Systems Thinking Approach to Introducing Kanban (or STATIK) is, according to David Anderson (the father of the Kanban method), the main approach for anyone wanting to adopt Kanban. Its application generally occurs in a group, involving all those taking part in the execution of the service for which the Kanban method is to be applied. The STATIK method is extremely exploratory, which is why it can also be used to improve an already existing Kanban implementation or even to resolve problems and decision making, through the most of systems thinking and the principles and practices of Kanban.
The idea of this post is to present some ideas about how to apply each of the eight steps of STATIK, with tips based on my experience of applying the method in various contexts, from legal departments to technology teams.
If you already know STATIK, I suggest you skip directly to the tips on each step. And if not, then do please read the whole text.
I also recommend you do our official training at Lean Kanban University.
In any case, the most important thing here is: Stop starting and start finishing!
Well, before the first step, one important tip: Don’t forget that the approach is based on systems thinking.
Systems thinking, as defined by Peter Senge in his book “The Fifth Discipline”, is a way of analyzing organization patterns from a broad point of view, instead of looking at small parts in isolation. Senge uses an elephant as a metaphor for explaining systems thinking. You can’t just consider one part of the elephant if you want to learn to handle it. Like an elephant, an organization is a living organism and therefore needs to be managed through an integral approach, rather than seeing only individual parts.
It is very easy to be seduced by STATIK’s step-by-step elements and to leave systems thinking to one side. Following a cake recipe (or the eight simple steps of STATIK) is neither enough to guarantee that you’ll end up with a cake (or a Kanban system), nor that the outcome will satisfy your hunger (the problems you want to solve with Kanban).
Even with its eight explicit steps, STATIK is an interactive method and doesn’t require that all steps be used in its application, much less be carried out in order. It’s important to remember that the environment you’re in is probably complex and that there’s no one recipe for solving your problems. But there are some great practices which can help.
1. Purpose: Understand who your client is and what success means for him
Kanban talks a lot about efficiency, but explicitly recognizes the power of effectiveness. The group’s purpose surrounding the STATIK is the key pillar guaranteeing that the direction we’re heading in is the correct one.
The tip here is to use already familiar techniques such as an Elevator Pitch, or even the first part of K21’s Decantation Tank. I’ve been using a template (can’t remember where I got this from, sorry!), which works really well:
AS <who we are >
WE PROVIDE <what we do >
IN ORDER TO <reason the client comes to us >
I usually divide the group into smaller groups. Each fills out the template and then we do dot-voting for each part of the template, arriving at a consensus.
You can really go into discussions about purpose with teams of lesser maturity, who certainly won’t have stopped to discuss who they are or what they really do. Generally, in such cases, just the discussion of the purpose is already really valuable! You’re trying to reach a Kanban system, but don’t forget, what you really need is for the people involved in the current system to understand the existing systemic relationships.
2. Dissatisfactions: The basis of evolution
Peter Senge, in his book “The Fifth Discipline”, defines Creative Tension as the difference perceived by each individual between the current reality and the ideal future. It is this perception (“it’s like this today, but ideally it would be different”) which makes individuals progress as they seek to alter the perceived reality and become more and more like the desired future, thus resolving the tension.
If we want the group in question to apply continuous improvement, Kanban being fundamentally an improvement method, the Creative Tension set out by Senge is probably the group’s best fuel.
The tip for this step is to allow each one to fulfill and expose their dissatisfactions with the current system. One pattern I’ve seen emerge is that the only dissatisfactions raised lie within the point of view of those working with the system. I generally pick up on this pattern and ask them to classify each of the dissatisfactions as “internal” (we perceive) or external (clients or stakeholders perceive). When the scarcely of external dissatisfactions (something common in less mature environments) becomes clear, I use this moment to generate tension in the group by having them look at the system from the client’s perspective (common in more mature environments).
Grouping and prioritizing the dissatisfaction in a group is a highly recommended exercise for guaranteeing their focus throughout the following steps.
3. Analyzing demand: Work in progress
The main tip for this step is taking into account the Kanban principle “Start with what you do now”. I generally ask people to write on post-its the activities which are underway, or if they already have a board, I use that. For each activity, I ask the person to share with everyone what the activity is, where it came from (who requested it) and with what frequency this sort of activity is requested. It’s important to remember systems thinking here, and try to get to the group to go beyond “it was the boss requested it”. Being aligned to the purpose (step 1) is fundamental in each of the activities. In some cases, it may be useful to ask “why are we doing this activity?”. Remember: the discussion is very valuable for improving the group’s systemic vision.
It is also worth being aware of the patterns which will emerge: similar activities in great number may mean a “type of demand” with which the group generally deals. Organizations of low maturity generally deal with tasks generated by the group members, rather than demands requested by the client, and finding the types of demand coming from the client is a fundamental step in understanding and managing the system.
4. Analysis of capacity (or lack of)
I generally start the capacity analysis with the last activities delivered by the group. We don’t always have a well enough defined context to do fundamental analyses of this stage, such as how long it took to do the activity (Lead Time) or how many of them were delivered per week. But the questions raised at this stage, together with those raised earlier, help to better understand the different types of demand the group deals with. One question which usually generates some tension among the group, since it deals more with efficiency, is: Did we get any sort of feedback about this delivery?
