After ten years of spotty evolution, intermixed with bickering, it’s time to bring the Agile methodology wars to their ultimate conclusion. By distilling the best of all existing approaches, I have been able to achieve both synergy and simplicity. My key insight has been that Agile has been blind to the system models that our civilization has already created that point to the ultimate answer. After extensive analysis, driven by a search for the greatest examples of flow produced by civilization, I have come to the only model that truly encapsulates all that my experiments in Agile processes have taught me to date. So join me in a brief journey through this masterpiece.
Scrum has suffered from a failed analogy of the team being represented by a Scrum. Few practitioners have ever been in a genuine scrum. I can tell you that it is a rigid smelly block of humanity unable to see the ball/vision but for a fleeting moment as it passes underfoot. Kanbum’s elegant simplicity comes from its design being based on the network of cisterns that form the sewage system so familiar and well understood by anyone who has partaken in a normal day’s ceremonies. Scrum’s time based batches have constipated delivery into short and often painful bursts. Meanwhile, Kanban’s continual flow has been a source of discomfort for many that have experienced it. Kanbum re-imagines Agile by keeping Scrum’s notion of time based batching but frees Agile from the monotonous predictability of when those time periods start and stop. And where did our understanding of the TPS fail? In the misinterpretation of the Andon Chain!
Until now the purpose of the Andon Chain is been misinterpreted as an action to stop progress. Rather we should look at the event from the more motivating perspective of the start of positive change. This is a more familiar way to look at the corresponding event from Kanbum’s sewage roots. Pulling the chain signals the release of a team from the mindset and features of the recent past and looks forwards to the new and expanded horizon. Kanbum refers to this transition as Ungrounded Inexperience.
The Roles and the Processes
There are only two roles, two questions and two processes. That’s it. Being a universally applicable methodology, Kanbum does not recognize other roles. They will emerge from the context and what you are producing. Kanbum allows for purpose to emerge from the system. Applying arbitrary names and responsibilities to other roles in the team presupposes a purpose and goal. In time this has with previous methodologies, limited the emergence of innovation. Harnessing the unexpected in no particular way then becomes the hallmark of how Kanbum differs from its predecessors. Kanbum refers to this as Predictive Irregularity.
The initiation of work in a Kanbum system is referred to an Urge.
The first role is that of the Flow Master. When the team feels an Urge to produce, the Flow Master pulls the symbolic chain by using the first of the two questions, “Now What?” On hearing this, the team engages the time box of indeterminate length, referred to as a Movement and is the first of the two Kanbum processes. The word itself captures a greater sense of fluid action than does “Scrum” or “Kanban”. Kanbum recognizes that companies undertaking a Kanbum transformation will need to find roles for the traditional Project Manager. The role of Flow Master was designed with this need to retain the preexisting project management experience and blend it into a new way. The Flow Master is there to establish the cadence to production by the team.
Kanbum dispenses with Scrum’s version of a check-in – the standup. In my experience, most teams don’t standup so Kanbum says whether you stand or sit should be driven by the nature of output the Urge will be producing during the Movement. The mechanism for check-in by the team is referred as the Grunt. When the Flow Master decides the teams need to check in with her/him/it, she/he/it issues a Grunt. During a Grunt each team member presents their output. The rest of the team critiques the work. If a reviewing team member does not think the output hits the target they announce a Miss. The Flow Master counts the number of Misses by team member and the overall total. If the total count of Misses exceeds a threshold determined by the Flow Master, she/he/it signals the end of the Movement with the second of the two questions, “What the Fudge?” (acronym WTF).
The second process starts after the WTF pronouncement. The team is ranked in ascending order of Misses. The leader is designated as the Head, the second of the two roles, named for their position in the list. In endlessly trying to nurture teams, Agile has to date failed to realize its own coercive nature. People working together have, from the beginning of human existence been triggered to do so by some fear of an external thread coupled with the need to find food. Evidence for early humans providing for the old and weak amongst them is rare. The evidence points more to early humans using internal competition to achieve high performance. The better performers naturally float to the top (Floaters) and in doing so improve the staff liquidity of the team. The Head’s job is to eventually dispatch those that sink to the bottom (Sinkers).
