Yesterday, we interviewed David Anderson, who pioneered the use of Kanban systems for creative and knowledge work. The popularity of Kanban has opened up a sizeable cottage industry of companies that provide virtual kanban boards. One of the more popular of those companies is LeanKit.
Today we speak with Chris Hefley, the CEO of LeanKit. In this interview you’ll learn:
- What first led him to apply Kanban to his work
- Tradeoff between Costs and Service Level
- Why that led him to start a company
- What positive difference he’s seen in companies that have applied Kanban principles
Enjoy the interview and please read more about Chris after the article and feel free to read our other lean leadership interviews.
Software development processes have undergone quite an overhaul in the last several years. On this blog, we interviewed Mary Poppendieck back in 2007 on Lean Software Development. Can you help explain the relationship between Kanban and Lean Software Development?
Lean software development is a pretty big umbrella term, describing how people are working to apply principles from Lean manufacturing, Lean Management, and Lean Product Development to the creation of software. Mary’s work over the years has benefited the software development community greatly by helping to translate the principles of Lean into the context of software development, and knowledge work in general.
Kanban systems have long been a part of Lean manufacturing, as a tool for managing the “just-in-time” flow of work through the production line. In the software development community, a core group of thought leaders (List of Top Kanban Blogs) have coalesced around the idea of using Kanban boards to manage the flow of knowledge work. Kanban boards are used as the metaphor for managing the work, and as a way to reveal problems with flow that can lead to continuous process improvement.
This community, practicing Lean and Kanban, has given rise to all kinds of other advances in Lean thinking as it relates to software development and knowledge work, and it’s become part of what people in the Agile Software development community use to manage their work as well. It’s an exciting, dynamic community to be involved with, and I’m continually impressed with the quality of new ideas being generated, much of which goes well beyond the starting point of Kanban itself.
You are the co-founder and CEO of LeanKit. Can you tell us what LeanKit is and what specific problems LeanKit was designed to address?
LeanKit is widely regarded as the top Kanban software in the market, especially when it comes to enterprise implementations. It allows teams and organizations to visualize their work and workflow, customize their processes to improve the flow of work, and collaborate together to complete the work. It also integrated with your existing PPM and scheduling software at the enterprise level, providing a consistent view of the work from end-to-end, from planning to execution.
By making the work visible, LeanKit allows you to spend less time tracking down the status of work items, and more time having valuable conversations about how to move the work forward. Visualization helps you to see bottlenecks and other problems with flow, and LeanKit then gives you the tools to improve the flow, such as work-in-process limits, explicit policies, and flexible board design.
LeanKit also provides rich collaboration tools, allowing people to share information and valuable conversations about the work from multiple locations, including via our mobile apps.
LeanKit is often used outside the context of pure “Kanban” as well. We have lots of SCRUM teams using it, as well as applications in IT Operations, Manufacturing and Engineering, HR, Marketing, Healthcare, Education, and Construction job-site management. In some of these cases, the organizations using LeanKit are less concerned with Kanban principles, other than simple visualization of the status of work and collaboration to complete the work.
Many companies talk about culture and sometimes cite the Respect for People pillar at Toyota. Can you share with us how Kanban might support that pillar in the Toyota Production System? Specifically, can you share an example of a company you’ve worked with that exemplified the principle of Respect for People withing a software development context?
One of the great things about Kanban is that it focuses everyone’s attention on the work, and the system by which the work gets done. Problems with flow are attributed to the System, and the people collaborate to improve the system. Focusing attention on the System helps to empower and motivate the people, and displays an inherent quality of respect for the people. To paraphrase Deming, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”
But perhaps the clearest example of how kanban promotes respect for people is via the use of WIP limits. A system has only so much capacity, and traditional work systems tend to overload that capacity, placing an impossible burden on the people in the system. Visualizing the work makes this this situation visible and difficult to ignore. Just visualizing, however, isn’t enough. You also need the WIP limit to align demand and priorities with the actual capacity of the system and the people in it.
One example of this can be seen at one of our customers, AmDocs. They make software for the telecom industry, and have over 2,000 people practicing Kanban. In this presentation earlier this year at the Lean/Kanban North America conference, they told a story about how kanban revealed aspects of their work related to “work/life balance.” A few months into their kanban rollout they did some surveys to determine what aspects of their work had improved because of kanban. In all but 2 categories, people agreed that kanban had made things better or a lot better. But when asked about “Quality” and “Work/Life Balance”, the survey results said that things had actually gotten worse!
