How to Optimize your Kanban Implementation?

Kanban project management method has been implemented widely in the last decade. And majorly without the full understanding of what Kanban method actually prescribes.

Most users are just driven by the quick fix that it is highly visual task management and makes it easy to understand where tasks stand and how to close them fast.

Teams put a few status columns to represent their task flow and begin with “agile task management”.

Well, this is exactly what Kanban is not!

Kanban is all about the flow – the way your work or processes flow today.

As a first step you need to take a holistic view of how your work flows today, is it in align with the end goal i.e. meeting customer expectations.

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Kanban is developed with a service oriented approach enabling teams to meet customer expectations timely and consistently.

Making your work easier is just a side benefit and not the objective of using Kanban.

With that in mind, let us focus on how we can optimize the use of Kanban for our teams, improve our service delivery and knock those customer satisfaction ratings out of the park!

Kanban

Review your current flow

Before implementing Kanban it is important that you take a hard look at your exiting process and the flow today.

The flow is nothing but the steps that your tasks or key activities (work items) go through from start to end.

You must identify few things in your flow

  • Types of activities
  • States/status through which each of these activities flow
  • Lead time of each activity
  • Work items delivered per cycle
  • Work in Progress activities

Types of activities or Work Items –are your distinct activities that you perform to deliver your services. You must identify all relevant activities and club them accordingly.

States and Status – Not all activities have the same lifecycle. Hence the need to club and optimize the states to refer to on your Kanban board.

Lead Time – the time taken from start to end to complete one activity.

Work Items delivered per cycle –it is the number of activity types or items you delivered in a specified time. E.g. no. of tickets closed per week

Work in Progress Activities – your active queue at any given point of time.

Once you have understood the above, you can now identify the gaps and loopholes in your current process and see what needs improvement.

It can be the, #of work items delivered per cycle or the work in progress activities or reduction in the lead time.

Hence a thorough understanding and review of your existing operations is a must to start with.

Remember Kanban is not a rule, it is an approach and guidelines that evolve with every experiment.

Optimize the flow

This is where you try to fix things, make improvements and implement helpful changes.

Basically, once you have identified problem you are going to fix you try an experiment with changes to the existing flow.

e.g. you want to optimize the cycle time and ensure each activity is closed within 2 days instead of 4.

Here, you check what are the impediments, and try a process that either removes that impediment, minimizes it or circumvent if found to be not applicable.

The idea here is to see if the experiments are successful and if yes you continue that path else revert the changes.

The key objective of using the Kanban method is to ensure timely and consistent results. E.g. you know each week you will deliver 100 items or 5 new features etc.

And all of this is directly tied to the customer expectations. Predictability is the desired outcome here so that customers know what to expect at end of each cycle.

Make the teams self-organized

One of the hallmarks of the agile project management approach is self-organized and self-sufficient teams.

With the Kanban board in place, teams know their tasks, are ready to pull tasks in their queues when ready and ensure not to push to prevent choking of the other states on the board.

Every member is aware of who is doing what, what is expected to complete when and when something will come to their queue.

The high transparency in the overall system enables teams to perform and deliver predictably.

This leads us to another key concept of “Limit WIP Items” – the hallmark of the pull system.

To maintain consistency in your quality of service and delivery rates, it is important that your flow isn’t chocked up with a high WIP items.

Hence, assessing the team’s strengths and its delivery rate is critical to an optimized Kanban implementation.

As an analogy, if the highway is full to its maximum capacity in terms of no of vehicles then the result is a traffic jam. Hence, a 100% utilization is not preferred. There has to be slack in the system to prevent delays and ensure quality deliverables.

Take feedback and Collaborate

Constant customer and stakeholder feedback is a must to optimizing the overall Kanban approach.

As you continue to experiment with improving your core Kanban metrics as explained above, implement a closed loop feedback mechanism.

See what worked well, which results though good weren’t the customer’s first choice and how did the teams react to the changes in the experiment.

Was there a performance dip instead of improvement?

Did the quality improve but lead time increased?

These answers will pave the way for accepting the changes to the existing flow or experimenting further.

Kanban is not about radical big bang actions. It is agile, iterative and evolves as you make progress.

Feedback will lead to removal of major impediments, refining the flow, add or remove states from the work item flow. All of which are important to delivering consistently and meeting the customer objectives.

Common feedback tools used are daily stand up or review meetings, retrospectives and planning meetings to pick up what to work on next.

It is the feedback mechanism that makes the whole process all the more inclusive and leads to increased team collaboration and productivity.

Summary

Focus on incremental changes so that the team is able to run with the changes smoothly. Keep in mind that changes are not meant to disrupt a system that work fine though with scope of improvements.

 

The whole concept of Kanban is to deliver with predictability to meet customer expectations.

And not to put a group of statuses and knocking off tasks from the list.

True that Kanban project management helps with quick visualization of your task boards and progress but that doesn’t solve the bigger objective.

As a recap

  • Review existing flow
  • Optimize your flow
  • Enable teams to be self-organized
  • Take feedbacks, collaborate and improve incrementally.

Sure, you would need a Kanban project management tool to help you with the implementation.

Take a look at Orangescrum collaborative task management software with robust agile project, time and resource management capabilities in a single platform.

Sign up for a no commitment 14 day free trial today!

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