Some may say there are no deadlines in Kanban, some would disagree, saying that it is not possible to work without them. Let`s figure out where is the truth in the Kanban world.
Types of deadlines.
There are different types of deadlines. First, we need to sort out what is the genuine deadline and what is “we just made a day up”. We understand that different work items have different impacts /costs of delay. For instance, let`s imagine as an advertising agency we are preparing promotional materials for an advertising campaign.
If we delay the delivery of a regular campaign, expected to start at the beginning of September for a few days – no one dies. We just use previous materials for a bit more. But if we do the same with a campaign for the Olympic Games – the cost of delay increases dramatically each day. And here we know that if not delivered in time, the profit is gone, and fines are in place. With Olympic games the deadline is a fixed date, it`s not a guidance. In other words, if the dates are out of our control, they are fixed.
Nevertheless, there are some made-up deadlines when you need to coordinate people. For example, if you`re doing a photo shooting, you need a date so that all involved show up at the same place at the same time properly prepared. So, you have to create a date and it will be a fixed date. However, these dates are under our control and we can move them, but everyone must have the date for coordination purposes.
How does Kanban Method see deadlines?
Sorting out fixed dates and the “guidance deadline” is a higher maturity behavior according to the Kanban Maturity Model. With a low maturity, all is a fixed date because we don`t trust that the work will be delivered in time, it requires deadlines to pressurize people to get things done. So, in a low maturity world, we put deadlines, while in a high maturity we trust that it is going to happen in a reasonable period. Getting to a higher maturity level means making your Kanban system more reliable and your processes more predictable. We can achieve that by shortening the “tail” of the lead time distribution, which will allow us to use the basic forecasting technics, such as Little`s Law and others.
When this is done, our lead time distribution has a thin tail and we know our lead time`s mean (arithmetic average), mode, and median. Our delivery is now predictable, we have earned trust and respect from our clients. We earn it through predictable behavior and consistent delivery. Therefore, there is no need for a deadline: when there is respect for the professionalism of the delivery organization and when trust exists between the requester and the supplier / between the customer and the delivery organization. Trust and respect are required to remove deadlines and they must be earned. Then deadlines simply become the Desired Delivery Dates (DDD) with Kanban.
Note: There is a handy tool to identify the cost of delay in starting and assign a proper class of service to the ticket. It is called Triage Tables. You can use it as a Poster or an App. The class of service defined will reflect the impact/cost of delay this item may have if its delivery is delayed. Learn how to improve your processes and earn trust and respect from your clients in the Kanban Maturity Model using book, learning platform, or training.
Why made-up deadlines work well for a creative environment.
Some may argue that it is impossible to work without deadlines in a creative environment. We are all humans, and we tend to procrastinate until the last moment when it comes to creating something. Imagine you need to create a presentation, write an article, or come up with ideas for a new advertising campaign. You may postpone it until later unless you have a deadline approaching and you may be late. A deadline creates pressure and stress, and this catalyzes creativity. Some creative people need the pressure of a deadline to have their best ideas.
For example, in advertising agencies, creatives like designers or copyrighters, may not start working on some tasks and postpone them just because they don`t get along well with some the Account manager or don`t like some particular client, project, or product. And if it happens and there is no chance to give this item to another person, Account Manager may wait forever unless there is a deadline. Or some designers may never finish because they see their key visual layout as a piece of art, the next Sistine Chapel so that it should be perfect. Or sometimes for creative work, there is just no idea, and you need a stressor to make it appear. And stress comes if there is a deadline (conference, particular release date, or Olympic Games). We are all humans, remember?
How Kanban Method motivates to start/finish work without using deadlines.
Historically, XVIII-XX century`s management was about managing time. Meanwhile, Kanban Method philosophically says to stop managing time and start managing work in progress. Primarily Kanban is purpose-driven, it uses purpose to motivate people. By providing transparency into who is requesting work and why, each person understands how he/she is contributing. They do not need a deadline to artificially force their compliance. People are intrinsically motivated – their altruism and desire for meaning in life compels them to contribute and do their part.
Kanban Method requires introducing a WIP limit to a Kanban system, which means focusing only on 2-3 work items at a time. That motivates people to stop starting and start finishing. This way we can motivate people to work, using the WIP limit, but not a deadline. WIP limit requires finishing a ticket before pulling another one in progress. Imagine a cooking chef preparing breakfasts in the hotel. He cooks 3 omelets at a time. He has only 3 burners, 3 frying pans = 3 omelets in progress. So, the fourth omelet will have to wait, until one of the omelets is finished. So, the philosophy of Kanban is to take the same principle and apply it virtually to your intangible work items, making them real tangible tasks.
Imagine you have only 3 tickets per day. Until you finish one of them, you are not allowed to start anything else. If you don`t finish, you don`t get any new tickets, so you don`t have anything else to do. And that forces you to start and to finish. The WIP limit creates a constraint that ensures work started will be finished. And we don´t simply keep saying yes to more work. We can´t say yes to more work until we finish and deliver something in progress. This requires discipline.
Of course, you may sit doing nothing all day long or even two or three day, but eventually you will get fired for doing nothing. Creative people and professionals don`t like to be idle. Therefore, we can use the WIP limit to focus their attention, but not the deadline as a stressor. And this is a shift.
Kanban treats people like adults and professionals. It requires trust, respect, and discipline to make it work. Trust and respect are earned through disciplined predictable delivery. Kanban Maturity Model is a perfect guide for achieving disciplined predictable delivery, introducing changes step by step in a safe environment without creating too much stress.