Monday, October 29, 2012

Kanban: Assets and Liabilities

The next time you look at a Kanban board, pretend to be an accountant. Look through the eyes of an accountant. You'll probably see two columns like most accountants do - Assets and Liabilities.

Don't see them? 

Work that is "Done" or "Released" is an Asset. Companies make money when work is done. You'll probably find this on the right side of the board.

Now look to the left. Those are your liabilities. All this work that's "In-Progress" - they are liabilities. You can be proud of them, but they are not making you money. In fact, it's quite the opposite - they are burning money.

So what do you do with this knowledge?

Start converting your liabilities into assets. Don't add new work (i.e. increase liabilities), instead create more assets (i.e. complete work). Work from the right side of the board.

Stop starting, Start Finishing.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Daily Kanban Stand-up

Many teams transition to Kanban from other agile processes. And often,  they conduct the daily stand up just like they used to in their previous process. Since Kanban is an evolutionary method, in the beginning that's fine. However, very soon you'll find that changes are necessary.

Teams new to Kanban use the stand up like a status meeting - often taking turns to update the team on the status of  their "tickets".  Or, they keep it very Scrum like, typically answering the following questions, with some variation,  in a round robin format:

  1.  What did I accomplish yesterday?
  2.  What can I commit to doing today?
  3.  What are the impediments in the way?

While that may have been appropriate for your past agile process, of the three questions, only the last one is relevant in a Kanban stand up.

(1) is unnecessary because the cards on the board tell the story. The WIP (Work in Progress) is visual.

(2) is irrelevant because work will take whatever time it will take to get done. Committing to accomplishing the work will not necessarily make it faster. Often, that leads to heroic effort. In addition, the focus on completing the work that has been "committed" to can actually come in the way of continuous improvement.

So,  what should we discuss in the stand up? I'd suggest:

  1. Impediments: What's impeding us?
  2. Flow: What's the flow like?
  3. Kaizen - or "Continuous Improvement": What can we improve?

Let's take a deeper dive into these questions.

What's impeding us?
Impediments are in the way of getting work done. Impeded work items should be marked visually on the board - usually with a pink sticky on top of it. Team leads or managers should focus on getting these impediments removed as quickly as possible.

Note that you don't have to talk about which item is impeded - that's obvious from the board. The conversation should be around resolution.

What's the flow like?
Kanban looks at software engineering as a flow problem.  The board will show where the bottlenecks are and therefore what's preventing the team from accomplishing more. The conversation should be around smoothening the flow and what actions the team can take to relieve the bottlenecks.

What can we improve?
Kanban is an evolutionary method. It's success largely relies on a mindset that's looking to constantly improve. These do not have to be big changes and can be a series of small improvements. Having a brief conversation on this topic everyday will make it clear that it is everyone's responsibility to make the process better.  When suggestions for improvement come from the team (rather than from managers), there is greater ownership and more likelihood of success.

These are the core questions. Here are some additional practices for a successful standup:

Ensure the board is up to date before the stand up
Many teams also use electronic tools along with a board. It is important to keep the two synchronized. Before kicking off the stand up, ask the team if the board is synchronized.

Celebrate the small victories
The done column on  the board should ideally have two parts. Work done for the week (or an appropriate time period) and work done since the last stand up. You can now see what got done since yesterday. Call attention to what got done. Recognize the effort, if only for a moment. Bring your hands together. Yes - applaud and cheer.

Celebrate small victories and energize the team.  And move on.

Change facilitators
Encourage different team members to take on this responsibility. When you facilitate, you'll get a different perspective of the process. You'll also take more ownership and funnily enough, suggest more improvements.

End the stand up on a high note
 If you have a team song, team dance, a war cry - do it. It'll always elicit a laugh and keep good cheer.

 I'd encourage you to try these practices and improve on them. You should bring in your variations to the stand up around the core practices.

Remember - the goal is to continuously improve.