As managers, it’s our job to choose what work items enter the downstream process – and why. But it’s up to the team to decide how to handle those items. Let’s discuss how you can enable your teammates to define solutions in the most collaborative and efficient way possible.

Are you familiar with the phrase, “the wisdom of crowds”?

The basic idea is that people make smarter choices when doing it collectively as a group, rather than as individuals.

And it’s definitely true when it comes to defining the most feasible solutions to your customer’s problems.

Your planning meetings are so much more than just a time to discuss what needs to be done. It’s an opportunity to empower your teams to put their heads together and come up with the most viable solutions possible.

After all, your team is full of people with wide-ranging skills, experiences and specialties. If you think about it, it would be unreasonable not to take advantage of their expertise when determining the solutions to your customers’ problems.

You as a manager select which work items should move forward in the process. This is the point at which your teams are able to review and discuss the work before ultimately deciding what to commit to next.

You Define the Problem; Your Team Defines the Solution

The not-so secret weapon to finding the most feasible solution is to let every member of the team contribute to the discussion based on their expertise, viewpoints and insights from their respective areas.

As a business representative, you decide the “what” and the “why.”

It’s up to your team to decide the “how.”

Take advantage of all the expertise you have in place and build on all the different narratives to get the most out of it. That’s how you’ll end up with the easiest and fastest way to solve your customers’ problems.

The goal here is to achieve an alignment between everyone involved about what needs to be done and how it will be achieved. You want your team to understand the “what” and the “why” and agree on the “how.”

Hashing Out the “How”

What does it look like in practice? How can you implement this strategy on your Kanban system design?

To keep things simple, you can have two “To Do” columns i.e. “Selected Options” and “Ready for Development.”

Upstream & Downstream Kanban To Do lists

“Selected Options” will be the end of your upstream process, whereas “Ready for Development” is the beginning of your downstream process.

Once you prioritize the most important things that have to be handled in your next iteration, you move these tickets to “Selected Options”. At this point, these are still options, they are not commitments. You only have the “what” and the “why” defined.

These work items can only become commitments once the team untangles the problem and defines the “how” part.

In solving for the “how,” the team will define the test cases, technical details, expected behavior, and all the other implementation criteria.

This is the point in time when they commit to delivering the work. The items now move to “Ready for Development” and are ready to be pulled into the delivery process.

Applying WIP Limits Is the Silver Bullet

To keep the conversation streamlined and effective, the amount of work that you bring to the discussion must be manageable.

And a simple but powerful way to do this is by imposing WIP limits on your two “To Do” columns.

And your WIP limits should be based on your past performance.

You want to specify the amount of work based on your own historical data because looking at the past is the best indicator of how much work your team will be able to deliver in their next iteration.

Let’s say your cadence is weekly – you want to figure out how many items per week your team is able to handle.

You can do this by using a Throughput Histogram: this tool shows you the number of completed items over a certain period – in this case, how many items have been finished in one week.

Using the average number of items completed you have a better idea of your team’s capacity. Use that number as a starting point for your WIP limits and adjust it as your delivery rate trends build over time.

Nave Kanban Dashboards: Throughput Histogram

In this example, we are analyzing the data for the past year. Looking into the numbers, there was just one week in which the team managed to finish 6 items, therefore that result is unlikely to occur.

On average, they completed 2 to 3 items per week, so a logical WIP limit choice in this situation would be 3.

The limit then for both “Selected Options” and “Ready for Development” will be 3 work items.

That way, when you move work to the “Selected Options” column, you’ll only add as much as the team is capable of handling during their next iteration.

So here is your action item: If you haven’t connected Nave to your management platform just yet, go ahead and do this right now

Create a dashboard with your data and analyze your Throughput Histogram. Use these insights to set WIP limits on your “To Do” columns. Then, during your planning meetings, move the work through the columns as your team commits to delivering it.

I hope this article gave you a helpful perspective on how you can draw out the various expertise, viewpoints and insights of all your team members to solve your customers’ problems in the most feasible way possible.

Thanks for tuning in, and I look forward to seeing you next week for more managerial goodness!

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