Interview with Dimitar Karaivanov – The future of Kanban & more

In the latest in our Speaker Interview Series, we caught up with Dimitar Karaivanov (CEO and co-founder of Kanbanize), to get his views on a range of topics – from Kanban, to Lean-Agile transformations, and much more.

ALI: Where do you see Kanban being in the next few years?

Dimitar: There are two areas where Kanban will develop rapidly in the next couple of years. One of them is vertical / hierarchical scale. Companies today experience severe issues steering change and implementing an end-to-end strategy. I see Kanban helping greatly in that direction, because it is an easy to grasp, visual vehicle that eliminates a lot of the redundant communication and dramatically accelerates an organization’s feedback loops.

Another trend, that we are definitely seeing, is Kanban going outside IT. It all started in the software development and IT Operations teams, but we see many others adopting the lean and agile methods. In a couple of years from now, Kanban is likely to be the de-facto standard for all the teams involved in knowledge work.

ALI: What are the major challenges you typically see when companies are attempting to scale Agile?

Dimitar: First and foremost, it is education and support from top management. It takes a lot of experience to be able to execute such a transformation and it is usually quite expensive too. We need well-educated and supportive leaders who know what it takes to go through all the challenges that the scaled agility requires. Unfortunately, this is rather the exception and not the common case scenario.

Another thing that is usually a challenge is how people in the organization accept change. This differs from company to company. Sometimes people are eager and even impatient to implement new methods and explore new ways of doing things, but other times they would resist any attempt to be taken out of their comfort zone. It all goes down to the company culture and what behavior has been rewarded in the past. The more startup-like the culture of a company is, the better the chances of success are.

ALI: What’s the one thing would you suggest to a company if they are about to adopt a Lean Kanban approach to a transformation?

Dimitar: I would recommend that they work with an experienced agile / lean consultant. It is almost impossible to succeed without help from somebody who has been there and has done it. The best approach I’ve seen is to get external trainers, who train internal trainers that can continue to work with the teams, after their (the external consultants) contract ends.

This has been my experience as well. I got introduced to lean and agile as a change agent in the company that I worked for at the time. The company selected some of the passionate people in the organization and hired brilliant external consultants, who trained us on everything they knew. Then, we were sent back to our offices to support the teams during the transition period. We would have never made it without this move.

ALI: Can you tell us a little about the history of Kanbanize?

Dimitar: We started Kanbanize while I was a Change Agent at a big German company. I was involved in the initiative to streamline the feature development of the RnD organization (a team of almost 500 people). While I was working on various process improvement initiatives, I also experimented with Kanban in my teams. Being involved with both initiatives, made it possible for me to see that applying Kanban on the upper, management level, makes a lot of sense. By doing so, work in progress gets limited across the entire RnD team, which results in shorter cycle times and much fewer issues. I planned to use Kanbanize internally, but since my ideas were not given room for growth, I decided to start my own company. The rest is history.

ALI: What can our delegates expect from your talk at our conference?

Dimitar: As the title suggests, I will be speaking about the first-person view a lot. I sincerely enjoy presentations that demonstrate how companies have achieved huge success, but I rarely hear something about the challenges and how the people in the trenches dealt with the change. Unfortunately, agile transformation endings, if there could be an end at all, are not always happy. Besides that, I will be sharing a lot of practical management advice how to deal with complex development environments.

ALI: What are good measures of success with a Lean Kanban transformation?

Dimitar: It all starts and ends with the value that an organization can produce. If you can deliver more with the same people and resources, you are most probably successful. Even if you only manage to reduce the stress for your people, this is still a huge win.

I have a nice story about this. Prior to my change agent work in the company I already mentioned, the week of the release used to be a complete nightmare. Nothing worked as expected, people were running all over the place trying to fix things, there was a lot of pain, stress and frustration. After spending a year, working on lean and agile initiatives, one of the VPs in RnD was asked the following question: “Hey, why are you so happy, isn’t there a release coming up?”. The funny thing was that the release had already been out and it went exceptionally well. We were still the same team, still the same people, but the quality of our work was so much better, that nobody was worried anymore. Instead of trying to prevent things from falling apart, we were focusing on delivering real customer value. The way I see it, this is the essence of lean.


Dimitar will be speaking about “Scaling Agile – The First Person View” at Agile-Lean Ireland 2017.