To Kanban or not to Kanban?

To Kanban Or Not To Kanban?

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To Kanban or not to Kanban?

How can you tell if Kanban is right for your team? What does it mean to implement Kanban?

Before we even start to talk about Kanban, let’s stop for a minute and try to understand what is not working.

People feel stressed all the time. Working long hours, workday feels like a big mess , and the team is not meeting deadlines. On top of all that, management is asking for metrics that we cannot provide.

By deciding to start working with Kanban, you are asking people to change their current way of working.

Change is hard, people usually try to avoid it as much as possible. So have a conversation with the team. Decide together what are the most important goals you want to tackle. Are they onboard? Remember, for any change to succeed you need people to support it.

What is Kanban?

Kanban focuses on breaking the work into small pieces. It aims for smooth transitions, tasks visualization, with minimal meetings. It aims to maximize the delivery of value by following the flow, and steadily increasing the speed and quality of the working items.

It is all about individual accountability, teamwork, focusing on high-quality deliverables, providing value, and being ready to change and adapt priorities as we go.

Kanban or Scrum? Which should we choose? 

While both Kanban and Scrum focus on the same agile principles, to deliver working software in small increments, Kanban does it more fluidly, while Scrum provides more structure in the form of sprints. Kanban is great for teams that have a lot of different tasks. Teams that need to adapt their work to changing priorities might benefit from Kanban. Scrum focuses on a fixed scope that should be achieved by the end of each sprint.

My advice: learn about both Scrum and Kanban. Use the tools that fit the team’s needs. Remember, it is not about using the right methodology, it is about customizing it to better fit your team, and each team is different.

In this article, we will focus on the cornerstone of Kanban implementation: Visualizing Workflows. 

Kanban implementation is gradual. You can start with just a small effort and a few basic rules, and evolve depending on the pace of the team.

Start where you are. Visualize the way the team works.

The basic approach is to have a board with columns that represent specific activities that are performed by the team. The items inside the columns represent the actual tasks that the team members are doing. Use card colors, avatars, and any other tool you can think of to visualize.

By visualizing your flows, you are starting to create order. All team members can get a sense of what is being worked on, how many tasks are we working on, what is important, what isn’t?

Here are some ideas of possible boards, show the examples to your team, look for ideas online, and get started.

Let’s look at the board of Team A for example. They have three columns: Backlog, InProgress and Done. The InProgress column is divided into even more columns, and instead of moving a task from one stage to the other, they use a V to mark that a specific task was completed. They use avatars to represent the people currently working on tasks.

On the other hand, we have Team B, they are dividing each activity to “Active” and “Done”. They decided to use the “stop sign” to mark that a task is blocked, and to attach an avatar to each active task representing the person that is working on that task.

Last is team C. They don’t want to differentiate between sub-activities. They want a high level overview of their work.

Don’t make the mistake of creating a physical board just as a mirror of your online board, make the Kanban board a tool for your team, not for management, it should be adapted to the team’s needs.

In the example above, Team A might be working with an online tool that looks like this:

The team should agree on the representation of the workflow, and for that, you need all team members to be part of the board’s creation. I know what you are thinking… I already know what the team is doing, I already know which workflows exist, it is obvious.. but it isn’t.

Different people think differently. They visualize differently. By creating a custom made board for your team ,and making the team part of the process. They will be more open to changes when they come, and they will come. They will feel more engaged and will update the board more frequently. They will be more committed to addressing issues that the board raises.

The team will come up with new ideas and will have the autonomy to implement them without management’s approval. Great things can happen just by discussing with the team, don’t miss that opportunity.

If your team is co-located, find a wall and create a physical board. Encourage people to update the board and use it as a source of information. To understand what is going on people just need to raise their heads from the computer and look at the board. 

Most times, online tools updates are requested by managers, just assign someone to the task of updating the tool or remind team members to update the online tool once a day, it will only take a few minutes.

Check out this blog post to see a real life example of the process.

If your team is working remotely and you have no other choice, use an online tool. Online tools have less flexibility, they make it harder to implement changes, so use them only if you don’t have any other choice.

Now that we have visibility of the day-to-day work. We have the information we need to move to the next steps. To keep improving we need a support system. We need to define WIP limits. To have policies that will provide a clear understanding of when a task is ready to go to its next stop. We need to measure our workflows to get a better understanding of where we are. We need to understand how to analyze the metrics we have in place and keep adjusting our flow.

Well, we will address that and more in our next article, so stay tuned!

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Disclaimer: The views shared here are my own. Assistance from a language model was employed for organizing and summarizing my thought. Some of the accompanying images were created using AI technology.
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