When they measured quality objectively, however, they found that it had improved – in terms of defects and time to fix them. With a little investigation they were able to uncover an interesting effect of making the work visible. Quality hadn’t really gotten worse, but quality issues were being identified earlier in the process, and those issues were very visible to the team on the kanban board. So, it was the perception of quality that had changed, simply because it was more visible. Similarly, when they investigated the work/life balance question, they found that it was the improved visibility of the actual amount of work being loaded onto the teams that made it seem like things had gotten worse, and that those people who reported negative effects were not using WIP limits at all. In order to address the problem, they started encouraging those teams to put WIP limits in place, and they worked together to write up a “Sustainable Pace Manifesto”.
We know that visual management is a critical aspect of Lean. In software development, why is visual management especially important? Can you share a specific example of how LeanKit helps organizations better visualize their work?
In manufacturing, the work-in-process inventory is easy to see. You can go to the plant or warehouse and actually look at it. In software development, the work-in-process inventory is all the work you have started but not finished yet. That’s not easy to see until you put it up on the Kanban board. Visualizing the process steps and queues where the work sits and waits between steps turns out to be really valuable in and of itself, even before you start putting work-in-process limits in place. Simply “putting the work on the wall” allows you to see hidden work-in-process, and it often becomes immediately apparent where bottlenecks in the process have formed that hamper the flow of value through the process. For example, when a software team puts all their work on the board, and realizes that they have large numbers of cards waiting for QA or waiting for Deployment, it’s easy to see those bottlenecks by just looking at the board.
We’ve seen software development go through phases: waterfall to agile to lean for software. And now, Kanban software development. Where do you see software development processes going next?
I see three things. One is the coalescing of these things we’ve learned into the larger body of knowledge, and the blurring of the lines between them. Most people now talk about “Lean/Agile” and imply that Lean, Agile, and Kanban are all part of a single body of knowledge and set of tools that can be used to develop software better. This is kind of the same thing that’s happened with the term “Lean” itself. Lean is more than just a re-naming of the Toyota Production System; it includes ideas from Scientific Management, TQM, Six Sigma, and more. I’ve heard it described as the “sum of good things we’ve learned about manufacturing for the past century”. A similar coalescing of ideas is happening in the field of software development.
Second, there are new and better ideas coming to the fore about how to measure, plan, and forecast our software projects. For a long time, we’ve relied on fuzzy estimates and padding those estimates to hopefully get things done reasonably on time and within budget. Some of the lean metrics that have been introduced into the community, along with probabilistic forecasting techniques, like Monte Carlo simulations, allow us to get much more confident about how long our software projects will take and how much they’ll cost.
Third, a lot of work is going into improving the state of the art when it comes to scaling the ideas from Agile and Lean to large software development organizations. There are a lot of good tools in Lean to help with this, and examples of very large, successful Lean and Kanban implementations at scale. And from the Agile world, we’re seeing things like the Scaled Agile Framework(TM), which attempts to address the “big company” problems of doing agile at scale, is built on a foundation of Lean principles, and includes the use of Kanban at the portfolio and team levels.
For my readers interested interested in LeanKit, how can they learn more?
You can watch some short demo videos and see more about the value of LeanKit. And while you’re there, you can sign up for a free 30 day trial. You can also check out our blog at leankit blog, and follow us on twitter and Facebook. Finally, for teams looking to get started with Kanban, we’ve published an easy to follow roadmap with some exercises you can do with your team. Download a copy.
About Chris Hefley
Chris Hefley, CEO and Co-founder of LeanKit, is a practitioner and thought leader in the global Lean/Kanban community. In 2011, he was nominated for the Lean Systems Society’s Brickell Key Award. After years of coping with “broken” project management systems in the world of software development, Chris helped build LeanKit as a way for teams to become more effective. Prior to LeanKit, Chris worked with globally distributed teams in leadership positions at HCA Healthcare and IMI Health. He believes in building software and systems that make people’s lives better and transform their relationship with work.
