Here at Kantree, we’re often asked how to start using Kanban to organize work. Beginning from scratch can be tough. Without the right practices, it won’t be long before you leave your beautiful Kanban board untouched with all your team forgetting about it.
Follow these 3 simple tips and be sure to build a good system loved and used by everybody in your company.
## 1/ Start simple and adapt your board on-the-go
A Kanban board is about seeing your work flowing between different states as it goes all the way to the “finished” state.
The basic principle of a Kanban board is to have columns representing states and cards representing pieces of work. You’re goal is to move your cards in the columns that mirrors the state of your work. Thus, when you look at your Kanban board, you have a good overview of what’s going on in your team.
Now, if you don’t know where to start, you should go with the 3 basic state columns “To do”, “Doing”, “Done”. It will help you get a sense of what a workflow can be. Notice the one-way direction from left to right. It is a basic rule to visualize a workflow. As a river flows in one way, having work doing the same helps to identify the issues in your flow.
After that, write down your work tasks on cards and place them in the correct columns. Be sure that one card represents one independent chunk of work. You want to avoid dependencies between your cards. If you don’t, you’re hiding complexity in your Kanban board, and you could miss potential issues in your work processes.
Of course, you can (and you should!) customize this basic flow to adapt it to your way of working. Change it anytime, but be careful that all your team understands why when you do so (see the next section). What kind of columns you use depends on your existing workflow, type of work, and the structure of your team. It’s best to keep it simple, but you do have more control and can cover more scenarios with more columns.
Example of customized Kanban board for software team
But you’re not done yet with the Kanban method. If you stop now you will struggle having all your team using it efficiently.
## 2/ Setup clever Kanban policies
One important rule of the Kanban method is to set up policies on how to use your board. The other part of the rule is to make them clear for everybody in your team.
This is one of the most forgotten rule of Kanban and yet it is key if you want to get the best out of your board.
You should cover:
- What conditions a sticky note should meet to enter a column,
- What conditions a sticky note should meet to leave a column,
- How and why you’re setting a limit to the number of cards in a particular column
- And a lot of other information like who is able to move cards on your board, or when you should removing a card from the board…
You don’t have to be verbose, and explain every little details, but you should be clear enough so that all your team is understanding how to use the kanban board.
One of the most important is The definition of Done. If everybody agrees on what is a finished task, you should avoid a lot of issues (unfinished work that goes in production, unclear responsibilities and tension in your team…).
One other policy your should try is to apply a limit to the number of cards in your “Doing” column. It’s called a WIP (Work in progress) limit and I already mentionned it in my last post about kanban. Basically you don’t want to have more cards in your “Doing” column than people using your Kanban board. You want to force the focus on the work in progress to avoid leaving tasks in an unfinished state, and prevent multitasking. If done well, it will strengthen your workflow and improve your productivity.
3/ Don’t forget about feedback loops
Kanban board should not be set up once and left like that forever. As your company evolves, your processes will evolve too. Soon you will see room for improvements in your workflow and you will want to modify it.
So it’s a good practice to step back regularly, look at your kanban board and your work processes and make changes in your organization accordingly. It can be a new column. It can be to setup a new way to make out visually the different types of work in your board (with custom colored cards for instance), It can be a change in your policy.
These feedback loops are often overlooked in the Kanban methodology, but they help a lot to keep your kanban efficient in the long run.
With these 3 tips you will surely get the most out of your Kanban board.
So remember to:
- Start with a basic board and see how it is going.
- Let everybody understand how to use it by setting clear policies about your columns
- Try a WIP limit, you will seriously get addicted to it.
- Take time regularly to analyze your practices and make changes in your boards (the best is to set a recurring event in your calendar)
To start right away, we’ve configured a little board template for you to use with Kantree. You can find it here : Kanban template. Don’t hesitate to try it and modify it for your own use.
As always you can reach me on twitter @djeremh.
In my first article about well-known methodologies which have emerged from or have been assimilated by the agile movement, I would like to present the Kanban method.
Kantree was originally thought as a tool for Kanban which explains a part of our name :)
For about 10 years, Kanban has been quite popular as a change Management method to improve the way companies organize their workflow.
With this article, you will learn everything you need to know about Kanban and which are the best practices.
