Kanban Maturity Model: the path to organizational excellence

9 min readOct 7, 2021


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IN THE VEIN_ Using the Kanban Maturity Model for innovation and continuous improvement in organizations_
9-minute read

In today’s article, we share the main lessons learned from the enriching edition about the Kanban Maturity Model, presented by Aluisio Vanzolin, our specialist in Agility. Much more than earning a seal, the goal is to evolve step by step in the way of innovating and bringing results for the organization as a whole.

KMM and its 3 pillars

The KMM, Kanban Maturity Model, compiles years of experience implementing Kanban in companies of various industries and sizes, playing an important role in its purpose orientation. Through an evolving “roadmap”, allows for a growing alignment to create products and services that increasingly delight customers. Step by step, level by level, towards a more agile, resilient and anti-fragile organization.

There are three fundamental pillars: Culture, Practices and Outcomes. Culture is the things people value and refer to as principles or norms that justify behavior and practices (“This is how we live here”). Practices are routine activities, observable patterns of interactions, settled, regular kanban practices, and habits (“This is how we do things around here”). And Outcomes are the demonstrated results, the findings from an external — customer, and internal — organization, perspective (“This is how our business performs”).

Simplifying the Maturity Model

To better understand what is the value of a maturity model, imagine the scenario of a bartender during his career. In the beginning, he knows how to serve drinks that are ready-made. As time goes by, he gains experience and learns to make the most classic and requested drinks. And then, as he tests and gains knowledge and seniority, he gets into the art of creating cocktails and recipes for himself. It’s an evolution process. And the maturity model supports precisely that. Breaking down into levels, understanding where I am at the moment and what is the next priority, the next skill to train. Even to not lose focus on what is really important and recognized in terms of outcome. That’s the real value of a maturity model. Identify your current level and what you need to work on to improve. At all maturity levels.

Looking at other maturity models, there are some that have created a bad reputation, for example, the CMMI. In addition to diverging from an ever-changing world, it ended up bringing a certification issue to the levels. This made companies more interested in certifying for each one than actually delivering more results. Certifications have driven the competition to be the best and corrupted core values. Will KMM end the same way? We believe not. An interesting sentence from Martin Fowler is that “any maturity model, like any model, is a simplification: wrong, but hopefully useful”. Thus, it should be seen as a toolbox to follow steps and achieve results. Not as an end in itself.

Incremental improvement

KMM addresses four main needs in using Kanban:

  • Getting a better understanding of the current state of the organization — before improving, it’s necessary to understand what is the state as a whole, at the level of the corporation, its products and services, and not just the team.
  • Finding the appropriate practice to guide evolution — knowing where you are, defining the next practice to apply. Not bringing something too simplistic that the organization has already learned, or so complex that it won’t be able to handle.
  • Intrinsically evolve the organization’s culture and performance — this is the main divergence of the CMMI. The objective is not to have a KMM level “x” seal, it’s to really have an evolution of the company’s culture and results.
  • Measuring and tracking the progress of the organization’s transformation — giving visibility to what’s happening and aligning expectations.

Kanban already addresses some of the pains of continuous innovation missions:

  • Control workflow and resolve issues quickly
  • Overload relief
  • Answer predictability questions with confidence
  • Manage changes
  • Meet end-customer expectations

Adoption failures

KMM prevents the two modes of failure in the adoption of the method:

- Ambitious transition plan
- Designed by the smartest guy in the room
- Too much, too soon
- Environment is not prepared
- Resistance to change
- Abandonment

False summit plateau
- We were able to implement Kanban
- Focused only on the team
- Overload relief
- Improved transparency
- Improved collaboration
- Kanban brought what we needed

There are 7 maturity levels to go through and the Kanban Maturity Model brings precisely what to do at every moment to avoid the over-reaching and false summit plateau. Do you think you have everything working? Are you already the market leader? Can you reinvent yourself overnight and meet new customer expectations? It relieved the team’s overload, improved transparency and collaboration. There, Kanban brought what I needed! It’s not true. There is still a lot to be done, there is always a step to improve. And KMM comes to help.

Kanban Maturity Model Architecture (Overview)

On the KMM website, there are several posters available for download and one of them is the overview of the architecture with maturity levels, from zero to 6, and the explanation of each one:

As we’ve seen before, it’s the union of culture, practices and outcomes that tells you what your current level of maturity is. For example, it is not enough to have all the level 3 practices, if the culture or outcomes are not in accordance. And there are some transition practices and consolidation practices that also need to be followed before taking over to the next level. Little by little, from maturity to maturity, we evolve and we must seek at least level 4. The point is how to promote improvement. We have a structured model, we have a way of understanding where we are and we have a way of seeing what the next step is.

