All too often, as you are just getting started with evaluating your flow metrics, you find that the data you have collected is entirely unreliable. As a result, it is impossible to use that data to make data-driven decisions. Most likely cards are missing on the board when a work item is actually started. Or your team is forgetting to move a ticket through the board when the work moves a step along in the process. The reason underpinning this behavior is simple. They don’t see the benefit of making that effort.

And you are missing a huge opportunity here. Keeping your data up to date and making sure your Kanban board reflects reality is the main prerequisite to revealing and optimizing your performance. It is the key to making accurate data-driven decisions, producing reliable delivery forecasts and ultimately improving your predictability. 

Visualizing the flow of your work is crucial for your data integrity. Let’s look into the different strategies you can use to get your team on board and remove the noise of your data.

Your Kanban Board Must Represent Your Workflow

A Kanban board shouldn’t be a storage of your team’s to-do list. If you’re seeing random cards placed in work-in-progress columns on your Kanban board, even though the work has already been completed, you are missing the main point.

The purpose of a Kanban board is to provide a greater level of transparency in your process. Furthermore, by keeping your board up to date, you improve the reliability of your data, which in turn enables you to make accurate data-driven decisions. 

How do you know how much time you need to deliver results to your customers? How do you evaluate your capacity? How would you spot the impediments preventing you from becoming faster and more predictable? How can you make accurate delivery predictions?

None of the above can be achieved if your Kanban board doesn’t represent your workflow. In fact, it is only a matter of making sure your work is accurately reflected on the board to answer these questions with confidence.

How to Improve the Reliability of Your Data

Kanban board

Your Kanban board needs to reflect reality. Every column should be a process state, every card a piece of work. As work moves through your process, cards move across the board. 

Your Kanban board should represent your as-it-is workflow, not the state of the workflow you’d like to achieve. Remember that the board is a tool to help you understand your obstacles and help you make better decisions. People change their attitudes based on what they see on the board, so use it as a trigger to spark a conversation about what could be improved. 

Expose the Main Benefits

The reliability of your data depends on how motivated your team is to keep your board up to date. Moving cards through the board could be seen as an extra overhead, and that’s why teams often don’t understand the benefits that come with it.

The fact is, keeping your board up to date makes your team’s life much easier in many different ways:

  • Improves collaboration – once they finish something, your team members won’t need to interrupt each other to let everyone know that their job is done. The board represents that, and everyone clearly understands what the current progress is and what’s ready to move on to the next state.
  • Enables autonomous teams – using the explicit policies that come with the board, everyone will know exactly what to do in any scenario. Decisions like, which item should they pull next, how to handle emergencies and should they start new work or swarm outstanding work become obvious. That will ultimately improve the motivation within the team.
  • Provides opportunities for improvement – if your cards move through the board as your work moves through the process, you’ll be able to gain a very good understanding of your delivery speed and start working upon its improvement. Usually, that has nothing to do with the performance of the individuals in your team. Quite often, some small tweaks in your working practices can lead to a tremendous increase in your performance. 

Keep It Simple

If you’re only getting started, make sure you just put the columns and the cards in place first. Don’t overcomplicate things by introducing a bunch of custom fields and various approaches to manage your work. Keep it simple by only exposing the practices you are currently using, and over time, slowly introduce new practices that will help you improve your efficiency. 

Remember, there are no best practices, just good practices that work in your own context. Keep up with the learning pace of your team and always make small steps that could easily be reversed if they don’t work well for you. 

Automate As Much As You Can

It won’t be possible every time, but if you have the option, automate as much of the process as you can. You could probably think about hooking up the movement of the cards from one state to another with a certain event. For example, a card could move from Development to Development Done at the moment the branch is pushed to git. Or, a card moves from Code Review to Code Review Done once the PR is approved, and the code is merged into the Testing environment.

Brainstorm different possibilities with your team. At the very least, make sure that the movement of the card to the next column is an essential part of its Definition of Done. Automating the movement of your cards will reduce the effort needed to maintain your Kanban board and it will provide great precision within your flow metrics.

Set Clear Expectations

The goal of having a Kanban board that reflects reality is to bring more transparency and enable you to make accurate data-driven decisions. However, make sure you clarify your objectives. You should never use that data to evaluate or judge people. That’s downright irrelevant and, what’s more, it would probably make your team move the cards faster than they actually needed to be finished, or hide work items from the board. Don’t let such an attitude slip into your environment – it could have disruptive consequences.

It is all about managing the flow of work and not the workers. Keep an open mind and embrace reality. The more information you have, the faster and easier you’ll be able to improve your working practices and achieve amazing success for your teams, your business and your customers.

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