Kanban's 3 Agendas

The Kanban Method is well known for its "start with what you do now" evolutionary approach. When I'm training coaches, I train them to be very neutral and with those from the Agile community, I train them to put their Agile advocacy aside with Kanban. The Kanban approach is about evolving to greater agility, if that is what is needed in a business. Not one of "install an Agile method." However ,Kurt Hausler argued, after attended the coaching masterclass, that Kanban does have its biases and that as Kanban coaches we should be more willing to embrace those biases and more transparent about them. The resultant debate in the community has led to the definition of Kanban's 3 Agendas: Sustainability; Service-orientation; Survivability.

Working with Mike Burrows and with some input from Kurt, Patrieck Staeyert and Markus Andrezak, we've defined the 3 agendas behind Kanban as:

  • Sustainability
  • Service-orientation
  • Survivability


The sustainability agenda is driven mainly by the concept of limiting work-in-progress. However, there is a bigger theme of achieving balance that I first discussed as Lean Kanban Benelux in 2011. This is probably the Kanban agenda that resonates most strongly with an Agile audience seeking "sustainable pace." It is the promise of relief from an abusive environment and the opportunity to do good quality work. It is also the challenge of balancing demand against capability to supply and it introduces the need for demand shaping through capacity allocation in the kanban system and a focus on reducing non-value-added demand such as failure demand or requests for information about future speculative work or other damaging forms of demand such as unpredictable, disruptive expediting.


Taking a service-oriented view of an existing organization has beenĀ  the subject of several recent blog posts. The use of kanban systems helps us improve service delivery by taking variability out of the process and improving predictability and lead times. You scale kanban in an organization by scaling it out in a service-oriented fashion, each service designed from first principles using the System Thinking Approach to Introducing Kanban that I first presented at the Boston conference in May 2012. This approach has been a standard element of our 2-day classes since 2010.


I've position the Kanban Method as an evolutionary approach since writing the book that was pusblished in 2010. My motivation for adopting virtual kanban systems in 2004 was the desire to find an evolutionary approach to improvement in organizations. I fundamentally believed this would lead to significantly reduced resistance to change and much more sustainable institutionalized improvements.

Recently, I've been looking at how you show an evolutionary approach is working through the use of fitness criteria metrics used to evaluate the outcomes from the kanban systems. This puts the emphasis on asking the question "what capabilities of the service do external stakeholders really value?" With most services, customers value delivery time, quality, predictability and safety. Hence, these or variants of them are typical fitness criteria metrics for evaluating service delivery. The use of fitness criteria metrics with the Kanban Method will enable a business to evolve to be fitter for purpose.

The Kanban Method's feedback loops and model-driven improvement provide an adaptive capability. Hence, together the adaptive capability and the fitness evaluation give a business the capability to survive and thrive even in the presence of a rapidly changing external environment.


Deep adoption of the Kanban Method provides sustainability, improved service delivery, and an capability to adapt, survive and thrive in a complex environment. Kanban coaches can be explicit about their agenda: improved customer satisfaction from better service delivery, achieved sustainably, with resilience to changing external conditions.