The Top 3 Challenges in Interpreting Kanban Metrics and Using Them to Drive Meaningful Change
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Kanban metrics without context is just numbers. Today, we’ll reveal 3 ways you can make the most of your data and drive meaningful change across the board.
As leaders, we spend a lot of time talking about data as though it’s the be-all, end-all goal.
Here is the thing, though:
Data without a story is just numbers. Your Kanban metrics are not good for much without knowing the specific situation they were measured in.
You need clarity to drive meaningful change. And if utilized appropriately, your metrics can be the means to achieve that.
So where does the challenge come from? Well, if you don’t take into account the context behind them, or if you’re interpreting them in isolation then you run the risk of jeopardizing your entire business agility initiative.
And there are 3 simple things you can do to ensure you get the most out of your data.
3 Challenges When It Comes to Interpreting Kanban Metrics
In my experience, I’ve discovered that there are 3 main challenges that arise when interpreting Kanban metrics. Let’s explore how to overcome each of them.
#1 Lack of Context
Metrics like cycle time and throughput are highly dependent on the specific context in which they are measured.
For example, your long cycle time is usually a result of a hidden blocker in your system that’s messing up your performance.
Unless you understand which impediments are slowing you down, it’s going to be hard for you to draw any meaningful conclusions.
To help you figure out what’s impacting your delivery speed, you can use the Cycle Time Breakdown Chart to automatically collect information that identifies the blockers that are dragging down your cycle time.
In the example above you can see that 38% of the blocked time is being caused by Unclear Requirements and a further 32% by Expedite Requests. These two blockers are clearly the ones you should focus on tackling.
#2 Risk of Misinterpretation
Metrics like lead time and cycle time can be highly variable, and there are underlying reasons for those variations. These reasons follow patterns, and you need to understand what those patterns are.
Let’s say you notice a sudden increase in your lead time; this may be due to a work practice that no longer serves you, but it could also be due to changes in customer expectations or in the type of work being done.
How do you know which it is?
The best way to interpret your Kanban metrics is to use multiple metrics together.
Suppose a team is tracking work in progress (WIP), cycle time, and throughput. They notice that their WIP levels have been consistently high while cycle time and throughput have been low.
By looking at these 3 Kanban metrics together the team can infer that they have too much work in progress, causing fewer items to be completed overall.
To address this issue, the team might decide to apply WIP limits and focus on completing outstanding work before starting new items. By doing this they’ll reduce cycle times and increase throughput, which in turn leads to a faster time to market.
In fact, there is a mathematical equation that shows the relationship between these three metrics and how changing one inevitably affects the other two. This equation is called Little’s Law and it provides a blueprint of process policies to improve your predictability.
#3 Resistance to Change
Implementing new change management initiatives can be challenging. When your Kanban metrics indicate that it’s time to disrupt the status quo, people tend to resist change because we’re calling the way they’ve been doing things so far into question.
To overcome resistance to change, it’s essential to foster a culture of continuous improvement.
This means empowering your team members to speak up and encouraging acts of leadership at all levels.
Creating a culture of continuous improvement requires a few key elements.
First, encourage everyone to identify problems and suggest improvements. This can be done through regular retrospectives, where the team reflects on what’s working well and what needs their attention.
Second, create a safe space for experimentation and innovation. This means encouraging people to try new things and take risks, even if they might not work out (and letting them know that failure is actually just another form of progress!).
Finally, have a clear and transparent process for implementing changes. Make sure that everyone understands what changes are being made, why they’re being made, and how they will be implemented.
It’s important to communicate to your team members all the benefits of the new change (and address all their concerns) so that everyone understands the “why” behind the “what.”
Here’s your action item for today: If you haven’t already, go ahead and connect Nave’s analytics suite to your current management platform (it’s free for 14 days) →
Once you’re set up, take a look at your metrics and send me a note on LinkedIn about what you see. I’d love to hear what you discover.
Thank you for tuning in with me today, my friend! I’m looking forward to seeing you again next week, same time and place, for more action-packed managerial insights. Bye for now.
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.
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