Knowledge Work and Flow

Knowledge Work and Flow

In today’s economy, we compete on the internal knowledge of our teams across the organization. Best practices set forth by the experts seldom apply when your environment is changing continuously. This is best managed by leveraging and multiplying our ability to pivot and become a learning organisation. Only Lean Kanban can aspire to that using the scientific method.

Traditional agile approaches, all of them, want you to create new team structures, new roles, new deliverables and new responsibilities to achieve that. Isn’t this counter intuitive when you read the Agile Manifesto and wish to become more agile: not more bureaucratic. And you need a coach! So much for respect from what you have achieved in the past to still be a going concern in the 21st century’s markets.

And the door now becomes wide opened for survival and learning anxiety: will they keep me? will I be able to learn?

Then inevitably passive aggressive resistance to change, invisible from all angles, sets in. No wonder. All agile want is to lead you into a long organisational transformation like the McKinsey’s of the past.

Not so with Lean Kanban. It is the evolutionary approach to change. Let me explain why?

The path to becoming anti-fragile is laid out below. Lean Kanban goes to level 5 of CMMI and climbs to Taleb’s anti-fragile level pretty fast. Noticeable improvements within months are reasonable. After 2 weeks things start to evolve. Why? because – 1) you start from where you are – 2) You respect current structures, roles and responsibilities – 3) You accept acts of leaderships and at all levels of the enterprise – 4) You improve using scientific & proven managerial techniques that belong to the 21st century.

Now point me to anyone that would promote resistance to change when the rules for improvements are such?



Kanban systems are economic systems and we can only wonder how World Stock Exchanges are able to give us real time metrics that help all of us understand the financial markets: neophyte and erudite alike:

  • Tightness : Variance between customer expectations and probability of meeting it within current lead time capability (Due date performance)
  • Immediacy : Flow efficiency or waiting time until pull (Time spent blocked or in done column)
  • Breadth : Variety of types of work handled (Classes of service)
  • Depth : Variety of risks under management and depth of taxonomies
  • Resiliency : Ability of the market to recover to normal or adjust after a surge in orders breaking wip constraints or swarming on expedite lane

Kanban has an equivalent for the metrics listed above. Wouldn’t it be cool to become real-time metrics companies and base our daily decisions on flow efficiency, lead time, cost of delay at the push of a button?

So why manage otherwise when you profit margins are getting thinner and thinner and your agile metrics are not getting you anywhere close to where you should be?

Human Resources departments have concerns of their own with today’s supply of labor. They can read the article concerning the China case study on the welcome page where the hiring of thousands of engineers was avoided simply by increasing labor liquidity: engineered in Lean Kanban systems and based on the modern work of Olaav Maassen and Chris Matts.

Flow is a superior alternative to iterations (or sprints) offered by all competing agile approaches and the reasons why are well explained on the Tyranny of timeboxing article on this site.

In the book SCARCITY by Eldar Safir, it is revealed that creating artificial scarcity of time decreases our individual IQ by 20%. Who wants in at the team or organisational levels? And who can afford it?

Let’s address flow as conceived by the scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Lean Kanban is flow based. Flow creates values. Flow is, like Beethoven’s music, good for the soul and the brain. But how does flow work?There are no economies of scale, there are however economies of flow !

Flow floats in the middle of boredom and anxiety. The sweet spot as I like to call it.

Without stressors and enabling constraints (Cynefin framework – Snowden), we cannot aspire to much in terms of adaptation. Thus, Lean Kanban provides for those stressors that are ‘enabling constraints’ that the brain loves and won’t resist. Those lead to engagement; to emotional engagement at work.It works because they are not toxic.

When teams are emotionally engaged in front of Kanban boards, they are elevated by enabling constraints such as WIP limits (at the personal, row & column levels). These create slack. Slack is crucial for cooperation and for innovation. Visualisation of Kanban boards is also both a stressor and an enabling constraint that the brain loves. (Julia Juarrero explains that ‘Context-Sensitive Constraints’ – like planning, deadline, estimating, prioritizing etc are neutral towards evolution and sometimes toxic.)

So, there you go. Knowledge workers trying to beat the system by juggling constraints that the brain just loves. Don’t get me going. You get going!

Finally, the brain quits boredom when it is time to move to another level. When anxiety is too high, it goes down a notch and gets into flow. Daily. Weekly, Hourly. Flow is the space between boredom and anxiety: why try to manage when it is part of the Kanban method? Why worry about employee retention any longer?

Angelo Dundee once resumed Ali’s career as follows: ‘You have seen a lot of the good, but you never saw the best’. If you are not familiar with Lean Kanban, you know nothing about the sweet science of agile.

The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago. The next best time is now. Lean Kanban is the alternative path to agility.

Is agile costing you too much?