At the origin of Kanban
Back in the after-war japanese industry, the Kanban process was a signaling system.
It originated from Toyota’s Production System which was developed in the 1950s as an implementation of a lean manufacturing system.
Small paper cards, called kanban, were used to track demands and discover issues in the production flow.
An evolution of Kanban
Because of the work of David J anderson and the Kanbandev community, Kanban became an approach to incremental, evolutionary change for technology development/operations organizations.
It comes with 4 principles which recommend to start with the current state of the organization, acknowledge what already works great and improve what doesn’t, one step at a time. It also encourages to empower people to make these changes, thus enabling a Kaizen spirit to spread across the company.
Below, I will explicit each of these principles.
Start with what you do now
Beginning with Kanban doesn’t imply doing sweeping changes in the way you’re organized. It starts by trying to visualize the flow of value in your organization.
Then slowly, you will apply fixes in your systems to remove bottlenecks and maximize your flow.
Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary changes
To complete the first principle, the second one told us that changes should be as small as possible and always in a sense of continuity and evolution of the existing system. It helps disminishing resistance due to uncertainty and fear that could pop when changes are too brutal.
Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities & titles
The Kanban way of thinking recognizes value in the existing processes, roles, responsibilities and titles. The Kanban method encourages you to empower what is already working and only apply changes where it is truely needed. No Big Bang. The Kanban method try to reduce as much as possible emotional resistance to change.
Encourage act of leadership at all levels
Here you want to distinguish management from leadership. Everybody (not only managers) should be encourage to act as a leader and to become one. Leaders are people which are never satisfied with how good their work is and continuously try to improve. This mindset is often referred to as Kaizen, and everybody should be encouraged to foster it.
From successful Kanban implementations emerged best practices and advices. They were slowly added to the method.
It suggests you to setup a tool to visualise and measure how the work is flowing through the organisation (e.g. the kanban board).
To improve the predictability of your work delivery, you’re encouraged to implement some sort of pulling system by setting work in progress (WIP) limits.
Finally, it comes with some change management advices :
- make policies and processes explicit so that anybody knows them and can participate in improving them,
- prefer a scientific approach to reduce uncertainty in your changes,
- implement feedback loops to continuously monitor your system
Simple personal Kanban board via photopin (license)
What you should remember
Kanban is a great method to
- evaluate your organization processes and improve them
- improve the speed and predictability of your delivery through better workflow management
- having collaborators happier and committed to your project
- set up a Kaizen mindset and create a dynamic of continuous improvement
Kanban is not a project management methodology, but helps you improve your project management continuously.
The kanban board is one of the famous tool used to provide a workflow visualization, but the Kanban method shouldn’t reduce to it.
In my next article, I will talk about this board and how to successfully setup the method.
As always, don’t hesitate to give me feedback and discuss with me on twitter, @djeremh.
Julia Wester on Kanban: Julia provides a useful summary of what Kanban is.
Check out her other articles, you will learn a lot on agile methods.
Kenji Hiranabe on Kanban: back in 2008, Kenji wrote a fantastic piece of paper on Kanban and its origin in Lean Manufacturing in Japan. Still worth reading.
Interview with David J Anderson: It’s always worth reading David on Kanban. Check out his blog if you want to follow the future of Kanban.
When I start learning new things, I like to come back to its source and discover where it comes from.
When you look at the Agile movement history, every source is pointing to the Agile Manifesto, back in 2001.
At that time, a new project management methodology known as XP programming was trendy in software development.
Other methodologies referred to as “Lightweight methods” were also emerging.
17 active leaders involved in these communities decided to meet at Snowbird Utah February 11-13 2001 to discuss about what was in common or what was different between all these methods in the field of software development.
From these, emerged the agile manifesto, a statement of 4 values that capture the core ideas that all the participants shared during the meeting.
The agile movement was born.
The 4 agile values
Every value has the same syntactic construction: “statement A over statement B”.
This construction acts the necessity of reestablishing a new balance between the two statements. It is not a complete denial of statement B, neither it is an absolute supremacy of statement A. We should consider giving more importance to statement A than to statement B.
With that in mind, here there are:
When it comes to do some work, we often hide ourselves between our management processes and our tools.
We often forget that processes and tools are not working alone and that there are actually people who are still doing a major part of the work.
