In the agile world, job titles are becoming less important than roles and responsibilities. Agile frameworks like Kanban and Scrum focus on development team collaboration and collective ownership. As a result, organizations are placing more emphasis on what people do rather than who they are.

That said, two key kanban roles are comparable to scrum master responsibilities. In this article, we will explore these roles and discuss the importance of Kanban in today’s business world.

Introduction

Traditional organizations typically place a lot of emphasis on job descriptions. However, many Agile implementations like Kanban and Scrum focus more on specific roles and responsibilities; therefore, job titles are losing significance.

As a trainer, I am often asked, “what is the equivalent of a Scrum Master in Kanban?”

The short answer is “there isn’t one,” Scrum and Kanban are very distinct, although there are two significant Kanban roles comparable to Scrum accountabilities.

In this article, we will explore two essential roles within Kanban.

What is Kanban?

Before diving into the roles, it is essential to understand Kanban.

Kanban is a Japanese word that means “signboard” or “billboard.” In the business world, Kanban is a lean agile methodology that helps organizations visualize and manage their workflows. It is mainly used for service delivery teams but in project management and other knowledge-based work.

It is important to note that Kanban originated in manufacturing and is not limited to software development or IT. The main goal of Kanban is to help teams optimize their workflow and improve efficiency, which is done using a Kanban board, a physical or digital board that displays the tasks that need to be completed.

Typically, each task on the Kanban board will have its column, and each column will represent a different stage in the workflow. For example, there may be columns for “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” Each of these columns will have a work-in-progress limit to help optimize the flow of work through the system.

As tasks are completed, they are moved from one column to the next until they reach the “Done” column. It helps teams to track their progress and identify any bottlenecks in their workflow.

What’s the difference between Kanban and Scrum?

Now that we have a basic understanding of Kanban let’s compare it to Scrum.

Scrum is a framework for developing complex products in complex environments. It is an iterative and incremental approach that helps teams to deliver value incrementally.

Whereas Scrum is a framework, Kanban is a methodology. Kanban can be used within any framework, whereas Scrum must be followed strictly.

Kanban also has a different focus than Scrum. Whereas Scrum focuses on delivering value incrementally, Kanban focuses on optimizing the workflow.

The most significant difference is that Scrum uses a sprint, a fixed period in which a team works on a set goal. For example, a team may have a two-week sprint in which they aim to complete a certain number of tasks.

On the other hand, Kanban does not use sprints. Instead, work is continuous, and there is no time limit for completing tasks. It makes Kanban more flexible than Scrum and better suited for projects that have

What is a Scrum Master?

Now that we have a basic understanding of the difference between Kanban and Scrum let’s take a closer look at the Scrum Master role.

The Scrum Master is responsible for leading and coordinating a Scrum team. They ensure that the team follows the Scrum framework and help remove any barriers that may be preventing the team from working effectively.

The Scrum Master is also responsible for facilitating communication between the team and other stakeholders. They ensure everyone is on the same page and understands what needs to be done.

The Scrum Master is not responsible for doing the work themselves. Instead, they focus on helping the team work together effectively to deliver value incrementally.

Kanban doesn’t have a role called Kanban Master, but some key Kanban roles overlap with the Scrum Master accountability.

Kanban Roles

The roles in Kanban are not static, and team members are not assigned to one specific function. Instead, team members move between roles as needed to help the team optimize their workflow. For example, a team member who is usually responsible for coding might become the Service Delivery Manager for some time to help the team understand their workflow better.

Service Delivery Manager (SDM)

The Service Delivery Manager (SDM) is responsible for leading and coordinating the team. They ensure that the team follows the Kanban methodology and help remove any barriers that may be preventing the team from working effectively.

The SDM is also responsible for facilitating communication between the team and stakeholders, like a product manager. They ensure everyone is on the same page and understands what needs to be done.

This role is comparable to the Scrum Master role in Scrum. Both positions are responsible for leading and coordinating the team, ensuring that the team follows the Scrum Framework or uses the Kanban Method appropriately, and facilitating communication between the group and other stakeholders. However, the SDM is not its own separate, dedicated role. Instead, they are a team member who focuses on helping the team work together effectively to optimize their workflow.

The 7 Kanban Cadences

The SDM helps to facilitate the seven cadences in Kanban that teams use to help them optimize their workflow. These cadences are:

  • Team Kanban Meeting / Standup: This is a daily team sync-up where the team “walks the board” from right to left. It’s an excellent time to notice any recent occurrences at a team level, such as blockers, and describe any new facts you’ve. It is also an opportunity to assess our compliance with WIP limits and to prioritize completing in-progress work items before adding new ones.
  • Replenishment & Commitment Meeting: This focuses on ensuring that the team has an adequate number of the correct tasks to complete and can commit to achieving these activities.
  • Team Retrospective: A biweekly or monthly assessment that focuses on how the team manages their workload and decision-making and identifies areas for improvement.
  • Service Delivery Review / Workflow Kanban Meeting: This aims to evaluate the performance of the entire service (which may consist of multiple service delivery teams). For example, if two different teams are working on the upstream and downstream of the building of a service. It gauges performance with promises, customer-focused KPIs, quality, cycle time, classes of services, etc.
  • Operations Review: Similar to the Service Delivery Review, this meeting will be held, but it involves a more significant portion of the organization (such as a department, many dependent teams, or even an entire small business). It prioritizes ensuring an efficient value stream over local optimizations and services being fit for purpose.
  • Risk Review / Blocker Clustering: This is a chance to talk about and settle on risk profiles associated with specific activities and then take appropriate actions. It is a suitable time to bring up any departmental or team-level process obstructions (blockers) to gain insights on reducing workflow obstructions and the possibility of project delays.
  • Strategy Review: This is the highest level meeting that reviews and modifies the strategy and initiatives in light of data from your markets and consumers and assesses your business’s viability and operating model’s suitability for purpose.

