2. December 2017
Kanban Maturity Model (KMM)
Author: Frank Schultheiss
Translating the Kanban Maturity Model with “Maturity Model” would be pretty much
understatement. It is much more than that: a reference model. In fact, it’s a framework that
makes organizations more agile and adaptable. It provides a roadmap that gradually
enhances the evolutionary capacity of organizations, ensuring long-term survival. David J.
Anderson presented the new Kanban Maturity Model at the Lean Kanban conference
2017 and this article will analyze how it works.
Kanban in 3 sentences
Kanban consists of four principles and six practices that make organizations better in
evolutionary steps. The goal is to optimize the flow: the work to be done should flow better
through processes. If the work goes well, it will not get stuck. The results become
predictable and the duration from start to finish is shorter.
What is a Capability Maturity Model?
A capability maturity model is a reference model. This allows the quality of processes to be
assessed. A low rating means poor process quality. Zero would be practically chaotic (not
so rare). A high degree of maturity characterizes i.a. fast adaptability through feedback
loops. Under stress, mechanisms that provide stability take hold. Anticipation of
opportunities and risks and corresponding evolutionary changeability characterize the
highest level. Low-level organizations “swim” under stress or, at worst, disintegrate.
Examples of maturity models (Figure 2) are Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) or
SPICE (Software Process Improvement and Capability).
Fig. 1: CMMI and SPICE Capability Maturity Models (Wikipedia)
The exact description of the specific levels creates a roadmap: it is possible to identify
which activities are necessary to reach the next level. Thus, the strength of the model is not
the assessment “Where do we stand?”, but the integrated roadmap “What we need to do to
reach the next level of maturity”.
Purpose of the Kanban Maturity Model (KMM)
The purpose of the KMM is to support the development of the following skills of
organizations (Bozheva, T 2017):
Relief from overburdening
Deliver on customer expectations
Predictable economic outcomes and financial robustness
The following illustration shows the levels of the KMM. At level 0, the above mentioned
abilities are virtually nonexistent. At the highest level 6, they are practiced to perfection.
Fig. 2: Kanban Maturity Levels (Bozheva, T. 2017)
Architecture of the Kanban Maturity Model
The maturity level of an organization in the KMM is largely determined by the adoption of
the 6 Kanban practices presented below. Full application of high quality practices leads to
the highest degree of maturity. No or incomplete application to a lower degree of maturity.
Visualize (the work, workflow and business risks)
Make Process Explicit
Implement Feedback Looops
Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally
Fig. 3: Kanban practices determine the degree of maturity (Anderson, D. J. 2016)
The table below (Figure 4) shows a detailed overview of the structure and elements of the
The risk profile and the lean management classification,
the actual maturity levels 0 to 6,
then the 6 practices (visualization, limit WIP etc.),
and finally the cultural focus, values and leadership class
Fig. 4: Architecture of the Kanban Maturity Model (Anderson, D. 2017)
Transition and Main Practices
Particularly interesting is the division of the maturity stages: Each stage consists of the two
levels “Transition” and “Main”. The “Transition” layer describes the practices that are
suitable for entering the next higher level. The “Main” level reflects the “Core Practices” that
are more demanding. This provides options for action to reach the next level.
The Core practices allow organization to fully meet the criteria for the corresponding
maturity level. The Transition practices can be introduced with little or no resistance when
an organization is willing to reach higher maturity. However, having in place these practices
only is not sufficient for achieving the maturity level.
As with skiing, where a certain sequence of practices leads to faster learning success: first
the snow plow and then turns, parallel swing, slalom, driving in the deep snow and only
then heli skiing.
As with this analogy, the KMM would fail to attempt the 6th level practices from the first
level immediately. Through the Transition Layer, the KMM provides guidance and action
options for the next steps to improve, which, in terms of difficulty, match the current
capabilities of the organization.
The entire Kanban Maturity Model
David J. Anderson presented the new Kanban Maturity Model at the Lean Kanban
conference 2017. The following figure 5 shows 0.5 alpha version.
Fig. 5: Full Kanban Maturity Model KMM (Source: Anderson, D. 2017, Lean Kanban Inc.)
Kanban Maturity Model Benefits
The six Maturity Levels are mapped to the Real World Risk Institute model for assessing
the risk exposure of individuals and corporations. Its levels are Fragile – Resilient – Robust
1. Fragil: Level 0 – 2
2. Stabil: Level 3
3. Robust: Level 4-5
4. Antifragil: Level 6
The following figure 6 shows the advantages of the levels of the KMM:
Fig. 6: Benefits of the maturity levels
KMM in practice
In practice, the KMM works as follows: In the company, the way the teams work is
analyzed. Depending on which practices are used and what results are achieved, the
corresponding level is determined. The next step is to use the KMM to derive the practices
that will take the team or organization to the next level. The Kanban Maturity Model shows
on the one hand how the current skills can be assessed and on the other hand the concrete
next steps to get better.
Summary and discussion
With the book “Kanban: Successfull Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business”,
David J. Anderson introduced the Kanban method in 2010. Kanban has taken some
evolutionary steps over the past few years: roles, cadences (events) and now the Kanban
Maturity Model make Kanban the most complete framework for organizing knowledge
work. The idea of categorizing organizations, processes or practices in maturity levels is not
new, but transition levels are a true innovation. Breaking up the practices of maturity into
core practices and transition practices reveals improvement options that are achievable.
Individuals, teams and organizations are not overtaxed and resistance is avoided.