Estimation has always been seen as a waste byproduct of Agile practices. The trend towards No Estimates is appealing but makes management uneasy because they are almost always responsible for the estimates that the team then must build to. To give management something to grasp while giving the team a way to avoid committing, ever, Kanbum recognizes three estimate: #1, #2 and a Bidet. A Bidet is used to describe a corporate initiative for which no one can find a use but nevertheless are inexorably drawn to by the idea of its very existence. If a team accepts a Bidet, management accepts that the team will spend most of the Movement experimenting with how to relate to the Bidet and may result in all team members registering all Misses for the Movement. The Bidet scenario results in no Head existing.
Agile has become polluted by the endless influx of extraneous schools of thought. In the area of communications, Kanbum recognizes that the pendulum has swing too far. Agile has begun to spend too much time working through the differences between individuals on a team. Kanbum sees this verbal diarrhea as a form of waste, counterproductive to efficient flow. Kanbum dictates positivity by adopting Non-violent Communication (NVC) but removing in inherent negativity in the approach’s title. Thus Kanbum dictates the use of VC. The Head determines the tone of the violent communications with Floaters. It is suggested that Sinkers not be allowed to communicate as a reflection of the shame they bring to the team. Another benefit is the team has no need to waste time on judgmental notions of team norms. The Head dictates all aspects of behavior for the length of the Movement. The team can always change the Head when the Movement ends by arbitrarily changing how work is judged to that end. This inversion of hierarchy coupled with this betwixt-and-between state of the team keeps it in the phase of liminality avoiding commitment to any transformed state. Kanbum calls this Responsive Instability.
The use of VC in communications with stakeholders has been profound. Agile teams are often been dragged down with the need to explain the nuts of bolts of the team dynamics. The Body of the system consists of Meat of the team and Guts of management hangers on, present yet bewildered. Kanbum enables a team to empty the guts of useless of management while keeping the meat, themselves, through continuous use of VC. As a side note, Venture Capitalists having no interest in how Agile works, have been known to fund enterprises using Kanbum based on their scanning proposals containing the phrase “Agile and VC is a match made in heaven”.
Next Steps in the Kanbum Adoption Revolution
The vibrant community growing around Kanbum is taking it in exciting directions. Work has already begun on the Kanbum@Scale extensions that model how organizations of different sizes can map their processes effortlessly and organically just like sewage systems grow in real communities. Management can quickly see how massive Kanbum systems can produce more of what they are so often willing to accept.
Within a few months I will be revealing the entrepreneur’s version of Kanbum – Bean Startup. New ventures are often running around chasing value wherever they can find it before their funding runs out. Bean Startup produces the sort of unexpected explosive bursts of output that propel startups forward to eventual acquisition.
The first Kanbum conference will feature speakers from all corners of the earth talking about Kanbum’s approach to systems thinking. I don’t want to let out to many facts, but Kanbum’s Cynothing model shows how systems can be best served by staying in a perpetual state of disorder, maximizing the juices, creative and otherwise, of your organization.
How Can You Grab Your Kanbum?
I have been busily accumulating the marketing materials for Kanbum. I’m personally training a new breed of consultants who will bring a fresh perspective without the experience of prior Agile efforts hindering their instruction. My model is not to throw a bunch of high dollar consultants at a transformation that then disappear before the transformation takes hold. I plan to make my consultants extremely affordable so they can embed themselves inside your organization and be there for the long haul, eventually becoming resistant to management’s attempt to dislodge them. They will arrive ready to judge your organization against the Kanbum-butt scale so that they can dictate your path through the maze of undefined options that Kanbum offers.
All this will be available by the fixed deadline of April 1st so you know by when you will need to prepare your organization for the true Promise of Agile. Exciting times here at the Kanbum Konsortium. I have been developing this methodology ever since I woke up and drank my morning coffee. The day is not over so be prepared for so much more!