Apr 19

Kill the Khan

You don't need a kanban masterDoes Kanban need a master? With almost every training or presentation I do about Kanban this question often is asked. Because in Scrum you have the Scrummaster so in Kanban you should have a Kanban-master. Right? Well not exactly. First of all kanban leaves roles and processes as they are. Through the use of Kanban the processes might change and become more effective. Roles and functions might shift but they only change to solve bottlenecks and to gain more efficiency. Kanban can even work in a waterfall environment. All it does is visualize workflows so it is easier to optimize.

It differs from Scrum. I have seen discussions that Kanban might be the next Scrum but that is a whole lot of nonsense. Even though there are similarities, the models are different form one another. Kanban is a visualizer and is based on the theory of constrains. See where you have obstructions and eliminate them. Optimize flow by reducing speed overall and constraining workflow. Scrum has a set time box. A set amount of work based on earlier experience. And it has a scrummaster to help the team and the process itself. Kanban does not need that. Just setup a Kanban-board and keep doing what you are doing. Just make it visible and adjust speed. I’m sorry but that’s it. That doesn’t mean that it is much easier, it is just closer to what you already where doing. Scrum is a complete different  ballgame. It demands change and does almost the opposite of what people are doing. It uses points instead of time. It uses set time boxes and is especially designed to produce complex software. So it needs someone who is in control of the process (not the people).

So do you need a Kanban-master of Lord of Kanban or whatever strange name you might come up with. No you do not. It can however help to have someone in charge to make sure the rules of Kanban are followed. Someone who sets the board and delvers the various charts when needed. This can be a projectmanager but also a developer. As long as the person knows how Kanban works. Strangely enough a Product Owner seems to find a nice place within a Kanban driven company. One person (or more) who knows what is needed and can prioritize work. There is nothing said about having a productowner in the Kanban workmodel. Maybe because this role is needed. But please, don’t go as far as having a Kanmaster, Kanban-host, The Khan (yes I have seen this role) or the Kanban lord. Just do it. I mean, what would he or she do. Host the standup? Make sure that the Kanban stays intact. Optimize the leadtime. I haven’t got a clue. Change will come over time and you will find out yourself how to deal with the running of the kanban and the delivery of the product. Kanban is just the visualizer. Don’t make it bigger then it is.


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  • VerKl

    Nice article. I was wondering the same for a long time after we’ve started using kanban.. we kinda have a kanban master now, or rather a kanban curator – a team member who is checking for any nonsense tasks being created or – god forbid – worked on. Not a full-time function, but we’ve found that we do need someone to periodically look the boards over. Btw kanban has been a major improvement for us – I really appreciate how much such a simple idea can bring to process efficiency. I read this this morning: http://kanbantool.com/blog/you-dont-need-kanban-or-do-you – this is exactly how we felt: “this is just fashion, we don’t need kanban” – we were one of the agile-haters too a year ago. And now we wouldn’t last long without our huge kanban boards.