Myth 1 – Kanban board means Kanban method

While implementing and teaching Kanban I’ve heard a lot of myths about this method. Kanban means chaos, in Kanban you do not plan, in Kanban you never know a delivery date… and many more. Because of a lack of deep understanding of this method it’s hard to see tangible benefits. Let’s change this thinking by debunking Kanban Myths. This is the first article in the “Kanban Myths” cycle. Today I’ll try to present first and I guess the most common Kanban myth: Having a Kanban board means you’ve implemented the Kanban method. When I present or talk about Kanban I hear a lot of wordings, like: [Person]: “ahhhaa Kanban – I know we have it, you know the board!” [Me]: “That’s great! What else have you implemented from Kanban?” [Person]: “You mean there’s more?” You bet I do! But let’s start from the beginning. According to David J. Anderson Kanban is a method to define, manage and improve services that deliver knowledge work, such as professional services, creative endeavors, and the design of both physical and software products. In other words, Kanban helps you design the system in which your work will flow efficiently through the system. Using a well-known Kanban Board tool is only one aspect of Kanban that helps to create a fit-for-purpose system and environment. As you probably may have heard, Kanban Method consists of six general practices: 1. Visualize work 2. Limit work in progress 3. Manage flow 4. Make policies explicit 5. Implement feedback loops 6. Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally Kanban board is a one way of implementing “Visualize work” practice. But as you can see there’s more. That’s why having a board doesn’t mean you have a Kanban Method in place but it’s a great start to move forward with your improvements and deeper implementation. Here’s a few tips on how to start visualizing work: 1. Focus on making sure that all of the work is present on the board. At the beginning try to map the process in the simplest possible way. Kanban is all about making small, evolutionary steps – do not overdesign. The easiest option is to have just three steps in the process: To Do, In Progress, Done. Put all of your not started and coming work into To Do and all started work into In Progress. Do not focus on the tool. Choose something that will help you to start fast and easy. It can be a wall with yellow sticky notes, or any tool, like: One Note or Trello. 1a. Next step would be to think about different work types and try to mark them accordingly. For instance, in software development all defects can have a different color (or simple self-explanatory description) than User Stories to make them more visible. This helps to facilitate a quick understanding and decision making process about the work to be done.The good practice is to decide about this together with the team. 2. Implement pull system. This rule it’s connected with limiting work in progress (WIP) policies that create a pull system. It means that work is pulled into the system when other work is completed and capacity becomes available. As a start it is enough to present steps in your process as two stages: In Progress and Done. For example, let’s imagine your system has two stages: Development and Tests. To correctly implement the “pull” system you should divide Development stage into two: In Progress (where developers will actively work on the task) and Done (where development is finished and wait to be taken to Tests once they will have a free capacity). 3. To help you with growing maturity in visualization on team or organization level you can aggregate personal kanban boards into one board that will present the work of the whole team. Here you can use separate swim lanes for each person’s work items. This will help you to grow team awareness about current work status and help to shape delivery plans better. Once you start to visualize your work you can say that you’ve managed to implement a proto-kanban. The next step may be to slowly start limiting work in progress. But what’s important here – is the underlying foundations of Kanban – which is a culture change. Culture where you continuously improve your system to let the work flow as smoothly as possible so that the process helps you to achieve your business objectives. Not the other way round! What are your visualization tips and tricks? Share them leaving the comments below:)


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