Lean Kanban in manufacturing vs software

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This topic contains 3 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Max Guernsey 1 year, 4 months ago.

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    Hi – I’m interested in understanding how Lean Kanban is adapted for very different use cases. Specifically:

    1)What makes Lean Kanban able to be successful in fields as different as manufacturing and software?

    2)Are there ways in which the lessons of Lean Kanban as applied in the manufacturing world are not as relevant to software and vice versa?

    3)Does the one-piece flow of manufacturing Lean Kanban have a good analogue in software and can this focus limit creativity in knowledge work?

    4)Is it easier to make Lean Kanban principles such as limiting work in progress and reducing waste visible or manifest in the physical world (manufacturing) over an intangible application? If so, how can intangible/services/software teams overcome that hurdle?

    Cynthia Kenworthy


    Max Guernsey

    Great questions.

    1) The reason Lean Kanban can work in different arenas is that the underlying principles pretty much apply everywhere. For example, systems thinking is virtually how any complex system works. Delays in workflow and feedback are bad. An attention to doing things the right way will improve quality and lower cost while speeding things up. Although the implementations of these principles have to be different, the principles are virtually universersal.
    2) Definitely. The physical world is not the same as the software world. Thought I had a blog on this, but some differences are noted in the blog Wastes of Software Development There are other differences as well:

  • Prototypes in the physical world work better because people can more easily imagine how they will interact with the product
  • In software, you can build incrementally without added cost (if you do it right) whereas in the physical world that is not always an available option
  • designing interchangeable components in software is easier / cheaper than in the physical world
  • automated testing is easier / cheaper than in the physical world
  • not sure this is a complete list.
    3) Some of our consultants have found this to be useful – but it is not a general principle in software as in the physical world. So I’d say the analogy is weak and shouldn’t be attempted.
    4) In many ways it should be easier in the software world because one is not limited by space considerations. One can focus on finishing in the software world very well.

    Hope this helps.


Thanks, Al – Those are helpful insights. Do you think Lean Kanban has reached the same level of maturity in both software and manufacturing? And what are the next major challenges in each?


Max Guernsey

Depends upon what you mean by Lean Kanban. If you mean “kanban method” from Lean Kanbann University, I would say no. That that is mostly theory of constraints and does not encompass fundamental lean thinking of being holistic or attending to eco-systems. It’s one size fits all transformation approach (kaizen only) is also not consistent with Lean-Thinking.

However, if you mean Lean Kanban as followed by most other Kanban thought leaders, then more advanced but not totally mature. Some of our work in the Lean-Agile Framework is more advanced than what’s commonly in the market – we’re writing that up now, but more can be seen at:

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