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Kanban is awesome but it has to be managed well


Each minute of our life is a lesson but most of us fail to read it. I thought I would just add my daily lessons & the lessons that I learned by seeing the people around here. So it may be useful for you and as memories for me.

Delivering work in a quick and efficient way could be a challenge. The Kanban Method suggests an approach of managing the flow of work with an emphasis on continuous improvement without overburdening the development team that focuses on productivity and efficiency.

Kanban was initially invented as a way of managing Just in Time (JIT) manufacturing processes. The next chapter in Kanban’s history introduced new principles and practices to make it more efficient for knowledge workers. It is a method designed to help you optimize workflow and use your team’s full capacity. In this article, we will discuss what is the Kanban Method, how to implement it, and what are the most important Kanban analytics charts.

By using Kanban, you can evenly distribute your most important tasks and eliminate any wasteful activity or useless information. The method can help you solve your productivity problems using visual cues that are easy to understand by your team. The Kanban Method is one of the simplest to implement, with no immediate structural changes and prescribed ceremonies. As long as you continuously analyze and manage your flow of work, Kanban can enable exceptional results.

No matter which agile framework is used – Scrum, LeSS or SAFe or other the Kanban Board always helps to make the work progress and impediments of teams visible to everyone and so supports the core agile values – transparency, commitment to do the right things and courage to achieve common goals.

8 Benefits of Using Kanban for Software Development - Kanban Zone Blog

Kanban Principles

The Kanban method is a pull system – this means that work is pulled into the system when the team has capacity for it, rather than tasks being assigned from the top. Kanban can be used to improve processes and workflow efficiency without making any changes to your team structure.

Prior to applying the Kanban Method within your business, it is important to first understand and adopt its fundamental principles:

  1. Start with what you are doing now – Kanban doesn’t require a particular setup and can be applied directly to your current workflow. This makes it easy to implement since there is no need to change your existing processes. The benefits of Kanban are gradual, and any process improvement is adopted over time.
  2. Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change – Sweeping changes can unsettle teams, disrupt flow and damage performance. Kanban is designed to incur minimal resistance by encouraging continuous, incremental and evolutionary changes.
  3. Respect the current process, roles, and responsibilities – There should be no organizational changes at the outset. Kanban recognizes that existing processes, roles, and responsibilities may have value and are worth preserving. Instead, Kanban encourages incremental change to avoid emotional resistance.
  4. Encourage acts of leadership at all levels – Kanban promotes leadership and decision making between all members. If the lowest-ranked team member has a bright idea, it should be acknowledged and embraced. Everyone should be fostering a mindset of continuous improvement (Kaizen) – in order for your workers to reach optimal performance.

The structure of a Kanban board

A Kanban board is one of the most practical tools that you can use to manage your projects in a simple and clear way. Kanban can help you visualize and maintain your tasks and workflows, signaling potential bottlenecks for each project or workflow stage. This is why they are used by several agile in-office and remote teams across the world to manage tasks with flexibility.

There are many Kanban boards online that you can use to balance your resource demands. You might already know about other tools such as Trello or Kanban Tool, but you must be aware that Kanban boards are most effective when they are part of a more advanced project management software. Such platforms can help you track time and maintain real-time collaboration with your team.

With Kanban, you can limit the number of tasks that are allowed for each stage to avoid overloading your employees or leaving them with no tasks. Likewise, Work in Progress (WIP) limits can be set for a more effective workload distribution among your team members. This guarantees that each task will be completed before the team moves on to the next one and that the focus on the “In progress” tasks is never lost. You can also turn the completion of a task into a priority to get a better idea about your overall workflow.

A basic Kanban board, be they physical or virtual, are created using these three main elements:

Kanban for software development

Kanban Board: 10 basic rules how to use it in an effective way

Kanban boards were first used in the late 1940s at Toyota’s factories to balance supplies with production. Workers could share the inventory levels of materials through a card named “Kanban” (meaning “signboard” in Japanese). Each card had the requirements for the necessary materials written on it and would then be moved to the warehouse were instructions were carried out. This helped teams communicate easily across the entire manufacturing process.

Now Kanban is used to visualize and speed up your project’s workflow, improve team collaboration, and identify possible obstacles. 

Even though the look, structure and usability of the Kanban Board is well known the rules how to apply it effectively in order to unfold its full potential is something left for teams to find out.

Rule #1: Keep it simple

If you use the Kanban Board for the first time start with the basic structure with columns To Do, Doing, Done which everyone understands and is able to intuitively assign tasks to. Once you get acquainted with this basic structure you may thing of extending it by additional categories given that these categories add a real value – help the team to remove impediments faster and perform tasks more effectively.
Use simple plain language without abbreviations and “team jargon“ when you define tasks. This will make the Kanban Board to a universal tool for reports and communication across across teams and hierarchy levels.

Rule #2: Common structure and level of details across all teams

Use the same Kanban Board structure (column definition) agreed at the rule #1 across all teams.If a team suggests to introduce a new category (column) align with all teams if this category makes sense for everyone. If it is accepted as a common value-adding category adjust the common Kanban Board structure accordingly. Otherwise commonly refrain from it.

