they are afraid of being changed.” Peter Senge

To start doing things in a new way, you need to end old practices right now. Admitting that you
have done something wrong before is not an easy task. It is important to present information
about upcoming changes without devaluing previous experience. If the team feels that everything
they have done so far has been pointless, this can demoralize the participants and be perceived
as taking it personal.
Start with what you are doing now. Put aside the technical documentation that regulates your
work, and remember how your team works in practice. To do this, it is necessary to analyze the
daily activity of the team and use this knowledge as the basis for building a new, relevant work
process. Only by understanding exactly how you work can you begin to make changes.
The essence of this principle is to ensure visibility of work processes and understand exactly how
a task passes through all stages of production on its way to the client. And also show that you
respect the positions, responsibilities and roles already established in the team.

Agree as a team to improve through evolutionary

“Evolution cannot end except in the realization of the greatest perfection and complete
happiness.” Herbert Spencer

The word evolution implies gradual, progressive change. A sudden, abrupt transformation can be
traumatic for team members. Moreover, the team cannot immediately integrate changes into work
processes. This takes time.
To avoid destructive influences, agree with the team on evolutionary steps that will be slowly
integrated into daily activities. Changes need to be positively supported by demonstrable
work flow improvements. To do this, gradually introduce small practices and, by observing, record
their effectiveness. And so, step by step, you will arrive at the optimal workflow.

Approve initiative at all levels

This principle is about a feeling of comfort and safety for all team members, in which everyone -
from the team lead to the intern - can say that some problems have arisen in the project. It is
important that the team member who reported the problem does not become responsible for it. A
person will show initiative only when he is confident in his psychological security.
To encourage team members to take initiative, encourage them to do so—motivate them to voice
their thoughts and suggest changes. Remind them that you are at the same time, you are
experimenting together and you are also responsible for this. Together.
Of course, not every new practice will suit the team and fit into the work process. But failures,
when analyzed correctly, become the basis for success. Therefore, it is important that team
members trust each other and can communicate their suspicions to everyone else in a timely

What is important to remember

The three principles of Kanban implementation lay the foundation for continuous improvement.
Don't give in to the urge to create the perfect workflow from all the Kanban practices before you
even start implementing it.
Start gradually. First, understand how you work, what are the roles, responsibilities, and areas of
responsibility within your team. Afterwards, explain to the team the need for gradual evolutionary
growth. And, of course, build an atmosphere within the team in which each participant will take
the initiative to improve the work process.
The three principles of implementing Kanban will be useful not only at the stage of integrating the
method into the workflow, but also later, when you have already fully mastered it.