The main tip here is that, even in less mature scenarios, where the information raised at this stage is nebulous, it generally serves to validate the types of demand which emerge and explain basic concepts of efficiency and business metrics.
5. Workflow: Knowledge over time
In this stage, the workflow is analyzed for each type of demand which has been identified. Workflow is a common word in most organizations and is understood as the sequence of steps established in order to finalize a certain activity. And for knowledge workers, the workflow should be seen as the sequence of main steps in learning about an item we’re working on. I admit I’ve never quite managed to shake off the old industrial vision of workflow in order to analyze it from the point of view of a knowledge worker, but we still have to review the workflow as seen by the team.
The tip here is to review the workflow of only the primary types of demand. Prioritizing the types of demand as a whole before analyzing the workflow is definitely a good idea.
6. Classes of service – WTF?
Classes of service are policies about how an item should be dealt with by the group, given its characteristics. The main classes of service used by Kanban are generally as follows:
- Expedite: Item which must be delivered as soon as possible, otherwise we will have (or are already having) major losses!
- Fixed date: Items which, if not delivered by a certain date, no longer need to be delivered (like for example Black Friday)
- Standard: Ordinary items we deal with every day, where there is no special expectation regarding delivery, anything which would make them urgent
- Intangible: Items with no foreseeable financial return or impact after delivery, but which if successful can be an important differential for the organization
I very much like the relationship between classes of service and planning horizons.
The tip here is to ask the group to bring examples of expedite, fixed date, standard and intangible demands in their context, and for each example, I get them to say which characteristic classifies the demand in its class of service. For example “the bug last week was urgent because it stopped production”. In other words, items which stop production are urgent for us! If you’ve never used classes of service and if the group’s maturity is very low, only use prioritization by type of demand (identified in the previous steps), and skipping this step may well be appropriate.
7. Kanban System Design – Modeling the system
The moment we’ve all been waiting for! It’s time to put together the system learning and vision acquired over the previous steps and model the Kanban system. The main steps of the workflow tend to fall into columns here. Activities in progress tend to already be categorized in types of demand. Services classes tend to become rows on your board. The metrics collected can form the basis for defining WIP limits.
But take it easy! The main tip here is: Don’t model a more complex system than the group needs at this point. Change must be evolutionary. It makes no sense to use a WIP limit with groups with a very low maturity, for example. Perhaps the biggest gain for this type of group is the visualization of the work in progress, defects (bugs and problems) which emerge at each stage, or even the types of demand which flow across the board. Perhaps just having one board is enough of a gain for the moment. Although it’s tempting to use all you’ve learned about Kanban so far, don’t cause more stress than the group needs.
8. Rollout – Let’s get the Kanban system on the road!
After the design comes the fun part: Get some colored tape, post-its, markers and let’s hit the wall! This is usually a symbolic moment, with a lot of collaboration, for teams who’ve never had any contact with Kanban.
The main tip here is to get feedback from all those with any relationship with the system (stakeholders) and who haven’t taken part in the previous phases of the STATIK. Get feedback from that director who’s an essential part of your process (that approval stage which always happens at the end), or from other areas of the organization which demand work from the group implementing the Kanban system. It’s important the group sustains a humble attitude, where no one is “the smartest person in the room”, following the tips of David Anderson himself.
Conclusions and references
I hope these tips have been useful. Below you’ll find some important references, and please do add to the tips and references by commenting on the blog!
Feedback and questions are also most welcome!
References and material about STATIK
- The Fifth Discipline – Peter Senge: I put this first on purpose. It’s a book which you should certainly read to understand more about systems thinking and organizations. Also available on Audible.com.
- Kanban from the Inside – Mike Burrows: there’s a whole chapter on STATIK. The book is from 2014, so not the most up-to-date, but it’s probably the best bibliographic reference on STATIK.
- Essential Kanban Condensed (free!) – Andy Carmichael and David Anderson: The “kanban guide”. Succinct and straight to the point. Mentions STATIK briefly. In fact, everything in this book is mentioned briefly. Haha.
- Kanban Maturity Model – Teodora Bozheva and David J. Anderson: Talks about stages of maturity (a frequently-used word in this post), and the characteristics of each level
- STATIK – Systems Thinking Approach to Implementing Kanban – Basically the text of the book Lean Kanban Condensed, but published at David Anderson’s Linkedin
Talks and lectures:
- Statik, Kanban’s hidden gem –Mike Burrows’ slides at Lean/Agile Scotland 2014
- STATIK – Mike Burrows at LKCE14 – Lecture by Mike Burrows at Lean Kanban Central Europe 2014
- LSSC12: The Systems Thinking Approach to Introducing Kanban – David J. Anderson – I think this was the first lecture about this theme, given by David at Lean Software and Systems 2012, in Boston
- LKNA18: STATIK Beyond the Classroom: Adopting Systems Thinking with Powerful Simplicity – Travis Birch gave a profound talk about STATIK at the last Lean Kanban North America
If you want to know more about what is being discussed by the Kanban international community, you should read this: The world´s biggest Kanban conference trends – who to follow, what to read?