4 Key similarities between Kanban and “The 4 disciplines of execution”

by Jan Schiller

I just finished reading the book, “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” (McChesney, Covey & Huling, 2016). As I was preparing to facilitate an introductory Kanban session, I noticed the similarities between those four disciplines and the core elements of Kanban. There seems to be a common theme running through the processes associated with smoothly achieving your organization’s strategies.

Kanban is a technique developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, to improve just-in-time manufacturing efficiency. This visual approach to scheduling and management may have been inspired by the supermarket practice of stocking shelves based on the store’s inventory rather than by vendor supply.

“The 4 Disciplines of Execution” (McChesney et al., 2016) describes a simple, repeatable process for executing on an organization’s most important strategic priority while also delivering on the day-to-day demands of the organization.

I see Kanban’s core elements aligning with the four disciplines of execution in this manner:

4 Disciplines of Execution

(McChesney et al., 2016, pp.10-13)

Core Elements of Kanban
1 Focus on the wildly important. “Focus is a natural principle.” Visualize work. The focus is on finishing, not starting. Focus on identifying the tasks that get the team the goal, not on the impact the goal has on the organization.
2 Act on the lead measures. “Lead measures are…the measures of the most high-impact things your team must do to reach the goal.”

“Basically, the more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish.”

Limit work in progress. Decreasing the number of tasks results in increased focus. A team’s productivity decreases by approximately 30 percent when you assign a third goal, and by approximately 70 percent when you assign the fourth goal (across all goals).
3 Keep a compelling scorecard. “…capture that game on a compelling scoreboard.” The Kanban board helps the team focus, drives engagement, is designed by and for the team, is simple, and anyone can determine instantly if they are winning or losing on their path to the goal.
4 Create a cadence of accountability. “The cadence of accountability is a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings of any team that owns the wildly important goal.” The stand-up meeting that occurs in front of the Kanban board is short and frequent, where each team member’s commitment is communicated in terms of what they have done, what they will do next, and if they are experiencing any challenges moving forward.

A common theme across all four areas is focus. I use my phrase, ‘the luxury of focus,’ to describe how rare it seems to be that a team is provided the opportunity to increase productivity by reducing their interruption factor and the number of tasks they are performing.

For the best results, be sure to incorporate all four practices in your project portfolio management approach. Make it your focus to clearly and thoroughly communicate your organization’s widely important goal and to support your team as they embrace new behaviors.


McChesney, Covey & Huling (2016). The 4 Disciplines of Execution. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Free Press.


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