Kanban: Do We Need Classes of Service?


About a month ago I went to an organization for a session on KANBAN as a co-trainer. The participants of the session were from various departments like procurement, sales, operations, IT etc.

We were trying to share some knowledge on KANBAN starting from the basics and then gradually moving towards making a board for the real existing processes.

For making a board of the existing processes, we formed 2 teams and asked the teams to decide on one process each, for which they want to establish the KANBAN board.

I started to facilitate one of the teams which chose procurement process. The process was new to me to model into KANBAN board. So we were brainstorming all together.

Once we were ready with the columns of the board and was about to have the rows for different Classes of Service, one of the team members asked me

“I don’t see the value in classifying my work items into different Classes of Service. Why do we need to do it? ”

I was very happy to receive this question. Because it meant that the participants were really trying to absorb what we were sharing in the session and were also thinking on the “Why” part.

I am sure there are many people around, who blindly follow a process without asking “Why we need to do it”

So here is the explanation which I shared with them on Why do we need to classify the work items into various Classes of Service

We use Classes of Service to take up the stories from the backlog in an optimized manner.

We need to identify and execute items based on their Cost of Delay (CoD) (Short video on CoD).
If some item is having higher CoD then such item should be worked upon quicker as compared to others.

So then isn’t that almost same as Prioritization of the backlog or the work items?

My answer is Yes and No!

Yes, because it sets the priority of the work items in terms of their execution.

No, because Prioritization of work items in the form of backlog happens as the first step. Having the items categorized as Classes of Service is the second step, once the items enter the workflow or the process.

Daniel S. Vacanti (who helped to develop the Kanban method for knowledge work and the author of the book Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability : An Introduction) has said

” A Class of Service is a policy or set of policies around the order in which work items are pulled through a given process once those items are committed to

Examples of Classes of Service

There are mainly four Classes of Service which are used widely

  • Expedite Items
  • Fixed Date Deliverables
  • Standard Items
  • Intangible or cosmetic or chores

What does each of these Classes of Service mean?

Expedite Items – Work items whose cost of delay is unacceptable is put in this lane. It is of highest priority and should be completed without losing the focus

Fixed Date Deliverable – We always get some work items, which comes with a timeline for delivering it. Such items can be put in this lane. If we complete the work within the fixed date then there would not be any impact on the CoD. But may be with even with a minimal variation of the date, the CoD is huge

Standard Items – This class of service is for all the work items which we usually do as a part of our day to day activities. The CoD for such items generally remains standard. The value of such items can be realized only when it is done

Intangible or Cosmetic or Chores – These are least valuable items. It does not have any specific date for completion. So people can work on such items if they are blocked on other items or are waiting on the other items


If your team is new to KANBAN, they might not be aware of the Classes of Services. So whenever you introduce this concept to them, try to start with the Why part and then move on to How.

Classes of Service will help you to treat items differently based on which class it belongs to. Urgent items can be managed better due to the presence of Classes of Service together with WIP limit. We can have a better predictability also, in terms of average cycle time of each Class of Service.

All KANBAN boards might not have Classes of Service in place at the beginning. But we should be having it as soon as possible to manage the workflow in a better way

2 thoughts on “Kanban: Do We Need Classes of Service?

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