Learning about Kanban

Posted: March 6, 2014 in Kanban
Tags: , ,

One of the teams I’m newly responsible for is called the “Kanban team”. This made me a bit nervous when I joined as my knowledge of Kanban was completely limited to some reading I did when trying to find a better way to visualise work while a team I was Scrum Master of at my previous company was going through a Lean Start-up phase. The Kanban team appeared to be functioning and was getting stuff done, but I found the board completely confusing and there didn’t seem any easy way to understand inefficiencies. My first task was, obviously, to try to find out a little more about Kanban and understand its principles, and I did this through conversations with colleagues who had been on the training and a lot of Google searches!

The first ‘retro’ I had with the team, I highlighted the main principles of Kanban, which are:

  1. Make workflow visible
  2. Limit work in progress (WIP)
  3. Measure lead time

We agreed that although the workflow was visible (via the board), we were not currently limiting WIP nor were we able to track our lead/cycle times. The first exercise was to review the workflow itself, which we approached with a ‘blank canvas’ approach, mapping the steps various items would go through to eventual release. This team is responsible for maintaining the system on a day-to-day basis, as well as building smaller features, which means some work is very ad hoc and other work is more structured and ‘plannable’.

The second session I presented a proposed version of the board (which was basically the existing board plus some additional columns) plus some suggested WIP limits for us to argue about. After much debate, we eventually agreed on a board that had similar columns to the existing board and was flipped (so that work items bubbled up the vertical rather than along the horizontal axis). The team agreed to track WIP at a ‘story’ rather than task level (although tasks were still added to the board for visibility), and we agreed on some WIP limits. It was a tiring session but it was nice to see the team take some ownership, although it took them at least a week to adjust to the new board once we got going.

Since then, we’ve made some minor changes. I posted up some policies (exit criteria) based on info we had, but we still need time to review and flesh them out (particularly our Definition of Done). I was also trying to track cycle time by tracking when stories moved, but this was proving difficult and time-consuming and prevented the team from moving items backwards (which is something they wanted to do), so we bought a date stamp (like they used to use in libraries) and agreed to stamp stories at three points in the process:

  1. When the story/item hits the board
  2. When it moves into the build phase (starting with design)
  3. When it’s tested and ready for release (done)

We haven’t been tracking tasks long enough to have any useful data yet, so I’ll have to see how this goes. The main thing I have noticed is that the team is still struggling with the concepts of lean, so my next big session will be to a play a game with them (similar to the airplane game) to try to demonstrate how the pull system is supposed to work. I’m hoping that they will then have an ‘a-ha’ moment and we can start focusing on improving our process. Think of it as a change management exercise 🙂

Useful links:

  • I found this comparison of Kanban and Scrum really useful as I could work from my existing knowledge.
  • I liked some of the task board ideas in this article.
  • And, in case you don’t know what it is, here’s more on the Airplane Game.
  1. gpsist says:

    liked your article… probably we are some steps behind you 🙂 check http://gpsistakis.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/how-to-kanban-with-trello/ if you want

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