Observe, Manage, Evolve: Kanban Practices
The Kanban Method has exploded in popularity, largely because of its simplicity. Kanban is used to improve team productivity and flow efficiency. It is designed to be flexible to the needs of your projects. There are six Kanban practices that are essential to successful implementation.
The first Kanban practice is visualization, going back to its origins on the factory floor. The English translation of Kanban is “signboard” or “billboard” – at first, this was a visual signal in the form of a card showing that a product, part or component had run out and needed replenishing. Kanban boards began to be used to represent workflows early in the history of the method.
Each process state in a workflow is represented by a vertical column and each task or work item by a card. Cards are moved from one state to the next until the task is completed. The Kanban board lets the team easily see what is being worked on, how work is progressing and if bottlenecks are forming.
Visualization is also an important part of analyzing progress. Kanban charts such as cycle time scatterplot, throughput histogram and cumulative flow diagram let project managers assess project performance and make accurate estimations.
Limit Work in Progress
As customer requests and deadlines pile up, teams can easily get overwhelmed with new work – while existing tasks get pushed aside and neglected. To stop this from happening, Kanban practices suggest applying limits on work in progress (WIP). Once the WIP limit is reached for a process state, no new tasks are allowed to enter this state until an outstanding task has been completed.
WIP limits keep the team focused, reduce time wasted by context-switching and multitasking and stop bottlenecks from getting out of hand. When no new work can be started, team efforts must be spent on moving existing tasks forward and resolving obstacles.
A streamlined workflow requires consistent management to keep tasks entering the stream in a smooth manner. Making sure tasks are entering the flow with the same pace they are leaving it builds the foundation of a stable and predictable system.
In large teams and teams with specialized roles, swimlanes are often used to segment the process states (and their WIP limit). For example, imagine a team where helpdesk team members and developers are using the same Kanban board. The Ongoing state has a WIP limit of 3 – if all three work in progress items are development tasks, our helpdesk team members are left with nothing to do. By segmenting the process state with swimlanes, you can set a helpdesk WIP limit of 1 for helpdesk and 2 for development. The total WIP will still be limited to 3, but the tasks are better divided amongst your team.
Managing the flow also means removing obstacles and eliminating bottlenecks. Idle team members should be encouraged to collaborate with other team members and “swarm” outstanding tasks to complete them.
Make Policies Explicit
Every policy should be made explicit – from how tasks enter the workflow, how they are treated to when they are considered completed. It is crucial that everyone on the team understands the criteria for task progression – when a task is ready to move to the next process state.
Some projects treat all tasks in the same way. However, for large and complex projects this can result in cluttered, confusing Kanban boards and low priority tasks getting neglected. Classes of Service (CoS) can be used to set policies according to task priority – the policies in place for an emergency will be quite different to those for routine maintenance.
Implement Feedback Loops
While visualizing workflows alone can improve team productivity, one of the Kanban practices relies on building feedback loops to monitor progress. Tracking flow metrics like cycle time and throughput allow project managers to instantly see when performance is slipping, identify problems as they form and make changes to stay on track.
These metrics give project managers rapid feedback on team performance and work delivery rates. For the big picture view, Kanban meetings are used to direct the project on a daily, weekly, and long-term basis. Each meeting incorporates feedback from other meetings to make informative decisions.
Kanban practices focus on improvement via incremental, iterative changes. Remember, your project and team have unique needs – be flexible! The explicit policies that work best for a development agency could be totally unsuitable for a publishing house. For example, try different WIP limits, different swimlanes, different ways of prioritizing emergencies.
WE UNCOVER THE EFFICIENCY OF YOUR WORKFLOW
Optimise your performance with Kanban analyticsExplore Your Data Now
While it’s easy to get caught up in the details when looking for areas to improve, remember to stay focused on wider company goals. We recommend creating a Kanban roadmap to lay out business strategies and direction.
The advantage of Kanban is that the effect of these changes can quickly be seen in charts like the cumulative flow diagram. Experiment to find the best Kanban implementation for your needs. These improvements shouldn’t just be issued from management – encourage team members of all levels to give their suggestions.
Many teams turn to Kanban precisely because it improves productivity and efficiency without the big structural changes required by other Agile methodologies. Simply focus on these six Kanban practices and start seeing the benefits – reduced lead times, streamlined workflows and improved customer satisfaction.
Which practice has had the most effect on your projects? Which was hardest/easiest for your team to implement? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams become more efficient 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.
Learn more about the experience of changing an organization with 130 years of history and more than 2,000 employees… https://t.co/HhqjlfVEwzFollow
"Nave’s powerful data-visualization toolkit helps you optimize your flow and take your team to a whole new level. T… https://t.co/znpofG06htFollow
Take your training and consultancy sessions to a whole new level. With Kanban analytics on their existing tools, yo… https://t.co/8iNe3zZS87Follow
Models of self-government, as well as models of harmonized autonomy, have emerged to address the need for strategic… https://t.co/Fkn2w1FybrFollow
Learn how applying Kaizen principles brings continuous improvement to your business practices, increases your perfo… https://t.co/EKejZQdt98Follow
Are you ready to recap the benefits Kanban analytics can bring to your teams? Choose your platform today!… https://t.co/IBRMXPLPXOFollow
In Kanban, Little’s Law links the three basic flow metrics – throughput, cycle time and work in progress. Understan… https://t.co/lz0dCe8fJLFollow
Choose your platform today and deliver outstanding customer value sooner with our range of analytical charts.… https://t.co/maqOaaqgFbFollow
Learn more about how a Financial Technology Company in Brazil evolve from 20 teams running around 50 initiatives to… https://t.co/3pk151Pm1MFollow
The Aging Chart for Trello helps you identify where your process is slowing down while tasks are still in progress.… https://t.co/D51LQOxxhIFollow
After many years of experience with classic waterfall projects at Sitegeist, in 2013 Gina and Sven started to compl… https://t.co/f33g593GhPFollow
Large teams and complex projects face a common issue – the Kanban board becomes cluttered and hard to read. Learn h… https://t.co/uxW9I3XhhpFollow
All of our plans come with full visibility into your past performance so that you can make decisions based on your… https://t.co/CECD3QA2MnFollow
Product teams who use Nave to analyze their workflows can make empirical predictions based on their performance dat… https://t.co/w2UOo7Q3q5Follow
When implementing Kanban, it can be difficult to know how much work has been done, and how well your team is perfor… https://t.co/sT6p8qDJfxFollow
With Nave, you can use your favorite tool to boost your productivity and improve workflow efficiency.… https://t.co/KhWe93qHO0Follow
This is the story of how 30 teams in Petrobras have evolved their maturity and how patterns of evolution can be rec… https://t.co/AHImgtqYBrFollow
Nave's Kanban analytics suite helps you collaborate better and ship faster across all of your Azure boards. Unleash… https://t.co/NttVDesyGoFollow
Choose your platform today and deliver outstanding customer value sooner with our range of analytical charts that v… https://t.co/ZEJTgy7JweFollow