Feel free to read other interviews below:
Lean Leadership Interviews
|Jeffrey Liker, author of The Toyota Way, shares his thoughts on Toyota Kata, why sometimes root cause analysis isn't necessary, and what else he is excited to learn - even after 30 years of being a student of the Toyota Production System.|
|In this Podcast interview with Eric Ries, the author of The Leanstartup, we learn about the how he's applied Lean principles to starting companies. He also tells us about his consulting work with GE and how GE, worldwide, has applied Leanstartup throughout all its divisions and is considering Leanstartup as its new Operating System for the company.|
|Michael Balle is a leading voice in Lean. In this interview, he shares with us his thoughts on Lean, tells us about his book, and spends a good amount of time discussing Respect for People.|
|Michael Jones, Head of Content at eBay||Michael Jones is the Head of Content at eBay and is the son of Daniel T. Jones, the co-author of The Machine that Changed the World - the watershed book that first brought awareness of the Toyota Production System to America.|
|We caught up with Akash Trevidi, a product manager at Kiva.org, the microfinance company that aims to help entrepreneurs worldwide in order to alleviate poverty through self-reliance and entrepreneurship.|
|We caught up with Hugh Molotsi at the Lean Startup Conference. Hugh is the VP of Innovation at Intuit Labs. In this interview, we discuss how to encourage everyone's voice in innovative product development and in solving problems.|
|Zetdi Runyan Sloan leads the startup and entrpreneurship events at the New Mexico State University. Learn about how use of Lean Startup.|
|Al Dupree is the head of innovation at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. In this interview, he discusses his use of Lean Startup principles in the world of research and innovation.|
|Cory Strong, Lean Leader at Nebraska Health System||Cory Strong first learned Lean by learning the Kawasaki Production System. Many years later, he finds himself in the exciting and high impact world of Lean Healthcare as a Lean Leader at the Nebraska Health System.|
|We interview Kaizen Institute (Kaizen.com) CEO Jon Miller. In this interview, we get a glimpse of Jon's balanced and thoughtful approach to learning, teaching, and the application of the Toyota Production System.|
Global Head of Lean Management at Hartmann Group
|Jonathan Escobar Marin is a Lean Leader and practitioner who first learned of the Toyota Production System while he was on a benchmarking trip to Toyota while employed at Procter and Gamble. In this interview you learn about his journey and how he blends the High Performance Organization Model with Lean.|
|Interview with Daniel Debow, Senior Vice President at SalesForce.com; In this podcast, we discuss Deming, Lean at SalesForce, and the SalesForce Wearables Initiative.|
|Matt Long, VP of Continuous Improvement and 24 year veteran at Herman Miller Inc. shares with us the history of Lean at Herman Miller, their association with the Toyota Supplier Support Center, and about the Herman Miller Performance System.|
|This interview with Dr. Bob Emiliani covers several aspects of Fake Lean versus Real Lean. There are real insights here from the "Lean Professor".|
|Michel Baudin is an author, highly-sought after consultant in the Toyota Production System. In this interview we learn about his distinctions between Lean-Lite versus Lean-Deep and how he understand the Respect for People Principle versus Respect for the Human as is used internally at Toyota.|
|Lean Branding is an application of Lean principles to branding. Read her provocative and practical approach to brand branding using the principles of Lean.|
|Robert Martichenko is the Founder and CEO of LeanCor - a lean logistics and supply chain company. He is also the author of the book "A Lean Fulfillment Stream", published by the Lean Enterprise Institute. In this interview, he shares with us how Lean can be applied effectively beyond the 4 walls of manufacturing and outside the office, but infused into the entire supply chain.|
|Leanpub is an innovative approach to book publishing, where Peter believes that lean principles apply. He claims that writing a book is essentially a startup. And, the worst waste of all is writing a book that nobody wants. Read more to learn how to apply lean to the world of book publishing.|
|Keith Sparkjoy is the Culture Officer at Pluralsight, a Utah company that raised $135 Million in 2014 - an unprecedented amount of venture capital. And, here's the really cool part, as the culture officer, he's trying to transform his company using Dr. W. Edward Deming's teachings.|
|David J. Anderson is the pioneer of the application of Kanban for creative knowledge work. His methodology and approach has had widespread acceptance and adoption and in this interview he shares results from companies that have tried his approach and other lessons learned.|
|Dimitar Karaivanov is the CEO of Kanbanize, a visual kanban system designed for creative and knowledge workers. In this interview, we discuss the product and its many uses and how it embodies the principles of Lean.|
