As an agile coach, probably one of the most important aspects of your job is balancing flow metrics with qualitative insights. Yes, you have the numbers but what’s the story behind those numbers? More importantly, how are you going to map them to your own business context?

There is a 4 step top-down approach that will help you dig deeper into the root cause of the problems. With this strategy, you’ll have everything you need to map your flow metrics with qualitative insights and come up with your next agility initiative.

Let’s dive right into it!

4 Steps to Revealing Your Next Business Agility Initiative

Now, let’s explore the 4 steps that will lead you to the most important action you need to take next.

Step #1: Identify Which Team Needs Your Immediate Attention

This is where the Executive Report comes into play.

Kanban Dashboards by Nave | Executive Report Insights

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With Nave’s Executive Report, you can quickly check whether your teams are making progress or facing challenges in their performance.

For each team, the report displays their flow metrics and compares them to the previous month, three months, and six months.

When there’s a significant shift in the numbers, you’ll see a red indicator next to the metric that exceeds your predefined threshold.

On the flip side, if the team performance is improving, you will see green indicators.

Teams with gray indicators haven’t registered any significant changes in their metrics, which means they are maintaining stable throughput, work in progress, and cycle time.

In the example above, we can see that for the past quarter, there has been a significant decline in the cycle time that points to the 85th percentile for this team. This is what becomes our main focus now.

Step #2: Locate the Trend That’s Causing the Deviations

Once you know which team you need to focus on, go to the Executive Dashboard.

Kanban Dashboards by Nave | Flow Metrics

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This is how their trends developed in the past 3 months.

The first and most important thing you should look into right away is the WIP age and here is why:

You might be interested in analyzing cycle time, lead time, throughput, flow efficiency, or due date performance. However, these metrics are byproducts of how efficiently your teams manage their work in progress.

These are a result of how well your delivery system behaves and what management practices you put in place to produce consistent results.

So my best advice always is, even if you don’t do anything else, make sure to track your WIP age and keep it consistent.

So, is your WIP age consistent?

Go to the executive dashboard and see what the WIP age trends look like for that team.

In the example above we can see that it isn’t, there are a couple of noticeable jumps during that period. And this is the picture I’m seeing pretty much in 99% of the cases. What it actually means is that there is work that’s lingering and aging artificially in the process.

By simply hovering over the WIP average age trendline, you can see the average age of WIP for each day within your chosen time frame. For example, on Oct 16th, the WIP age was 30 days, quite above the typical range.

Now that we know when the issue happened, what we want to know is what the problem was and what caused it in the first place.

Step #3: Single Out Work Items that Impact Your WIP Average Age

We’d like to better understand what stands behind that high average age of WIP. To do that, we should go to the Team’s Dashboard and check their Aging Chart.

Kanban Team’s Dashboard by Nave | Aging Chart

With the Aging Chart by Nave, you can track your work in progress and spot any outliers that strike out on their own. Start your free trial now

We should go back to Oct 16th and analyze what the board looked like back then. Here’s where the “Aging replay” control proves to be quite useful.

The “Aging replay” control is located at the top of the Controls section on the right sidebar. It allows you to set a specific date in the past as your reference point, letting you see how your work items were progressing on that date.

On Oct 16th, we noticed an item in the Testing status that spent considerably more time there than 85% of the completed items we’ve handled so far. Leaving this item that long in the process is what had an adverse effect on our WIP average age.

Here’s what I want you to remember: Your WIP age and cycle time are essentially the exact same thing, only cycle time is measured against completed tasks, whereas the age of a task is a measure concerning tasks that are still in progress.

If you let your work items linger in your process, your average cycle time will increase over time. Your team productivity will gradually go down and it will affect your time to market significantly.

Now, it’s time to get to the root cause of the issue. Why did this happen and how can we prevent it from happening again?

Step #4: Analyze the Root Cause of the Problem

Now that we’ve figured out the item causing the jump in the WIP age trend, it’s time to take action to prevent a similar situation in the future.

Start by examining the work and digging deep to find out why it got delayed. You can use the “5 Whys” approach for this. Collaborate with your team to brainstorm ways to reduce the risk of future delays.

And let me tell you, most of the time it’s about making minor adjustments to how you manage your work. For all the insights you come up with, create an action plan in the form of a new business agility initiative and ensure that everyone is on the same page. If the initiative is successful, establish the changes as the new standard.

In this specific example, we discovered that the work item was held up due to a legal team dependency, causing the delay. To tackle this, we decided to implement classes of booking to handle dependencies more efficiently.

Here is your action item: When you decide on your next business agility initiative, follow these four steps to identify areas for improvement. Create an action plan (remember, always take it one small step at a time) and make a snapshot of your current flow metrics.

Implement your plan and closely monitor how the changes are affecting your team’s performance. If you’ve achieved your goals, consider making these changes a standard practice.

However, if the initiative falls short, take the time to troubleshoot and figure out what went wrong. Brainstorm alternatives, and then, repeat the process.

Remember, improvement is an ongoing journey. You’re building a system that continuously optimizes for predictability and consistent business outcomes.

I hope you found this 4-step process useful! I’ll see you next week same time and place for more managerial goodness! Bye for now.

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