Starting Kanban – The Key Idea

Kanban Distinctive

Start with what you do now, text over working kanban board, starting Kanban, Kanban certification, kanban training, Van Wray, lean kanban, kanban university, kanban maturity model, kanban system design, kanban change managementA unique distinctive of Kanban is how you get started. It is unlike in other Agile methods or frameworks and is central to how you start using the Kanban method effectively.

“Start with what you do now.”

Starting with what you do now is the first of three Kanban change management principles. This principle is such a unique concept that it is worth exploring a bit in-depth to appreciate how this concept reflects a fundamental principle of change using the Kanban method. Any Agile method or framework you come across will have essentials to getting started before entering the critical phase of gaining benefit from the technique itself. The set of must-haves in Kanban is small.

The “splash zone” of change in starting Kanban should not be present. It should be more of a gentle ripple in the pond that is your team or organization. This minimal disruption is unlike Scrum or SAFe, for example, where multiple changes may be needed to team structures, roles, and activities to get started. So to go deeper into Kanban, let’s explore what does not change to get started.

What does not need to change in starting Kanban

The following are the things that do not change when introducing Kanban. For discussion, we will focus on team-level Kanban.

  • Teams do not need to restructure
    • Kanban makes no requirements for restructuring the team, and no adjustment of team skill sets is required.
  • No new roles are introduced
    • Starting Kanban does not require the creation of new roles in support of a team such as Product Owner or a Scrum Master. There will likely be someone who will be guiding the team, but that is not a dedicated role.
  • No change in how the work is requested
    • How the team is given new work to start does not need to change. There are no further requirements introduced in how the work is requested. You don’t need to use epics or stories. There is no presumption a team is doing something towards a ‘product’; if it is, excellent! If not, no mental shift is needed about work created by the team.
  • No change in how the work is executed
    • The current steps or phases the team uses to move the work forward is sufficient. There is no requirement to introduce time-boxed iterations or to introduce new work techniques.
  • No change in how you interact with the customer
    • It is not uncommon for a customer to have no awareness that the Kanban method is being used in the beginning. The frequency and techniques for getting work and feedback can stay as they are, no changes with the customer required.
  • No change in deciding priorities
    • Who and how priorities of what work gets started next do not need to change. Whether it is a committee, team, manager, or department, all methods are sufficient, nothing new is required.

Early Stages

If you, or someone knowledgeable about Kanban, suggest introducing more advanced practices such as Work-In-Progress limits or changing the way work gets done, resist those changes.

Introducing practices too soon is “overreaching”. Tempting to do when some of the benefits of these practices are so helpful. You won’t regret waiting, and in the beginning, advance practices will introduce unwanted resistance and unneeded disruption.

What next?

starting Kanban, Kanban certification, kanban training, Van Wray, lean kanban, kanban university, kanban maturity model, kanban system design, kanban change managementMerely introducing the visualization of work based on current processes, roles, and responsibilities will begin the needed transparency and awareness to introducing further change. And this brings us to the second Kanban change management principle.

“Agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change.”

The continuous pursuit of small evolutionary changes will respect the current wisdom embedded in how work is currently done and minimize resistance to change.

Starting from what you do now is central to starting Kanban effectively. Then over time, at a rate of change that minimizes resistance, continued growth can occur. Teams will grow in deep work satisfaction and improving the flow of value to customers.


To continue to improve over time, the Kanban Maturity Model (KMM) is a helpful overview of the cultural values and a progressive set of practices. To learn more about the KMM go to,

Article by Van Wray, AKT, CSP

Van Wray, Accredited Kanban Coach and Trainer, Agile Consultant Coach and TrainerVan Wray is an Accredited Kanban Trainer and Coach. He is the principal consultant at Amperant Advisors in Orange County, California. Van partners with Rocket Nine Solutions to provide Kanban training. Van leads the Kanban SoCal meet up based in Orange County, CA.

Please connect with Van Wray on LinkedIn.

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