So work is all about people interacting with each others to complete some tasks.
In the late 90s, these interactions were really procedural because of work segmentation and specialization. Collaborators in big organizations were often working in silos and disconnected from the customers they served. Employees were mainly considered as valuable resources.
To overcome these communication problems, agile methodologies rely on frequent inspect-and-adapt cycles, on trust and respect between stakeholders, and on transparency of the data, actions and decisions.
Being agile is refocusing on people and how they work together. If you have it wrong, processes and tools won’t be of any use.
Working software over comprehensive documentation
In the typical waterfall approach, customers are audited to write down a requirements document. Then, the product is built while giving more documents to the customers about the production state. Then the product is tested and if tests passed, it is delivered to the customers.
The problem is that after the initial customer interviews, changes in requirements are hardly managed during the production process, and have to wait for the end of the build-test cycle.
So a lot of effort are wasted on deliverables that won’t fit customer needs.
Agile methods state that it is better to deliver working software at set intervals than docs about the production state. It means that you have to split up the end product in small pieces of working software that you can demonstrate to your customer.
This way, it is more likely you save time and effort working on useful deliverables, and get happier customers.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Linked to the previous statement, having customers engaged during all the design and production process, instead of at the contract negotiation only, helps producing meaningful products.
A contract isn’t a substitute for communication.
The Agile Manifesto acknowledge that succesfull company listen carefully to their customers at any time in their development process and are able to adapt to follow changes.
Responding to change over following a plan
Having a plan is great, being able to change it is better.
Processes tend to rigidify organization, leaving them unable to adapt to situations like a customer changing its mind.
Agile Methods assert that we should welcome change, instead of fighting it.
Most of the agile methods set up iterative and incremental production, to give some place to feedback and learn from them.
We lean to rigidify all our behaviors and processes to feel safer about uncertainty.
This behavior leads us to waste so much effort and time when things don’t go according to plan.
Moreover, team mates feel bad about producing wasted work, and customers don’t get what they asked for.
The Agile Manifesto stands for bringing back adaptability and flexibility to the table.
It promotes communication and collaboration between stakeholders, continuous improvement of the company and people, and iterative and incremental production on which feedback are asked for regularly.
This is something we deeply agree here at Kantree and we try to spread it in our work and product.
Useful readings on the subject
Martin Fowler on the origin of the Agile Manifesto: Martin was one of the 17 who wrote down the manifesto.
He shared with us the story of the event.
Jeff Sutherland on Agile Principles and values: Jeff, author of the Scrum methodology, looks back to the agile values and explains them with his work on Scrum
During my career as a web developper, I worked for a French tech company whose CTO was a true agile thinker. At that time, I wasn’t thinking too much about work organization and team management, and it was the first time I heard about agile methodologies. I could feel the difference in term of team efficiency, software quality and team happiness.
When I started building Kantree at Digicoop last year, I felt like I needed to put more thoughts on what it is to be agile, to better understand the values carried by the agile movement, and why it is transforming companies and people.
I spent the whole year studying the subject and I am still following all its trends.
This series of blog posts is covering everything you need to know about agile, from practical actionable advices on famous agile methodologies like Scrum or Kanban to more theorical articles about cooperation, workplaces … and above all, people.
If you need to remember anything at all from this series, it is that:
Agile is about caring about people, whether they are team mates, customers or yourself.
##Values beyond Agile
At Digicoop (the company behind Kantree), we believe that the workplace is changing. New ways of working are emerging and the Agile movement is just the beginning.
We believe the new trends in management are rooted in a desire of autonomy and responsibility from collaborators.
More autonomy implies a deeper involvement from collaborators. It requires transparency to ensure a clear vision of the situation and of the objectives.
It requires trust in your team, team mates and yourself.
It also requires processes which are adapted to each teams and which can evolve through time.
This is our values which I will share with you along the road.
##Join us in this awesome journey!
With this series, we want to help companies understand why it is important to take care about work organization and how an agile mindset can bring true benefits to you: better team productivity, better software quality, happier team, happier customers.
We’ll publish new post regularly to help you and your team achieve great things while being more and more agile. To get each post emailed to you as soon as it’s published, you can sign up for our newsletter.
Get in touch or send your questions to @djeremh.