|Chris Hefley is the CEO of LeanKit, a company that provides Virtual Kanban software for software development teams and knowledge workers. Reah his interview and learn what led to the development of LeanKit and the role Lean and the Toyota Production System plays.|
|In this interview with Dan Markovitz, we learn why he believes that everything is connected to the customer through the office. Based on this belief, he feels that Lean for Office makes the most sense. Read and learn how he's implemented Lean for the Office.|
|Jason Yip is a noted thoughtleader in software engineering. As a consultant, he helps software engineering organizations get better. In this interview, we learn the state of software engineering and the role of Agile, Lean for Software and Kanban.|
|Matthew May is an author and influential voice in Lean and also Design Thinking. He worked close to a decade at University of Toyota to help codify the Toyota Production System. In this interview, he shares with us his thoughts on his experience and what we can learn from it.|
|Lean Healthcare expert Mark Graban stops by and share his thoughts with Shmula readers on how Lean can be applied to arguably the most important industry in the world, healthcare.|
|Art Smalley is one of the most honest and influential voices in Lean. He was the first American to work in Japan's Kamigo plant, the plant where Taiichi Ohno began the Toyota Production System. He shares with us his thoughts on the Lean Movement and where it is going wrong.|
|Lean is being applied to every facet of business. Jeff Gothelf shares with us his thoughts on applying Lean for user experience, or Lean UX.|
|Cecil Dijoux shares with us his thoughts on applying Lean to IT, definitely a must-read if you are in the information technology space.|
|Brent Wahba is a fellow at the Lean Enterprise Institute and shares with us his thoughts on Lean for Sales and Marketing.|
Interview with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
|In December 2008, I was fortunate enough to interview Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. In a 5 part series of interviews, we discuss the Zappos strategy and Tony answers questions on why he chooses to focus on the customer and how he sees that as strategic.|
Interviews with Customer Experience Experts
|Mark Roenigk, COO of Rackspace and Board Member at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation||Rackspace Interview on Customer Experience: We interviewed Mark Roenigk on June 10, 2013. We discussed the Net Promoter Score and also topics around process improvement and how Rackspace places the customer first.|
|Shep Hyken Customer Service Interview: We interviewed Shep Hyken on June 3, 2013 and discussed topics close to his heart - the customer. We focused our discussion on customer service and how focusing on the customer is strategic, not just tactical.|
|Annette Franz Gleneicki on Customer Experience Strategy: Annette Gleneicki is a customer experience thought leader and Director at Confirmit, a voice of the customer platform. We discuss her thoughts on customer experience and the direction of the overall field.|
|Michel Falcon on Improving the Customer Experience: Michel Falcon is a former executive at 1800GOTJUNK and was the person who propelled 1800GOTJUNK to become a customer service powerhouse. In this interview, we discuss what he did and the lessons he learned.|
|Adam Ramshaw, a customer experience consultant with Genroe, explains the relationship between continuous improvement and customer experience.|
Aza Raskin, Author, Startup Founder, and Son of Mac Inventor Jef Raskin
|This is a multi-part Interview with Aza Raskin, on the Humane Interface.
Mary Poppendieck, Author and codifier of Lean for Software Engineering
|In this multi-part interview with Mary Poppendieck, the pre-eminent evangelist and teacher for Lean for Software, explains Lean Software Engineering.
|The inventor of Clocky, Gauri Nanda, shares with us her thoughts on innovation and the birth of Clocky|
Gretchen Rubin, Author and evangelist of Happiness
|In March 2010, I held a 2 part series of interview with Gretchen Rubin, the author of the Happiness Project. Her answers to reader's questions on a variety of topics centering on happiness will enlighten you. Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, shares with us here thoughts on how to be happy and what our part is in choosing to be happy.|
|Spencer Rascoff, the CEO of Zillow, shares with us his thoughts on this interview with Zillow back in June 2006.|
|Josh Coates, the founder of Mozy, shares with us jokes and the innovation behind Mozy.|
|Lloyd Hildebrand describes Diabetic Retinopathy and how his company, Inoveon, a Telemedicine Company, aims to eradicate diabetic retinopathy.|
|Ryan Kiskis of xFire, the developer of World of Warcraft, explains his thoughts on innovation.|
|Kaboodle, was clearly the predecessor to Pinterest. We learn about Kaboodle and the innovation behind it.|
|Mark Jen, VP of Product Management at Plaxo, a Contact management company, the predecessor to Linkedin speaks to us about innovation and the business of business networking.|
|Bzzagent, the word of mouth marketing company, explains the power of the buzz.|