How do you know which Kanban metrics to prioritize and focus on when it comes to continuous improvement?

Trust me, I understand the struggle. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with countless numbers to track.

Here’s the thing. Not all metrics are created equal. To make the most of your efforts, you need to be strategic in selecting those that have a real impact on your work.

And today, I’ll walk you through a simple, step-by-step approach that will help you identify the metrics that drive meaningful change. Without any further ado, let’s dive right in.

5 Steps to Prioritizing Kanban Metrics for Continuous Improvement

Let’s reveal each step of the process and explore its practical implementation.

#1 Know Your Goals

Begin by clarifying your objectives and desired outcomes. Determine what you want to achieve with your Kanban implementation, whether it’s reducing cycle time, increasing throughput, improving quality, or enhancing customer satisfaction.

Aligning your metrics with your goals will ensure that you measure what truly matters to your specific context.

The S.M.A.R.T.E.R approach provides a framework to create goals that are specific, measurable, actionable, risky, time-keyed, exciting, and relevant.

For example, instead of a vague goal like “improve team performance,” a specific goal would be “improve cycle time.” To make it measurable, set a target like “improve cycle time by 15%.” Make it actionable by defining how you will achieve it, such as “implementing Kanban practices and optimizing our processes.”

Setting a challenging yet attainable goal, like “improve cycle time by 20%,” pushes you out of your comfort zone. Add a clear timeframe, such as “by the end of Q3,” to make it time-keyed. Connect the goal to an exciting outcome, like implementing a four-day workweek, to motivate and reward your teams.

Finally, ensure the goal is relevant by aligning it with your values and vision. A good example is “improving cycle time by eliminating activities that drag us down.”

By following the S.M.A.R.T.E.R principles, you can set goals that are clear, measurable, motivating, and aligned with your vision.

Now that you have a specific goal in mind, let’s dive into the next step: identifying the Kanban metrics that will help you track your progress and drive continuous improvement.

#2 Choose Relevant Metrics

How can you go about identifying the most relevant Kanban metrics for your continuous improvement efforts?

This step is actually pretty straightforward. Look for metrics that directly impact your goals and align with your specific context.

For the goal we’ve already chosen, the most relevant metric will be cycle time itself.

You can track how your cycle time trends build over time using Nave’s Executive Dashboard.

Nave’s Executive DashboardIf you’re interested to try it out, start a new trial! →

In the report above, we observe a significant increase in this month’s cycle time compared to the last month, the last 3 months, and the last 6 months. What this means is that your team is slowing down.

If your goal is to improve your cycle time by 20%, and you have this picture, you need to dig deeper to understand the root cause of the problem and take action to course correct.

#3 Take Action

Now, the question here is, “What is it that affects our cycle time and how can we influence it to drive improvement?”.

There is a very simple answer to this question.

To improve your cycle time, all you need to focus on is managing your WIP average age effectively. That’s all.

It truly is that simple.

Here’s the thing:

The average age of WIP and cycle time are pretty much the same but with a slight difference. Cycle time measures completed tasks, while WIP age focuses on tasks still in progress.

To reduce your cycle time, you have to reduce your WIP average age first.

Use the Aging Chart to identify the work items with the highest WIP ageUse the Aging Chart to identify the work items with the highest WIP age.

But how do you achieve this goal? What does it actually mean to manage WIP average age?

It means giving top priority to the task with the highest WIP age. Your team commits to swiftly moving this ticket through the process.

If it’s blocked, they investigate the reasons behind it. If it’s due to someone being unavailable or a third-party dependency, they tackle the problem themselves or escalate it if needed.

Managing WIP average age involves splitting complex work while still preserving customer value. If that’s not feasible, more team members pitch in to speed things up.

The key is to find a solution that brings down your WIP average age by addressing tasks that are artificially aging in your workflow.

#4 Monitor Consistently

Metrics are valuable only if they are reviewed and acted upon promptly.

To develop a long-term habit of consistently monitoring the Kanban metrics you want to focus on, establish a series of regular meetings.

Take a look at your existing meeting schedule and consider which meetings can be adapted or added to.

The goal is to make sure you’re heading in the right direction and your improvement efforts are paying off. It’s crucial to commit to taking action based on these insights; otherwise, the whole initiative will lose its purpose.

getting things doneThere are seven important Kanban meetings that you should consider implementing.

Now, revisiting our initial scenario, what we want is to put a finger on our WIP average age. And the best time to do that is during our daily standup meeting.

See, for this team, the main focus during the daily call is to address the specific items in the red zones on their Aging chart: those that have taken longer than 95% of the tasks they’ve completed so far.

During the discussion, they should ask, “What can we do as a team to enable these items to progress?” The goal of the meeting is to develop a clear and concise action plan.

For example, if a ticket is blocked, they can determine what steps are necessary to unblock it and assign accountability for resolving the issue. If the work items have been ignored for some time, the team should decide who will start working on them.

To keep the meeting focused, write down a few key bullet points (max of three). This ensures that the entire team remains attentive to the most critical issues they have.

The following day, begin the meeting by reviewing the action plan and providing updates on the progress made. Then, repeat the process to address any new challenges that require your attention.

#5 Evaluate & Improve

Now, as you have the balls rolling and you keep taking action, you should start seeing results.

If you’ve been managing your WIP average age consistently, you’ll be able to reveal the positive impact of this initiative right away.

There is a very simple trick that you can apply to be able to reveal how the changes you’ve made immediately improve your performance.

Here is how:

Open your Cycle Time Scatterplot and switch your X-axis by “Start date”.

completed work items by “Start date”.Use the Cycle Time Scatterplot to visualize your completed work items by “Start date”.

The X-axis visualizes when each ticket has been started and the Y-axis denotes how much time it took to complete.

Analyzing the Cycle Time Scatterplot above, you can see that the tickets that were started right after the team introduced the concept of WIP average age have been finished much faster.

Before the change, their cycle time varied significantly. Now, once they focused on finishing their work before starting new work, their delivery times are much shorter and much more predictable.

Alright my friend, this is the 5-step process that will help you prioritize the Kanban metrics you should focus on in your continuous improvement initiatives: #1 Know your goals, #2 Choose relevant metrics, #3 Take action, #4 Monitor consistently, and #5 Evaluate and improve.

Here is your action item: Focus on the next immediate step you should do to get into motion (spoiler alert: Step #1: Clarifying your objectives and desired outcomes!) Go ahead and define your goals first.

Then, send me what you’ve come up with on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear all about what you’re looking to achieve.

This action alone will get you started and keep the momentum going.

That’s it for today. Thanks for checking in with me. I’m excited to see you again next Tuesday, same time and place, for more action-packed managerial insights. Bye for now!

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