How Kanban Systems Can Effectively Manage a Crisis


Crisis Management with Kanban

Earthquakes, roof collapses, viruses; our world is full of events that can potentially harm or limit a team or business. Responding quickly and effectively to these challenges may be crucial to survival. Crisis mode compels companies to release new products fast. This causes fast changes in prioritization, constant new information for teams, and the pressure to finish items quickly. It is easy in these times for teams to have members become over-burdened, have little to no work being finished, and to have a sense of confusion or chaos from ineffective communication. However, by using a Kanban system, teams are able to eliminate these problems, get work done effectively and cost-efficiently, and create order in a chaotic environment.  

Janice LindenReed’s 2018 LKCE presentation outlined how a Kanban system helped save two teams who were facing high-pressure situations. After a devastating earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, Russell Healy turned to Kanban to help his IT team create a system that would help thousands of citizens to apply for the help that they needed. These extraordinary circumstances caused the team to face an incredible amount of pressure to complete a great amount of work in a short amount of time. He entered into a system full of confusion and chaos and was able to restore order, calm employees, and create efficient and cost-effective online services with Kanban. 
Marcus Hammerberg found himself facing the challenge of helping a hospital in Bandung, Indonesia come up with a strategic plan. The hospital had a number of problems including a roof that was missing and a major cash flow issue. Implementing Kanban, he was able to evolve from their current position to start getting things done. People were able to understand what needed to be done and communication flowed more openly. In both cases, productivity greatly increased along with morale.  

In moments of stress, there is no time for a reorganization of a company.

Whether it be new roles or new processes. The “start where you are” approach allows teams to continue with existing roles. As pointed out by Marcus Hammerberg in his 2016 Lean Kanban North America talk, this focus also means eliminating any sort of “blame game”. Starting where you are means not going back and dwelling on the problem but setting your focus towards finding an effective solution. Collaborating as a team and defining pre-existing roles within the organization will help members tackle important problems in a time-effective manner. Kanban is an evolutionary process. In a complex environment, it will simply allow better practices to emerge instead of taking the time to redesign a whole system. 

The biggest value that a Kanban system adds for teams in a crisis is visibility.

The visibility brought by a Kanban board not only allows for a visualization of workflow but ensures that everyone has access to the same knowledge at all times. This reduces the need for conversations between team members that could waste precious time. It also eliminates unneeded confusion about who is doing what and when. When work can be visualized, it also can be prioritized. In times of crisis, this allows teams to decide what is most crucial to get done first and to redirect their focus. 
Visualization also allows members to see who is working on what. With better understanding, this can allow leaders to limit the amount of work their members have at a given time. This prevents the over-burdening of employees and also eliminates the risk of ineffectiveness due to multitasking.  With control over how much work people take on at the same time, products or goals are completed in a shorter period of time.

The visualization aspect can be pushed beyond the board as well.

Having complete transparency about company goals and priorities will help motivate employees to work together to reach said goals. By creating obtainable goals and limiting the work in progress, team members will feel the satisfaction of getting work done. 
In order to learn more about these cases and using Kanban with crisis management, check out Janice Linden-Reed and Marcus Hammerburg’s presentations or read this article written about the Christchurch story using the links below:  

 Janice LindenReed 2018 LKCE

Marcus Hammerburg 2016 Lean Kanban North America

Previously titled: “Kanban Disaster Story” by David J Anderson 



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