Nigeria, like other nations, is an evolving work environment. A nation of over 200 million people (UNDP, 2021). Interesting in her demographic is her workforce. From United Nations Population Fund statistics, over 50% of her population in the workforce is young and vibrant.
The question then is, how can the Agile framework; Kanban, facilitate the delivery of value for Nigerian organizations and businesses? To answer this question; we first must understand the Nigerian business Landscape.
The traditional approach is largely adopted in Nigerian institutions, organizations and businesses. We adopt the traditional approach so much so that we follow the rules to the latter. For us Nigerians, respect for constituted authority, respect for elders is paramount in our day-to-day activities. Respect for us is cultural, necessary and the acceptable rule of engagement anywhere in Nigeria. The general belief is – “The king is all-wise; his council of elders is equally all-wise” – this statement is often a reflection of the culture within most organizations. I recently overheard a conversation in a meeting, a person representing a management committee of an organization said, “management is all-wise…’’. This was being said to reinforce a position of argument on behalf of the management. This statement holds much weight in especially government institutions in Nigeria.
It can sometimes be exhausting when hierarchies become bottlenecks to the delivery of value in an organization, Nigeria is no exception. Not that I oppose the institution of management, but at the level where a task is being delivered, more collaboration, self-organization and self-management are needed to remove encumbrances and facilitate the delivery of value.
The Private sector in Nigeria holds much promise. The growth in IT companies, gradual transition to Agile ways of working by banks, the growth of the SMEs and start-ups in Nigeria (who are increasingly adopting digital technology for business growth and reach); tells of a nation willing to evolve rapidly and embrace innovation. The Scrum framework is popular in Nigeria, given the race for Scrum certifications.
How about Kanban, what promise does Kanban hold for organizations and businesses in Nigeria and Africa at large? (If you can occupy Nigeria, then you can boldly take Africa – my words though). At the mention of Kanban, the first impression is that of a visual tool for visualizing workflow and tracking it to its “done” state. Much more than a visual tool, Kanban practices include defining and visualizing a workflow, actively managing items in a workflow and improving the workflow (Kanban Guide, 2020).
Using Kanban to facilitate value delivery in Nigerian organizations/businesses
When we talk in Kanban context, the dominant word we find is “workflow”. Let me try to present “flow’’ in the most simplistic terms. Imagine water ‘flowing’ from a tap. The continuous flow of water means that we all can do a lot at home – drink, cook, wash dishes and clothes, clean the house, wash our cars and much more. The flow of water in our houses enables us to do a lot at home daily. Imagine a blockage in a major pipe that supplies water to your apartment. Cut the flow of water and you have successfully shut down the execution of daily tasks. The resultant effect of water shut down is a backlog of spill over tasks to do the next day. Imagine not being able to do the numerous things we do daily with the flow of water. The spill-over goes on and on till the flow of water is restored. This is where Kanban comes in, a framework in which flow is a major concept amongst others (Lean Principles, Systems Thinking, queuing theory, quality control and variability).
Take this concept of flow to your organization (enterprise-level), your team, worktable, or at home, you may also want to use Kanban to plan personal projects. Do you experience a continuous flow of work or are you constantly interrupted by several factors daily? What is the flow of work like in your organization? Are you meeting client expectations of value, are you delighting your clients or are you having to come up with excuses at your review meeting? Do you believe that interruptions to workflow can cause losses to an organization? I have so many more questions to ask. But I will go light here, so we do not go off course on the subject matter.
In the Kanban context what is “flow’’? To understand this, I will go to the Kanban Guide. Flow is the movement of potential value through a system. As most workflows exist to optimize value, the strategy of Kanban is to optimize value by optimizing flow. Optimization does not necessarily imply maximization. Rather, value optimization means striving to find the right balance of effectiveness, efficiency, and predictability in how work gets done (Kanban guide, 2020). Flow is the movement and delivery of customer value through a process (Vacanti, 2015)
Juxtapose the definition of flow with how workflow proceeds in your organization. You may then ask the above questions again with respect to your organization, business or project.
I remember once while working for a government institution, I was asked to join a team. My job was to help clear up some backlog of work as time was running out and the department may be in trouble with management if the task was not delivered on time. As I joined the team, a particular task was handed to me, I perused through it and instantly I said, “but there is no value in this task, it is not useful to what you intend to achieve’’. Instantly the supervisor who was the one that handed the task to me said “you are right, but management wants it’’. Do we smell wastage from this scenario?
Going back to our definition of flow, there is so much to chew on. The keywords in the definition above are value optimization, to achieve this state in workflow, the right balance of effectiveness, efficiency, and predictability must be in place. I see a lot of company policy documents that include words like “for effectiveness and efficiency, I rarely see words like “for predictability”. In terms of workflow, what do these words mean?
Question 1: is your workflow effective?
Question 2: is your workflow efficient?
Question 3: is your workflow predictable?
An effective workflow
In the Kanban context, effectiveness relates to delivering value to the customer when they want it (see Kanban guide, 2020). “How often do you get asked by your client – “when will it be done”? Maybe it is time to begin collecting data on how frequently you meet the customer expectation of ‘’done’’ as it relates to timing and draw up a chart to see the trajectory of your organization or business. Do you neglect this all-important measure of value? Your measure of effectiveness may just determine how far or how long you stay competitive in business.
An efficient workflow
Is your organization known to manage resources well and hence deliver value given the resources put to work? One of my favourite moments attending the Applying Professional Kanban course by Prokanban was the simulation game – it opened my eyes to how inefficient management and allocation of an organization’s resources to a work item or task can cause wastage.
We often think of wastage in terms of costs; however, most wastages start from inefficient workflows and hence result in cost to an organization. How long do resources stay idle while tasks are spending a considerable amount of time in queues waiting to be pulled into the workflow and get done? Do you allocate more resources to tasks that are of lesser value and allocate lesser resources to more valuable tasks? “An efficient workflow allocates available economic resources as optimally as possible to deliver value”.
Would it not be delightsome if we can “accurately forecast value delivery within an acceptable degree of uncertainty”? Imagine that over time, you have mastered your workflow and can predict when a task will be “done’’ to the extent that your clients trust your words on the delivery of a task. That would be awesome right? As is the slogan in Kanban circles; “when will it be done’’ is a recurring question on the lips of your clients. I have come to a conclusion that predictability can be achieved over time through the efficiency of workflow and the effectiveness of resource allocation.
In conclusion, the efficiency, effectiveness and predictability that we so often talk about in strategy documents in our workplaces, and replete in many policy documents in Nigerian institutions, are heavily dependent on our definition and visualization of workflow, management and improvement of workflow. These are the Kanban practices and are a frontier worth exploring if we aim to get to value optimization for our businesses, even if traditionally managed.
By Grace Johnson