“Kanban requires all work items to be the same size.”

If I had a dollar of every time I heard this statement….

This is certainly one of the biggest misconceptions about Kanban I come across.

I’ve been thinking about how this Kanban myth actually came to be. And I believe that it is rooted in the fact that in Kanban, we use throughput to run Monte Carlo simulations and determine the delivery dates of our projects, or decide how much work we should commit to in our next releases.

When we define throughput, we refer to the number of completed work items for a period of time, regardless of their nature, size or complexity. So, people assume that those tickets need to be of the same size to make this work.

Hear me out on this:

You don’t have to split your items into even pieces in order to come up with an accurate delivery forecast.

Forecasts don’t produce a single certain delivery date, they come with a range of outcomes and the probabilities of achieving each of them.

From there, it is up to us to decide what level of confidence we’d like to manage and this approach certainly doesn’t depend on the size of the work.

The main prerequisite to making accurate delivery predictions is to optimize your system for predictability. To be able to deliver results in a consistent manner, you have to take control of your management practices.

Now, let’s break this down! What does it mean to optimize a delivery system for predictability?

The Realm You Can’t Predict by Intuition

Even if your team has plenty of experience and the necessary expertise to understand what is needed to solve a certain problem and predict the effort they need to finish it, you still can’t use their estimation to make a reliable delivery commitment.

Delivery Time Formula | Image

This is because effort time is just one part of the whole picture. Using any kind of relative estimation is irrelevant because effort time does not equate to delivery time.

In general, the effort that your team makes to finish something only represents between 5% to 40% of your total delivery time!

If we break down the elements that contribute towards the time needed to deliver your work, at least 60% of it consists of waiting time in the system due to dependencies, bottlenecks, expedite requests and plenty of other sources of inefficiency. Predicting outcomes by intuition is not a reliable approach to forecasting.

The Only Thing You Need to Come Up With Reliable Probabilistic Forecasts

So, what is it then that you must rely on to make accurate delivery predictions?

The one and only prerequisite to making reliable probabilistic forecasts is to keep up a steady delivery pace.

What does this actually mean?

It’s about ensuring that any type of work, regardless of it’s nature, size or complexity, is completed within a certain threashold. This means establishing the management policies and practices that help your teams meet this goal.

So, how do we go about that?

Let’s explore the Aging Chart, ultimately the most important tool for every agile team!

Multitasking in project management: Aging ChartUse the Aging Chart to track your work in progress and trigger the right conversations at the right time.

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

The percentile lines on your Aging Chart represent your past performance and show the cycle time needed to complete your previous work.

Use these percentiles to define your threshold!

Let’s say your threshold is the 85th percentile. This means that the team’s ultimate goal is to deliver any type of work in less than 8 days.

When something hits the 50% mark (it goes beyond the green zones!) then, this serves as a trigger to start a discussion and brainstorm what they can do to finish the work before reaching that 85th percentage.

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? If the task turned out to be more complex than you initially assumed, can people pair together and allocate more capacity to that piece of work?

Pro Tip: Use your daily calls to have these conversations. And if there are no tickets that cross that 50th percentile, it’s a good time to let everyone go and close the meeting.

Remember, the one and only objective of making reliable probabilistic forecasts is to maintain consistent delivery times. It’s up to you now to set the rules around how you manage your work to make this happen.

Here is your action item: If you haven’t introduced the Aging Chart in your daily meetings, it should be the first thing you do tomorrow morning. It’s free for 14 days with no strings attached, so go ahead and give it a try right away

This action alone is going to take you a long way because by focusing on the age of the work in progress and striving to make it consistent, you’re essentially improving all the other flow metrics (without even intending to do so!)

I hope this has been helpful! Please share it on your social media platforms, I’d highly appreciate it if you spread the word.

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

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