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Dynamic Kanban

Yesterday at Flowcon, the con conference on flow, I was able, with the help of Yannick, to present a session whose objective is to make contextual reading understood in order to adapt Kanban systems to the culture in which they can evolve.

For those who were able to participate, here are the elements we discussed. Naturally, be careful for those who would like to participate in the future, it is better not to read the proposals suggested at the end of the session.

This perspective on the use of kanban systems in the middle of their ecosystems is part of a book on Kanban initially written only by Laurent Morisseau and which I join in this third edition scheduled for release in spring 2019.

“Dynamic Kanban” session

Certainly not the best of titles, but the idea is to mix a reading grid like the Spiral Dynamics applied to Kanban systems. Mix? I have observed that often at the beginning of a coach’s career we try to apply a method. The next step is that we become dangerous, because by mastering this method we apply it indiscriminately, as it stands. Then as we evolve we understand that “things” cannot be limited to one method, but – and this is another danger – we try to accompany or “transform” others as we have transformed ourselves. Finally, we understand that accompanying organizations means “transforming” them as they should transform themselves.

Let us not change organizations as we have experienced our journey. Let’s help organizations change as they need it.

In order to meet this need, to better understand and adapt our kanban systems, we propose to use a reading grid such as the Spiral Dynamics.

Presentation of the three contexts.

The session begins with the presentation of three contexts, and three “Kanban systems”. These are fictional contexts. But it is interesting to wonder if these contexts recall situations, ecosystems experienced by oneself.

The very big company

This is a department of the very big company. It is a highly process-based organization. With clearly delineated roles for every people, where “social castes” do not change much because that is how things go and how things work. But faced with the upheavals in the world around them, and the increasing rise of competition, a group of managers in one of the departments of the big company is pushing to transform the work tool. Transform the work tool to regain markets, which they consider essential, otherwise this giant with its clay feet will collapse.

They embarked on the use of kanban systems. Why? To have levers that allow them to transform, improve and change their work tools, which are plagued by bureaucracy and habits. It is about making something dysfunctional functional. They want a stronger grip on the changing market. They are trying to make our production tools more efficient. A work on the fluidity of the work tool: from start to finish.

a department of the very big company

The young growth full of desire and ambition.

This is a startup, full of desire and ambition. It is a small group of ten people, sharpened. Their product idea seems to interest many people. In any case, many people want to bet on them. The enemy is time. They are in a hurry. Between the expressions of interest and the validation of the market, there is a huge space that must be crossed.

The founding group is made up of entrepreneurs thirsting for success, but also of people in search of meaning, with humanist values. They want to create value. No matter how fluid their work tool is, no process, no real tool in the literal sense, but more a commando that must validate its model, validate its assumptions and constantly measure market acceptance. Impact mapping, A/B tests, etc. are the target practices. But this generates tensions. A startup that succeeds, yes, but not at any price, not just for financial success.

the startup, full of desire and ambition

The family group with its secrets.

This is an SME. Around the family, the company has evolved well. But it is facing a growth crisis. We no longer know if the organization is doing well or not. We have a lot of work to do, but everything seems to be done in pain. But that is the way it is, and it always seems to have been. And the company has been living well for a long time. Besides, it is an important moment she is living through. The founder finally retired and one of his sons took over. For everyone, everything is good or bad, but nothing will change.

The new CEO, the son, knows the tradition around the family, which feeds on exploits and outbursts of rage. There are rescuers who kill themselves at work for the family, for the company. And a management team that knows itself by heart and dominates its troops. But the new CEO understands that these attitudes will wear down the company and lead to nothing.

The family

A series of sentences to immerse yourself in the different ways of thinking about the world around you.

We then distribute a series of sentences, and ask each group to take them and try to attribute them to these contexts, where would they be pronounced? We warn that not all sentences are necessarily found in these three contexts. The idea is to immerse yourself in these contexts and start to grasp postures, a lexicon, a way of thinking about the world around us.

>> Sentences (pdf)

(The idea is to cut them out so that people – table of 8 max – can handle them easily).


Presentation of the Spiral Dynamics

With this framework set: 3 contexts, sentences to appropriate (we do not yet give an answer concerning the links contexts / sentences), the next step is to take a reading grid, which Yannick and I like very much, the Spiral Dynamics.

Yannick’s presentation at slideshare (french)

Spirale Dynamique - niveau rouge

Following Yannick’s presentation, we are distributing a short summary that will once again enrich the understanding of this reading grid:

>> Spiral Dynamics Color Sheets (pdf)

Fiches couleurs Spirale Dynamique


(It is in the moments that follow that the bricks come together and a small epiphany can occur).

