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
  • Organizational agility
  • Predictable economic outcomes and financial robustness
  • Survivability

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.

Kanaban Practices

  • Visualize (the work, workflow and business risks)
  • Limit WIP
  • Manage Flow
  • 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 KMM:

  • 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 – Antifragile

  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. Improvement always means change. The KMM’s strength is in identifying the path to successful change. For the Agile Innovation Framework, KMM is a kind of operating system for continuous improvement.