Implementing Change Using Kanban-Part I

I think the hardest part of being Agile or a Deming disciple is dealing with resistance to change. I’ve heard the phrase that a scrum master’s lot in life is to have to swim upstream. Sometimes it feels like swimming up a waterfall.

I’m in a department that is not Agile. Fortunately, my managers are tolerant of me using agile/Deming methods and tools (I’m not sure they realize that’s what I’m doing). I thought I’d share my experiences of using them here.

My main tool is the card wall. This is one of the first things I created when I started. It stems from Deming’s emphasis on understanding a system. The tool itself is inspired by my experience with Kanban boards. Here’s a picture of it.


Yeah, its a little blurry. Sorry. I have an old phone.


Why a wall chart for implementing change? I got the idea from David Anderson’s Kanban system. It’s a visual representation of a project’s system. Its like holding up a huge mirror to the project. People see the flaws and  fix it. According to Anderson, its a good way of implementing change for an organization that is resistant to change because it doesn’t ask for any changes. It just shows the flaws.

For this project, we had to upgrade the networks for 31 sites in Canada. We had to track the circuit installs, the equipment being configured and shipped, and the final install when equipment and circuits were connected.

Each row on the chart represented a different site and each column represented a different step of the process. Half of a 3×5 card contained various information about the site including install dates and indicated where in the process the site was. Different colored pens indicated the types of equipment and the type of circuit being installed and where it was in the process. Pink scraps of post-it note indicated blocks and issues.


The result- I became hyper aware of what was going on with the project. At a glance, I could tell what was going on at each site. Few things, if any, got by me. It was my number one weapon and thank God for it.

When I put these up (there were eventually four of them) they got a lot of attention from the other employees. No one here uses wall charts so they didn’t know what to make of them. Some thought it was cool. Most were indifferent and took the tack, “well, whatever works for you.” Some didn’t get why I was doing it. I was often asked why I just didn’t use a spreadsheet. Some asked what I would do if I was moved (i.e. I’d lose all the information on the chart because it wasn’t portable). I could also tell there were some who thought it was a waste of time.

One comment did catch my attention and made me think about my strategy. This person pointed out that the 31 Canadian sites were just the tip of the iceberg. After Canada, I had almost 500 sites in the U.S. I would have to track. Though I had four charts, they accommodated only about 40 sites! What was I going to do?

There was another thing about these charts that bothered me. Though I could tell what each site needed and what was happening next, I couldn’t really see what our team was working on and where the bottle necks were.

The last thing that bothered me: I seemed to be the only one using them. I think I had made it a little too complicated for people to understand. If I want to change people’s minds, I needed them to better see what was going on. Simplicity was key.

I had to think of something else.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V



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