Understanding of contexts and new questioning around sentences with regard to the Spiral Dynamics

The reading grid offered by the Dynamic Spiral allows us to better understand the contexts, and also to appropriate the sentences differently (except in our head, the concordance between sentences/colours is not yet formalized, it will come if the mystical forces surrounding us so wish).

Participants are given time to re-appropriate contexts and sentences, the idea being to detect the colors of the Dynamic Spiral that should be associated with them. Then we reveal our analysis.

In our reading the very large company reveals a BLUE/orange context : i. e. a strong BLUE base1 within the ORANGE teams and management pockets here and there. The objective is to make a dysfunctional BLUE/orange organization functional.

In our reading the young shoot reveals a paradoxical context that associates GREEN and ORANGE. These two visions must be reconciled in this context.

In our reading the family group reveals itself to be a predominantly RED context with a background of VIOLET, but its new leader wishes to lead it towards BLUE to pacify it a little.

At the end of this section, we clarify the contexts as mentioned above, and associate the sentences with the colours. Each group now has a context (living conditions to use an expression of the Dynamic Spiral), a kanban system, the description of an environment.

Proposal for improving Kanban systems according to the contexts and understanding of the Dynamic Spiral

Finally, we give time to each group to propose a progress, an adaptation, an improvement of each kanban system according to this reading. Then we propose our hypotheses:

Suggested improvement: The very big company.

On the Kanban system
  • Accept inconsistencies between official processes and what appears (protection by managers, embodiment of effort by managers).
  • Reinforce priorities beyond “broken or obsolete” processes: make priorities clear (“emergency” line, “emergency button”).
  • Make these Kanban systems visible and accessible (avoid burying them in an electronic tool only).
  • Try to reduce the size of the elements to gain flexibility.
  • Try to schedule deliveries by ritualizing them (indicate on the kanban delivery system every 3 months for example), or on the kanban cards indicate the target delivery.
  • Highlight (columns?) a willingness to automate packaging, and automated integration tests, or even before automating having them.
  • Make visible where processes get stuck: highlight the “buffers”.
Out of visual management
  • Communicate in a traditional and corporate way on future Kanban systems.
  • For example, distribute a guide, a repository, some feedback from other companies, training.
  • For example, regular communication and during major masses by managers.
  • Support by managers of a possible J-Curve in strengthening the pace, a CI/CD.

a department of the very big company

Suggested improvement: The young growth is full of desire and ambition.

On the Kanban system
  • Include “impact / measurement” end columns to highlight the true value (and not “production”, or “delivered” or “finished”).
  • Highlight meaning in the “swim lanes” (horizontal lines, related to the functionalities of the product) to satisfy this quest in its people of purpose (or on kanban cards), or also a “sense/value” measure in the title of the final column.
  • Set up a pull flow (more respectful of people, a group spirit, than top down pushed flow).
  • Introduce the new elements in a dedicated column (and which would come from the creation of a sociocratic operating mode)
Out of visual management

the startup

Suggested improvement: The family group with its secrets.

On the Kanban system
  • Do not hide kanban systems.
  • Do not personalize “swim lanes” or cards, promote group work (putting names is a bad practice for “swim lanes”, you can put names on kanban cards instead).
  • Clarify processes (kanban system column header), input and output rules.
  • Strengthen processes (make the buffers of the validation steps visible).
  • Create an emergency line and limit it?
Out of visual management
  • Introduce more serenity: processes, rules.

The family


The idea is to show that Kanban systems live in an ecosystem that cannot be ignored.

The idea is to understand the organization’s request and its context. In the Dynamic Spiral we speak of stopped, open or closed organizations. Open organizations are ready for improvement and change, stopped organizations are ready to change or improve, but something stops them. Closed ones are not ready for change or improvement. There will be grosso modo two types of changes: one is disruptive, reform, revolution, the other is incremental, we get better. For closed organizations, none is possible. For stopped organizations, we could improve, address an incremental change (making something dysfunctional functional for example). For open organizations, all types of changes are possible.

Finally, having reading grids allows for a constructive dialogue (Dynamic Spiral, Agile Fluency, etc.).

You will also find all this and more in the third edition of Kanban (at Dunod) in spring 2019:)

translated with

  1. No agreement to respect the terminology of the Dynamic Spiral.

kanban spiral dynamic