Classes of Service: The Everyday Concept That Can Turbocharge Your Kanban


Using classes of service turbocharges your Kanban. Take a look at the following example:

  • “I really like the way you move these colorful sticky notes through the board but, you know… we have DEADLINES here!”
  • “I would like to start using Kanban, but I was told you can apply it only when you have no deadlines.”
  • “Yeah, yeah… have fun with your board, but we have work to do here. And we are already late.”

These are real words I hear over and over again from colleagues or managers working in, what we may trivially call,  business. These words from customers ignite an initial emotional reaction of: “No, it is not like this! Let me explain!”. Hearing this situation time and time again made me realize that this reaction only sprouts additional resistance.

When I hear “but”, the first thought I have is  the quote of Benjen Stark (from “Song of Ice and Fire” saga) saying  “My brother once told me that nothing someone says before the word ‘but’  really counts.” Additionally in this case, what comes before “but” is typically one Kanban myth or another. What comes after are real problems people encounter every day: overburdening, overtime working, annoying interruptions, and distractions, or time theft. Always in a rush, always in hurry, always late. Endless firefighting instead of normal work.  Irritation over satisfaction.

Classes of Service

Understanding what lies behind Classes of Service, even in their simplest form, gives people the Archimedes’ “eureka!” moment and opens new options for further discussion about improvements.

This is the moment when you can help people realize the importance and significance of a simple, yet underestimated concept: Classes of Service. Classes of Service can support the decision-making by answering one basic question: “What will happen (in a true business sense) if you don’t finish the work item by the deadline?”. Understanding what lies behind Classes of Service, even in their simplest form, gives people the Archimedes’ “eureka!” moment and opens new options for further discussion about improvements.

You are already familiar with classes of service; if you´ve ever bought a 1st class stamp, paid extra to use a  specialist delivery service like UPS, paid extra for 1st class on a  train, watched as the kids in ski-school get to jump the line for the chairlift, or again paid extra to jump the queues at Disneyworld, then you understand classes of service and what they mean for you as a  consumer. If you pause just a moment, you also understand what they mean in terms of extra profits for the business offering them.  You will always consider paying extra for better service when it is important enough to you!  Your favorite band was playing a summer concert in a stadium nearby. Did you pay extra for the VIP tickets?

Before we go further, let’s introduce some details of Classes of Service and how to use them in Kanban.

“Run, Forrest, Run!” or “Expedite” Class of Service

If you run a café, an expedite class of service is the businessman who is late for the morning meeting and needs his coffee to go immediately.

An “expedite” class of service means that you are already late. Not just late, you are super late, and the work you have just learned about was supposed to be completed yesterday. It’s an “all hands on deck” request. You might be required to postpone the work you (and sometimes even others) proceed with and focus on solving and delivering the expedite item. There are no excuses, as the impact of delay is immediate and is usually very harmful. Examples?  Defects with significant impact on production, quickly approaching regulatory deadlines, etc. Expedite means it jumps the queue, every queue,  and you will put all other work on hold to make it happen immediately. And yes, all missed fixed date requests will eventually land here.

“I Don’t Know What to Say Except it’s Christmas and We are all in Misery” or “Fixed Date” Class of Service

In our coffee business, a fixed-date request is a group of customers who booked their table for 11 AM and might be disappointed if they realize their table is occupied and there is no one to help them.

When you talk to people from finance departments, you realize the environment they operate in is mostly fixed date. They deal with annual or monthly reporting, daily deadlines for payments, etc. When you think about marketing, supply chain, stores, or online shops, most of them are dependent on the annual events cycle. The “fixed date” class of service is their bread and butter. A fixed date class of service means that you need to meet the deadline. When missed, the impact of delay is immediate. For example, Christmas has its fixed date every year; the Olympics every four years. You need to plan accordingly, otherwise… welcome expedite request!

“Just Keep Swimming!” or “Standard” Class of Service

A “standard” class of service refers to regular work items which are sequenced based on a FIFO (first-in, first-out) queuing method. Related to the method, they also use the “always pull the oldest available ticket” rule.  The urgency of these items is increasing and accelerating before leveling off at some later point when most of the value is gone.

A standard class of service in our café is a regular client who stopped to drink a coffee and read the newspaper. They are not in a rush. However, this customer also expects to be serviced in a reasonable timeframe. If we keep them waiting too long, tomorrow they will read their paper in a  different café.

“After All, Tomorrow is Another Day!” or “Intangible” Class of Service

Have you ever heard about a very special or unique coffee type that is available for special orders? An “intangible” class of service would be creating it because loyal customers would really love to try it.

The “intangible” class of service is the tricky one. It is the black sheep in the classes of service family. It is nice to have, but not particularly urgent. Finishing this work would probably help. Everyone knows that intangible items should be done one day. However, there is ALWAYS something more urgent: fixed date, expedites, even standard tickets. An intangible item may remain forgotten for a long time. Some of them even have a tendency to turn into fixed-date or even expedite items. Technical debt? Check.  Nice-to-have improvements? Check. Financial application upgrade required in two years? Check. If you see any of these, just be careful and include them in your planning.

The intangible (cost of delay) class of service items are generally the type of background projects that you like to do when you have a small break from the chaos of expedite and fixed-date work. When the rush hour is over and you can take a breath, perhaps we spend time in our café redecorating for the new season; changing out the flowers, and the Objet d’Art.


Classes of service may become your best friend when it comes to making planning decisions and organizing your priorities. Applying classes of service brings more flexibility to you and your customers while optimizing the economic outcome and managing risk. If you want to learn how to use classes of service most effectively, check out the Triage Tables poster by Mauvisoft. Use it at your Kanban replenishment meeting. It´s available to download, or if you prefer to have a calculator in the palm of your hand, try the Mauvisoft Menta Triage Decision Support application.  Maximize your business value and your economic outcomes. Make decisions with confidence. Understand the true urgency of the work you do and bring back some sanity to your workplace.

If you like this lesson and would like to know more about classes of service, join us for the Kanban  Management Professional training path. Check out our schedule for upcoming classes.

*mid-titles come from: “Forrest Gump”, “Christmas Vacation”, “Finding Nemo” and “Gone with the wind

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