Making sure that work items flow

Smoothly flowing work items through the Kanban system is the primary focus of Kanban. To do this, teams need to have a clear understanding of their workflow and be able to visualize it on a Kanban board. The SDM is sometimes referred to as the Flow Manager.

The SDM is responsible for creating and maintaining the Kanban board and updating cards as work items move through the system so that everyone clearly understands what needs to be done and where each work item is in the process.

Facilitating change and continuous improvement

To continuously improve, teams must experiment with new ways of working and evaluate the results. The SDM is a facilitator for this process by helping the team identify areas where they can improve, suggesting possible changes that they could make, and then helping to implement those changes.

To facilitate this, the SDM collects data and metrics about the work items on the Kanban board and discusses them with the team. This data can help the team identify areas where they can improve, suggest possible changes they could make, and then helping to implement those changes.

The SDM also achieves this through probing questions until the team has located the natural source of a specific issue. It enables the team to concentrate on treating the actual cause instead of just the symptoms.

Kanban teams strive to ensure that errors are only repeated once. It is done by identifying errors and then taking corrective action to prevent them from happening again. The SDM is responsible for helping the team determine and correct errors, so they are not repeated.

Service Request Manager (SRM)

The SRM role handles customer requests and ensures that they are routed to the appropriate team. This role is comparable to the Scrum Product Owner role, as both are responsible for handling customer requests and ensuring they are routed to the right team.

The SRM is responsible for ensuring that the team has a clear understanding of the customer’s needs. It includes understanding the customer’s business goals, their current pain points, and a good experience of their expected outcome from using the product or service.

The SRM also works with the customer to understand their requests and then works with the team to ensure they are adequately understood and addressed. The SRM is also responsible for maintaining a close relationship with the customer so that they can provide feedback about the product or service. The team uses this feedback to improve the product or service.

In summary, the SRM is responsible for understanding the customer’s needs, ensuring that the team understands those needs, and maintaining a close relationship with the customer to provide feedback. The team uses this feedback to improve the product or service.

The SDM and SRM work together to ensure that customer requests are correctly understood and addressed on time, sometimes sharing the role of a risk manager.

Kanban teams strive to ensure that customer requests are handled on time. The SRM is responsible for ensuring this happens by ordering work items from the backlog and facilitating prioritization of what comes next.

The SRM can help improve corporate governance by providing a clear and consistent process everyone can follow. It helps reduce confusion and ensures everyone is working towards the same goal. Additionally, Kanban can help minimize personnel risk by ensuring that only one individual is responsible for each task. It reduces the chances of errors occurring and makes it easier to hold people accountable for their actions.

Many of the responsibilities of the SRM can be described as “upstream kanban.”

Upstream Kanban

To keep your business running smoothly and generate new ideas, you need a steady flow of them. Upstream Kanban is a method that helps you do just that by refining concepts into work items that are ready for execution. It allows you to move requests through your delivery process more streamlined, keeping the flow of value-adding ideas going.

What is upstream Kanban?

Upstream Kanban is a tool that helps you manage the flow of work in your organization by refining concepts into work items ready for execution. It allows you to move requests through your delivery process more streamlined, keeping the flow of value-adding ideas going.

How does upstream Kanban work?

Upstream Kanban works by outlining the steps of concept refining on your Kanban board. It helps you assess different options and make choices that have been verified into more well-considered work items prepared for execution. As a result, you develop a more profound knowledge of your customer’s problems and can make decisions that are based on investigation and analysis.

Why use upstream Kanban?

There are many benefits to using upstream Kanban, including the following:

  • Helps you manage the flow of work in your organization more effectively
  • Helps you assess different options and make well-considered decisions
  • Helps you develop a more profound knowledge of your customer’s problems

If you are looking for a way to improve the efficiency of your work process and generate new ideas, upstream Kanban may be the right tool for you.

How to implement upstream Kanban

There are a few steps you can take to implement upstream Kanban in your business:

  • Outline the steps of concept refining on your Kanban board.
  • Develop a more profound knowledge of your customer’s problems. – Assess different options and make choices that have been verified into more well-considered work items that are prepared for execution.

By taking these steps, you can improve the efficiency of your work process and generate new ideas more effectively. Upstream Kanban can help you to streamline your delivery process and keep the flow of value-adding ideas going.

Conclusion

In Kanban, there are various roles that team members can take on to best suit the needs of the project. The service delivery manager (SDM) and the Service Request Manager (SRM) are the most critical roles. The SDM is responsible for managing customer requests and ensuring they are adequately addressed. The SRM is responsible for ordering work items from the backlog and facilitating prioritization of what comes next. Upstream Kanban is a tool that helps refine concepts into work items that are ready for execution, which allows for a more streamlined delivery process.

Learn more about Kanban and Earn a Kanban Certification upon completion with our Kanban Training program.

Our Kanban consultants have helped organizations we work with improve productivity by making changes to their processes that have positively impacted their bottom line. If you want to understand how we can help you increase the value delivery, please feel free to reach out to us.

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