Rule #3: Manage flow – By observing and analyzing flow efficiency, you can identify any problem areas. The main goal of implementing Kanban is to create a smooth workflow by improving the lead times and avoiding delays. You should always strive to make your process more efficient.

Rule #4: Agree on a time box

Even though the original Kanban methodology does not apply time-boxing to the work visualization but rather see is as a continuous flow, we recommend to do so. A common agreement on a certain time box with duration from one to four weeks – applied to the categories To-Do, Doing, Done and valid for all teams helps to achieve the same level of details in task definition across multiple teams. „Speaking the same language“ simplifies integration and synchronizes the deliverables of teams. Keep the time box duration fixed unless all agree to change it for an important value-driven reason.

Rule #5: Revise it regularly

Revise the Kanban Bard on a regular basis: Plan the „To-Do“ list for the next time at the end of the current time box by moving the parked tasks from the „Backlog“ column and not-completed tasks of the current time box from the „Doing“ column to the „To-Do“ column. Always keep the status of all tasks up to date at so that the Kanban Board can serve as a tool of transparency and work synchronization. Move a planed task from the „To-Do“ column to the „Doing“ column when you started the task and from the column „Doing“ to the „Done“ column when you completed the task on a daily basis.
Keeping the Kanban Board up to date is not a responsibility of a single person such as Scrum Master, Team Lead or similar. It is a responsibility of each team member who execute tasks.

Rule #6: Improve collaboratively – Kanban requires constant evaluation, analysis, and improvement. When teams have a shared understanding of the process, they are more likely to reach a consensus should any problems arise. The Kanban Method suggests that various models of scientific approach are used to implement continuous, incremental, and evolutionary changes.

Rule #7: Accessible to everyone

The Kanban Board should be placed so that everyone who is involved in task execution, planning and revision as well as all stakeholders can easily see it anytime they like. This helps to avoid status requests from stakeholder and saves the team’s time for productive work.

When you work with an analog Kanban Board it should be placed in a room where everyone has access to and the most people have the shortest way to reach it. A digital Kanban Board should be stored in a shared folder (e.g. Sharepoint) with the write access for the team working and a read access for stakeholders.

Rule #8: Purpose over tools

When you use the Kanban Board for the first time, start with an analog board on a wall. The reason for this lies in the rule of simplicity. All tasks are posted as post-its on the wall. This gives you a good overview and helps to draw your attention to relevant tasks. There are several good tools on the market such as Jira Agile BoardTrello etc. which not only provide basic Kanban Board features but also allow to track the progress with fancy customizable reports, e.g. Burn-Down charts, Average task duration, Number of tasks in status „Doing“ and „Done“ by team assignment, Number of tests planed vs. completed within a time box.

Rule #9: single south of truth

Avoid creating several Kanban Boards when you can achieve your goal with just one. Duplicating Boards and tasks leads to either extra effort for the team of keeping the boards in sync or to a disconnection of the tasks between two boards. The impact of the disconnection may be huge – from misinformation and misunderstandings to confusions and delays.

Rule #10: Visualize workflow – The first and most important task is to understand the current flow of work – what is the sequence of steps to execute in order to move an item from request to a deliverable product. This is done using a Kanban board with cards and columns: each column represents a step in your workflow, and each card represents a work item. Every item moves through the flow from start to end. By observing this process, you can easily track progress and identify bottlenecks in real-time.

Rule #11: team achievement over personnel achievement

Do not assign and track a task to a person, rather assign it to a team. The team should be able to complete the task independently from other teams or managers.

Doing it on a team level encourages the team spirit and mutual support and establishes psychological security which is inevitable for the success of a project.

Rule #12: Make process policies explicit – The process should be clearly defined, published, and confirmed for everyone in the team: people won’t feel motivated to be part of something unless they think it will be useful. When everyone is aware of the explicit policies, each person can suggest improvements that will improve your performance.

Rule #13: continuous improvement

Brainstorm with all teams at least once in a quarter what can be improved about your Kanban board and implement improvement measures which are value-adding for the team.

Rule #14: Use feedback loops – In order for the positive change to occur, regular meetings are necessary to provide essential feedback to the entire team. The frequency of these meetings varies, but the idea is that they are regular, at a fixed time, and that they get straight to the point.

Rule #15: make these rules be known and agreed by everyone

A great rule which nobody knows, the reason for which nobody understands makes it just а deadweight. A rule which is known and understood by everyone moves mountains.

Assure that everyone who starts working with a Kanban Board understands the commonly agreed rules and is given a possibility to contribute to their further improvement.

References: Agilon GmbH, Nave, Paymo

Please feel free to share your story and any lessons you learned, you experienced, you came across in your life in the comments below. If you enjoyed this, or any other other posts, I’d be honoured  if you’d share it with your family, friends and followers!

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Posted by on June 21, 2021 in Technical

 

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