Naked Just-In-Time planning.
Kanban - 看板 - means "sign" in Japanese. It is used to describe manufacturing systems that are based on pull as opposed to push. For example: Dell only orders the parts from it supply chain network for the computers customers have already ordered. Toyota has the same approach with the orders from its distributers. Similarly, at Toyota plants, operators are supplied with new parts as their buffers run low, by using a card to signal the "kanban train".
Software is not like manufacture. Especially not the way it works today! But we do produce something: Features that hopefully have value.
A kanban system for software pulls activity from the single most highly prioritized feature.
If your currently are trying to get your release cycle down from years or several months to weeks, kanban is not for you. If you can deliver frequently, you might consider feature-boxing instead of time-boxing. Kanban is basically feature-boxing with a very small box.
As Arlo Belshee describes it kanban software development takes one marketable feature at a time and completes it all the way to production and actual use by actual customers. If you can do this, product backlogs and even estimation becomes waste (or, in lean jargon, muda - 無駄). Instead of trying to guess how big something is, measure how much value was produced per work hour.
Kanban gives you less waste, greater customer responsiveness, both in terms of speed and value. It requires a streamlined software development value chain that provides high quality for extremely frequent releases and lots of customer interaction.
- Johannes Brodwall has used a kanban like system for development of features for a very small project. The customer has extremely little money for development, so the minimum marketable feature must be as small as one day worth of work.
- James Shore has written an excellent article/overview of Kanban here: http://jamesshore.com/Blog/Kanban-Systems.html
- There's a collection of material on Kanban here: http://availagility.wordpress.com/kanban/
- A quick presentation of Naked Planning: http://jumpcut.com/view/?id=4898204ADB2311DCA8C6000423CF037A
- Notice that Tom Gilb's EVO approach is very similar to kanban, he recomments a one-week timebox, but EVO seems to assume that very few features, maybe only the single most valuable one, will be deployed during that time.