Having an Expedite swimlane as a default board configuration is a little-known mistake most managers make, which prevents them from building predictable workflows.

Let’s talk about Expedites for a moment, shall we?

What is an expedite?

Imagine that, one day, all of your servers go down. Getting your systems back online immediately becomes an extremely high priority.

Critical systems going down and any unexpected, serious glitches will naturally be treated as expedites. These are top priority items that need to be handled immediately and they are allowed to suspend the rest of the work items in progress.

Now, if your highest paying client is asking for a request, is this an expedite? If a request is coming in from the person who shouts the loudest, does this classify as an expedite request?

No, it doesn’t. And here is why.

Having Expedite Work Items in Your System Is Bad for Your Predictability

Kanban board with expedite swimlane

You only want to consider critical business items as expedites. What’s more, you want to reduce the number of expedites in your system as much as possible.

Here is the thing. Every time you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else at the same time.

When you make the choice to speed up a work item, you slow down another. Letting work items age artificially in your workflow is the fastest way to impede your predictability.

If your expedite items are constantly taking over and borrowing time from the rest of the work, what does this mean for your predictability?

Can you be predictable when the delivery times of your standard items are constantly increasing? No, it is just not possible.

When work takes longer to complete, deliveries become delayed and much more difficult to forecast.

You should build your board design in a way that encourages effective work management. And the approach you use to visualize your work has the potential to make or break your improvement efforts.

Your team will see their work in the way your board design communicates it. And, if leveraged inappropriately, it can seriously hinder your ability to achieve optimal performance.

It’s naturally appealing to believe that our thoughts and choices are based on logical, rational judgment. But, in reality, much of our thinking is subject to various cognitive biases.

One of these cognitive biases is the framing effect.​​ The framing effect occurs when a person changes their perspective based on how they perceive certain information. It demonstrates how a small change in the way something is presented can have a significant impact on our decisions.

The way you structure your board design dictates how your team perceives it. Based on this perception, they will make particular choices, both consciously and subconsciously.

Having an expedite swimlane on your board directly communicates to your team that you have an alternative flow for expedite items. It tells them that it is okay to let work age artificially in your process.

This is a mistake that I see a lot of managers make. And, when not managed properly, the expedite flow inevitably takes over the standard flow of work.

Do You Really Need an Expedite Swimlane?

So, what is the best way to make this work, so that we still have an approach in place to handle urgent requests, while at the same time, preserving the predictability of our workflow?

Ideally, from a predictability perspective, you don’t want to have any items that take over others. In an ideal world, you want all of your work items to have the exact same urgency and process them in the order they arrive.

However, we don’t live in an ideal world and most probably you need a mechanism to manage expedite requests effectively (otherwise you run the risk of running out of business!).

So, if your context requires an approach to handle Expedites in your delivery system, then deprecate the Expedite swimlane and use Classes of Service instead. Classes of Service define the urgency that comes with our requests.

Classes of service

There are four default classes of service – Expedite, Fixed Delivery Date, Standard and Intangible. Expedite means immediately, Fixed Delivery Date – at some point in the future. Standard generally means as soon as possible, and Intangible – the sooner the better.

By keeping all of your tickets together, instead of isolating those with the highest priority in a dedicated swimlane, you’ll be able to build a complete picture. You will have visibility on what you say yes and what you say no to, and you give your teams the ability to make more informed decisions.

Kanban board without expedite swimlane

What I usually recommend is that, if your business context doesn’t require it, then don’t use Expedite swimlanes and Classes of Service altogether.

But, if you still want to have an approach to handling any emergencies, you can then introduce the Expedite class of service. Just try to minimize the amount of expedites as much as you can.

By all means, don’t devote an Expedite swimlane to isolate your emergency items. Instead, keep all of your work together and at the moment when you have to handle an urgent scenario, make sure you acknowledge how that Expedite request actually affects the rest of the work you’ve committed to.

If you have to manage a variety of Classes of Service and you’re struggling to preserve the predictability of your system, chances are you need to implement more advanced management practices. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d be thrilled to welcome you to our Sustainable Predictability program.

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