Maturing the Kanban board

Organizations new to Kanban that have no experience with Agile usually find it easier to design their kanban boards than those with Agile background because Kanban recommends the board to reflect the actual process rather than an abstraction.

Compare for example Board 1a, quite common in agile practices, with Board 1b.

Board 1a

Kanban Board

Board 1b Kanban Dev Board

This is a good start. As we all know, a project’s behavior changes over time. This means the Kanban board should keep up with those changes, but unfortunately, many Kanban organizations don’t go about keeping the board up to date and that has undesirable consequences such as fake visualization and forcing the real process to adjust to he board process. Both of them affect quality and value delivery. Oh but there’s more to it. We miss big time on the identification of opportunities for improvement.

I will illustrate the benefits of keeping the board up to date through a real case. One of my customers is a small Telecom business that provides technical services to some of the biggest Telecoms in the world. The very first coaching session I gave them right after finishing Kanban training consisted on helping them create their first functional Kanban board. As a coach I didn’t build the board for them, of course, but rather had them create it providing guidance as I saw it necessary.

During that session I realized that the last portion of their process was convoluted so I decided to dig into process details with them rather than focusing on creating the board. Throughout the discussion the team agreed that part of the process was sub-optimal and I made a recommendation which we agreed upon and so the first Kanban board was created reflecting the actual process but already suggesting a small but important change at the end. The change had to do with the customer verification phase.

I visited them to do a second round of coaching and was very pleased to see they had modified the board to be a show on Board 2a. I asked to a team member to explain the board to me and he did a pretty good job; and at the same time I noticed some hesitation explaining the sub-column labeled “Pending”. I decided the to dig in to it. Discussing this with the team it became clear that it had to do with dependencies they had with their subcontracted providers as well as with internal dependencies, and their cycle time was being affected by it.

Board 2a Kanban Task Board

I then suggested to them to further visualize “Pending”. The result was Board 2b. We added a new column to visualize de 3 subcontracted providers and also kept de original sub-column which was to be used only for internal dependencies.

Board 2b Kanban Board Dependencies

This change allowed to better understand the behavior of each subcontractor a well as to see how the customer was taking care of its own dependencies. The subcontractors behavior was quantified (the rest of the process had been quantified before from the beginning) and that allowed to show them how their response time affected final delivery.

This motivated the subcontractors to improve, one of them started adopting Kanban also, and that resulted in significant improvement on delivery to customer. This also motivated a behavioral change on the team itself to take care of their internal dependencies more efficiently. The rend result was an increase of on-time delivery to customer from 86% to 99%.

Additional benefits surfaced from this such as the obtention of more contracts without having to increase staff.
– Masa K Maeda


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