Kanban: Agility at Scale, Understanding Kanban Levels and Movements

Today the vast majority of people think Kanban looks like that picture on top, just some rows and columns of an unusual looking to-do list. And they would be mostly wrong, that’s literally the tip of the iceberg.

Kanban, unlike Scrum deals with systems, large or small. But it thrives in large systems where many teams have to collaborate to build something. How big are those teams of teams? From dozens of people to thousands!

What about WIP, what is it? Well, in short it means Work in Progress. But it involves much more than that. WIP gives you an idea of how much can be accomplished at each stage of the system. And even more important it should help you find the key chokepoints of your system.

Let me explain, imagine you have a top-notch development team, and they deliver about 25 stories every two weeks. However, the marketing team, the ones who give them the stuff to work on, can only provide about 10 fully fleshed out requirements. Who is the bottle neck? Marketing! What is the constraint: 10 stories the WIP of the marketing done column!

What to do? Well then you have the gamut of techniques to deal with constraints, courtesy of Goldratt. In short you maximize what you can do with that constraint, you provide more brainpower to the constraint, or you find a way around it.

WIP analysis becomes quite useful then to improve overall system performance. Not team performance, system performance! The bigger the view you get into the value stream, the bigger the potential improvements you can do.

A way to visualize this Kanban view from the top is to consider Klaus Leopold’s Flight Levels visualization below, as you can see the most effort, the most impact comes from the top, not the team or operational levels. Inside my own consulting practice, I call this concepts, KAFE’s Gear Levels.


The fact that Kanban can bring higher efficiencies, and bigger impact at the top is the reason it can be much more impactful than Scrum, and probably the reason why SAFe uses this concept as well. Because the higher you go, the more you can improve the flow and efficiency of the organization.

There is of course an elephant in the room: radical improvements via a Lean Agile Transformation. These wins are possible when we do not just evolve, or adapt to better manage flow of work; but instead decide to re-design the organization or part of it, to fit like a glove the needs of the customer, and reduce costs and feedback loops too.

KAFE Level Gears

KAFE calls this creating a new MOVEMENT, similar to building a better way to tell time inside of a mechanical watch by re-engineering the way each part works, KAFE’s Movement represents the Lean Agile effort to build a better organization, either by improving how the organization works in one division, or eventually affecting the whole company. This is the secret of high ROI for Agile Transformation, transform the nature of work, and the way it is organized to deliver value, so that flow is optimized, and waste is reduced across the board.

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