By Nader Talai • April 4, 2018

Do you know your system capability?

"Medicine had been 'successfully’ practised without the knowledge of germs. In a pre-germ theory paradigm, some patients got better, some got worse and some stayed the same; in each case, some rationale could be used to explain the outcome …” (1) (2)

Doctors practised what was taught

Doctors explained what they observed through practice using models that they learnt: Bad air, Contact, Generated by the body.

Most of our management training is based on the work of Fredrick Taylor (1856-1915) and his scientific management theory and to this day we practice and organise our organisations into functional silos. Scientific management requires managers to watch and manage workers who need to be told what to do.

The modern management theory is no longer based on Fredrick Taylor but unfortunately, most of the teaching and management practices are still based on that.

Manage the system of work, not the people

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We need to study our system of work, map its flow, visualise the flow of work using tokens that represent the work, manage the flow by limiting the number of tokens, measure the flow and act on the system of work to improve the flow of value to our customers. This is particularly important in intangible knowledge work where the work is invisible and therefore harder to act on the system of work.
Understand your system capability study the system of work and measure your capability in fulfilling demand. Without this understanding and visibility we apply old solutions to new situations and in our rush to get to solution we apply many fixes in the hope that one may work, we end up as the medicine was practiced in the pre-germ theory, sometimes things work, sometime they get worse and sometimes there is no change.
The Kanban Method enables us to visualise the system of work, measure the flow of work, manage the flow and with knowledge and understand of how the work is the flowing act on the system to improve the value flow. 

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1 Understand the end to end system of the value flow to the customer

    • Study how the flow of work and visualise the work using tokens and map the flow
    • Run the map, watch work items flow through the map
    • Limit the number of tokens

2 Understand the system capabilities

    • Types of work
    • System lead time for fulfilling each type of work
    • Arrival rate for each type of work
    • Departure rate for each type of work
    • Failure demand for each type of work, demand caused by failure to do something or to do something right for the customer – John Seddon (10)

3 Understand your system variability

    • For each type of work, measure
    • Common cause variation, act on the system to change the common cause variation
    • Assignable cause variation, act on the cause to remove assignable cause variation

4 Measure the flow efficiency for each type of work

    • Measure the flow of each major knowledge discovery step

5 Purposeful change

    • understand the root causes of the failure demand and tackle them
    • Use the arrival, departure rate and the flow efficiency to target your improvement efforts and achieve better results for your investment

6 Evolve your system of work and improve how the work works


Click here to read more about Kanban and how to  become a Kanban Management Professional



  1. W. Gartner and M. Naughton, "The Deming Theory of Management", Academy of Management Review, January 1988, pp 142-148
  9. The Goal – by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
  10. Freedom from Command and Control: A Better Way to Make the Work Work Paperback – 1 Oct 2003 by John Seddon