Where should you begin with Kanban metrics?

You can monitor cycle time, lead time, flow efficiency, throughput, cumulative flow, due date performance… The options can quickly become overwhelming.

So, if there is just one thing to focus on, which one should it be?

After a decade of helping agile teams improve their performance, here’s my advice:

The one and only thing you should do when starting with Kanban metrics is to track and analyze your WIP Age.

Here’s why.

The Most Important Metric for Every Agile Team

Let’s start from the basics. What is WIP Age?

The age of a work item in progress is the time that it has already spent in the workflow up until the present moment.

The WIP Age and cycle time are essentially the same metric, only cycle time is measured against completed tasks, whereas the age of a task is a measure concerning tasks that are still in progress.

Although you might have a very low average cycle time, if your tasks sit and age in the process and eventually get released at a later stage, your cycle time will skyrocket.

WIP Age is the most crucial metric for your agile teams, and here’s the simple reason why:

It’s the one metric your teams can directly influence.

All other metrics in Kanban are byproducts of how effectively you manage WIP Age. Once you gain control over it and start improving it, you’ll find that all the rest of the metrics improve as well, even without you being intentional about it.

How to Track WIP Age

So, if it is THAT important to keep track of WIP Age, how can you go about it?

This is where the Aging Chart comes into play. It enables you to track your current tasks in progress.

The Aging Chart uses the same visual format as your Kanban board, with each column representing a state in your workflow. The Aging Chart shows how many days a task has already spent in progress.

Aging Chart by Nave | Example

The colored zones in the chart are called health zones, and they represent a timeline. They visualize the amount of time that your completed work items have spent in progress as the work was moving through each process state.

The dark green zone at the bottom represents the timeline at which 30% of your completed work moved through the workflow. The light green zone visualizes the timeline of 50% of your previous work. Then, the yellow corresponds to 70%, the orange to 85% and the light red zone indicates the amount of time that 95% of your completed items took to be delivered.

If your dots are positioned above the light red zone, this means that your current tasks are spending more time in the process than 95% of your previously finished tasks spent in that specific state.

How to Improve WIP Age

Make sure to look into the Aging Chart at least twice per week during your daily calls. Your teams should focus on all the tasks in the orange and red zones.

And the conversation should really be about: “Is there anything we, as a team, can do to enable them to move further?”.

Identify what’s causing the work to get stuck and take action. The outcome of the meeting must be to come up with a concise action plan.

For example, if a work item is blocked, what needs to happen to unblock it, and who is accountable for that action? If there is aging work waiting to be handled, who will start working on it?

We’re using an AI meeting assistant to do all the paperwork for us!

Here is your next step: Introduce the Aging Chart to your daily meetings and start making reasonable conversations as early as tomorrow morning.

Stick to a few action items, limit them to a maximum of three so you can keep the entire team focused on the most pressing issues that are slowing you down.

The next day, start the meeting by following up with the action plan. Then, repeat the process.

Always aim to identify opportunities for improvement and take action.

With every situation you go through, ask yourself: What’s the lesson here? How can we prevent this from happening again?

I live by this belief – there’s no such thing as failure; it’s either success or a lesson learned.

So, how can you leverage the situation to improve the way you manage your work?

Encourage your teams to ask that same question over and over again until it becomes second nature.

And remember, it’s not about individuals; it’s about the system you build, the management practices you adopt, and the culture you cultivate.

My friend, I hope this has been useful! Send me a note on LinkedIn and give me your top three takeaways from this article. I’d love to hear from you!

I wish you a productive day ahead, and I’ll see you next week same time and place for more managerial insights! Buy for now.

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