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Kanban – light and agile work management method

Posted in Kanban

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a lightweight work management method that focuses on just-in-time delivery of functionality and management of work in progress. The goal is to maintain a steady flow so that tasks progress and things are not done unnecessarily in storage.

Benefits on Kanban

Flexible

The Kanban system is based on existing processes and roles. Team do not phase work into Sprints, as in Scrum. Team and customer assess the priorities for the tasks on weekly basis based on the latest information.

Focuses on continuous delivery

The development team delivers changes one piece at a time. The priority of pieces, i.e. user stories, can be adjusted weekly based on customer feedback.

Reduce unnecessary work

A well-designed Kanban system helps teams identify and reduce wasted time. Any work that does not add value to the customer is useless work:

  • Work not needed (oversized development queue)
  • Work that does not meet the acceptance criteria
  • Duplicate work
  • Administrative costs that do not add value to the process
  • Time spent doing the wrong user story (user story value / priority is incorrectly estimated)

Increase productivity

People focus better on the essentials when unnecessary work is not done. The team is constantly improving its practices based on feedback and metrics.

Starting with Kanban

Describe existing process

Describe how organisation transforms idea into a production publication. By what criteria does the matter move forward in the process? Illustrate the result on the Kanban board.

Focus on quality

High quality has a big impact on team productivity. Improve quality with:

  • high quality user stories, and their reviews
  • through close communication between the team and the customer
  • testers who find bugs before they end up in production
  • unit tests that allow automatic regression testing
  • frequent code reviews
  • design models that provide a known solution to a known problem
  • development environments that provide tools for static and dynamic code analysis

Limit the amount of work in progress

Limit work in progress (WIP) and define criteria for when team can take work to the next step in process.

kanban flow diagram
Kanban flow diagram

The graph shows that work in progress has a direct dependence on lead time. Longer lead times, on the other hand, are often associated with poorer quality.

By reducing the work in progress, or by shortening the length of the iterations, a higher quality result is achieved.

Deliver often

Changes can be submitted more often when lead times are shorter. Frequent deliveries improve trust between the supplier and the customer. In addition, quality assurance is easier when the changes are small and simple.

Keep team performance and customer demand in balance

If, for example, the team is able to deliver 20 changes to production in a month, then no more should be required. In this case, therefore, the WIP would be 20 (all open positions in the Kanban table).

Don’t overload the team

Developers can use their free time to respond to urgent requests and improve the process.

Simplify prioritization

Ask the business what they want the team to do next when there is room in the work queue. Provide them with reliable lead time and performance metrics to support their decision.

Measure and improve

Does the current Kanban system work?

The cumulative flow graph shows work in progress at each stage of the system. If the Kanban system flows properly, the areas of the chart should be smooth and their height should be stable.

What is the lead time for different service categories?

How quickly did we get the development task from order to production? If it belonged to the standard class, did we deliver it within the target time?

The best way to display this data is throughput time spectrum analysis, which describes the dispersion of lead times for different service categories.

Did we deliver the changes on time?

Measure delivery accuracy on a monthly basis. You can also compare monthly results with previous year’s results.

What is team performance?

Performance is expressed as the number of changes delivered over a period of time, such as one month. Performance should be reported as a trend over time. The goal is to increase it constantly. The performance metric is very similar to Scrum’s velocity metric. It shows how many changes were completed over a period of time.

What is the quality level of the team’s production releases?

How much do we fix production errors per month?

Determining the amount of work in progress (WIP)

The WIP may initially be the number of persons performing the phase multiplied by 1.5.

One product owner specifies the changes with support of the team (11.5 -> WIP 2). Five developers are implementing the changes (51.5 -> 8). One person ensures the quality of the implementation (1*1.5 -> 2)

Kanban board
Kanban board

Based on a few months of metrics, team can adjust WIP figures so that flow is as smooth as possible. Example:

  • A: Average pace / month / person
    • Specify: 10
    • Implement: 2
    • Validate: 4
  • B: Slowest pace (smallest number in step A)
    • Implement: 2
  • C: Number of persons in step B
    • Implement: 5
  • D: Phase B performance (B*C)
    • Implement: 10
  • E: The number of people needed to match the performance in step B (D/A)
    • Specify: 1
    • Implement: 5
    • Validate: 3
  • F: WIP limits (E* 1.5 rounded up)
    • Specify: 2
    • Implement: 8
    • Validate: 5

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