Evolutionary Change Model

But how can you really evolve the organization, the product or the service, to bring more results? To make the disruption of the next level, the Stressor cannot be you. Suppose the team is ignoring activities in the Code Review column, affecting the lead time. If you are the Stressor, you can be understood as the one who only raises problems. Kanban Maturity Model brings a smarter way of doing it. Which is a mechanism for reflection, for you to provoke the team and they are the ones who promote evolution. There is an act of leadership, someone on the team who brings the suggestion to resolve. And in the end, they own the improvements. If you are just watching and trying to promote the paths to follow, you end up bringing a type of culture to the team that they will not forget. Once they evolve to this maturity in which they cause the improvements, they will hardly go back and this is the difference between a leader who can consciously leave a team in a more mature way or a leader who when leaves the team, team collapses.

This is the model of evolutionary change. See how mature you are, plan the disruption you want to bring, get agreements with people encouraging acts of leadership, and repeat it constantly. You are in a state of happiness, you promote an improvement that generates some discomfort, but these discomforts move to the next level and bring a new balance and new happiness, this time with more maturity in its process.

Of course, there are barriers, obstacles that are difficult, but not impossible to overcome. The ideology of the method is that you are like water. If you have a rock in front of you, you won’t try to break it, but go around it to follow your flow and achieve the result.

Never forget: maturity is closely related to culture (how we live), practices (how we do it) and outcomes (how effective we are). Let’s now explore how this translates to the first levels:

Maturity Level 0 — Oblivious

Here, you are not yet aware of the environment. It is a culture based on individual achievements. The practices are focused on tasks and there is only the visualization of the individual’s work. And in terms of outcomes, it’s basically counting on luck. If something different appears on the market, you are not watching and will seriously dent. It’s very dangerous. You only know what each one is doing and you don’t have it visible to everyone.

Maturity Level 1 — Team-Focused

Here, you start to have a culture of collaboration, initiatives and transparency. One helping the other, sometimes even questioning certain behaviors, which can lead to efficiency improvements. Regarding practices, we already have some basic explicit policies, we have a team kanban, we can already visualize the work, the workflow passing through, we have a WIP limit per person and a kanban meeting. What are the outcomes of this maturity? Still inconsistent and emerging processes. KMM’s suggestion is to be careful with this team focus. Because that can generate a feeling of tribalism in people. It can make them care more about themselves than the goals of the product or service. If you are at maturity zero, try going straight to maturity two.

Maturity Level 2 — Customer-Driven

Here, you know what you are delivering to the user. You stop looking at tasks within a Board and start looking at results, what is generating value at the end of an entire workflow. It’s a maturity with a lot of things. Don’t do it all at once, do it in an evolutionary way. We are already facing a culture with acts of leadership, attention, respect and sensitivity to the customer, with workflow management, and understanding of the whole and the purpose (more from an internal view of the company, the company is managing to understand itself as a company, as a culture). The practices will eventually lead to a cultural change, and include visualizing the workflow, understanding the types of activities the customer needs, flow metrics, managing impediments, managing WIP, reviewing policies, on-going improvement. The outcomes are still inconsistent but with an oiled process, there is a Kanban discovery and delivery, an end-to-end workflow and a certain routine linked within the organization as a whole.

Maturity Level 3 — Fit-for-Purpose

Here, you already have a culture in which you can deliver properly to the customer, meeting expectations consistently. There is an alignment and unity, a shared common purpose (knowledge, identification and agreement with the external purpose), balance and leadership at all levels (all of them are already bringing improvements). Regarding the practices, there is already a visualization of dependencies, Failures x Value, risk analysis, predictability, SLA and target dates, and F4P criteria. There are short-term outcomes, customer focus, but it’s still economically inconsistent.

It is necessary to be aware that there is a lot to evolve. Don’t feel in a comfort zone. And always have the vision of the purpose, of adding more and more value. With everyone aligned and involved in the same mission. On the same path towards more resilient, agile organizations with an enormous capacity for reinvention. “ It is the organization that matures, not the Kanban that matures.”

KMM and Invillia

Did you know that the Kanban Maturity Model is one of the sources of inspiration for our Global Growth Framework? As a toolbox fully adapted to each company, it is made up of always-evolving techniques, methodologies and processes that enable continuous and incremental innovation. The combination of Data, People, Action, increasing and accelerating in scale, performance and quality the creation and development of digital products and services for game-changers. Check out some case studies of those who have already managed to reach the most advanced levels of maturity 😊

Let’s evolve together!

Originally published at https://insights.invillia.com on October 7, 2021.




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