It was early 2010. We – the Digite management team – were gathered at one of our management review meetings across US and India. It was probably late night for us here in the US – and we were doing a review of the status of development of our new platform – codenamed Gandiva – that was to be the next generation foundation for all our products.
As is common, we were running late. There had already been multiple postponements of the platform itself. And delivering a product on top of it seemed even more distant!!
AVS (AV Sridhar – our CEO) had been listening intently as things got tossed back and forth between different team members – and we tried to figure out when we would be done with the project. Finally, he could take it no more.
“Guys! Enough is enough! We have been working on this for over 2 years. You guys have been giving me one reason or another for the delay. And we are nowhere in sight of a product being launched! I am giving you till the end of the year – we need to launch a product by then. You guys decide what the product will be – but I need it launched!”
“It was a dark and stormy night…” – Snoopy, the irrepressible beagle of the Peanuts/ Charlie Brown comics fame would have typed… 🙂
I believe THAT was the moment that the kernel of the seed of the idea of the product that would be SwiftKanban was born!
“What Agile product?”
We’d been struggling for some time to play catchup with the rest of the Agile tool companies. Between 2002 and 2008, we’d been trapped by the success of our own SwiftEnterprise product that was being lapped up by IT Services and SI companies – both in India and in the US. SwiftEnterprise was a great Enterprise Project/ Program Management product – with amazing capabilities to build a wide range of process templates and use them to launch large technology and software projects in days instead of the usual weeks or even months it would take these companies to launch large customer engagements.
But the one thing it lacked was a strong Agile module. Thanks to its basic architecture, some of the key features needed by a Scrum/ Agile team were missing. While we had a rudimentary Scrum module in it, it was a far cry from what the competition offered.
As we discussed that night, and for a few days after that, we realized that if we just launched another Scrum-based agile tool, we would be playing catchup for a long time. So we had to do something different, something new.
Discovery (of) Kanban!
It was around then that we had started to hear about Kanban. During one of our usual review meetings, one of our Product Managers – Nitin Ramrakhyani said “There’s something new called Kanban. We should look at it.” My partner in crime, Ram Subramanian started to share articles on Kanban coverage in the media. We saw a few competing names crop up, including Leankit. Our CTO Dr. Ramesh Patil and at the time, our head of engineering, Sudipta Lahiri started to figure out what needed to be done on the new platform – Gandiva – in order to build a Kanban product on top of it.
We began to research Kanban in earnest. As luck would have it, I was speaking at the SEPG North America conference that year in Charleston, SC. As I finished my session and walked the conference floor, I noticed a room with attendees overflowing outside the room. I decided I had to check out who the speaker was who was drawing such a crowd. As I pushed my way thru the crowded doorway, I heard the speaker’s clear voice with a distinctly Scottish (“or one those strange British dialects” I thought to myself) accent – wrapping up the session – and I heard the magic words “the Kanban Method”!
I waited for the post-session group of people who stayed back to talk to the speaker – and at the end, went and introduced myself. I explained that I was cofounder of a company that had just started building a Kanban product. That caught his attention and we chatted briefly. That’s how we met David J Anderson the very first time. We exchanged cards. He told me to read his book on Kanban and that was that. And the rest, as they say, is history!
It was in the next conference soon after (SEPG Europe), that we decided to work closely with David and what was known at that time as the LSSC and have a greater involvement in the Kanban community.
In August 2010, as the product took shape, we argued over what should our product be called. We tried out a variety of different names that implied agility, speed, flow, continuity and so forth. Finally, it was AVS who came up with the idea of “Swift” – and as we toyed around with the various candidates, we decided that was the best name we could adopt!
As I think about it – and having gone through a ton of emails to nudge my memory, I realize it was real allround team work with Digite – and with a lot of help from David, Janice Linden-Reed and a number of others who were part of the LSSC – that helped us launch SwiftKanban!
Our first Test Drive!
With David’s help, we identified Lean Kanban Western Europe (Belgium) as the first conference where we would showcase SwiftKanban Beta. That was in September 2010. Even tho’ we labeled it Beta – it was probably closer to Alpha 🙂
We got some great early feedback on the product that helped us understand user and customer expectations and some of the challenges with the tools that were already out by then! It also gave us some real insights on how and when teams become ready to explore electronic Kanban boards rather than physical ones. A key aspect was just managing complex workflows in an elegant manner to provide the kind of analysis that teams wanted to be able to get.
Thanks to that conference, one of our earliest – if not the first – customers happened to be in Europe – and also helped us connect with some of the Kanban community members in Europe early on.
Kanban at Home
While we were learning through our interaction with customers and the Kanban community, we were also applying the lessons learned to our own development practices. And as soon as we have a working version of SwiftKanban, we implemented Kanban in earnest within our own Product Management and Development organization.
(Images courtesy: Kanban University/ KeepCalms.com)
The results were dramatic for us!
Within a few months, our release cadence went from several months to several weeks. Our planning and prioritization improved gradually and we started to become better at sizing our features and user stories in a way that helped us work in shorter cycles. Release scope was – and still is somewhat flexible. We simply made releases when we were ready – usually anywhere between 3-5 weeks in those early days (we have now been at a 2-week cadene for years now!)
More importantly, as we gradually migrated from a once-in-4-6 months release cycle to once in 3-5 weeks, our company’s internal discourse changed rapidly. It was no longer critical to plan for each release months in advance – and “freeze specs” as we were used to. Instead, we learned to handle changing priorities and last minute scope changes with equanimity.
We learnt the significance of WIP Limits and “Stop Starting. Start Finishing!”. In the leadership team, we stopped worrying about meeting scope commitments. Instead we focused on understanding what our customers were looking for and ensuring that each release was planned based on an almost ‘up to the last minute – last responsible moment!” – inputs from customers, sales and support teams.
Over the years, our Dev Kanban Board has gone through several iterations of design. And we have also shifted left. Our product management processes have adopted upstream/ portfolio kanban principles helping us manage our product road map visually and much more smoothly than we used to earlier!
Customer and Partner Community
While our first GA version was ready by the spring of 2011, it was only in the fall of 2011, that we finally launched the production version of SwiftKanban!
Our first test came at the LSSC conference in Long Beach, California – the earlier version of the Kanban conferences that the Kanban University currently sponsors.
Did we make a good impression there? I will let you decide based on this incredible story. In April 2019, Magazine Luiza’s (Magalu for short – one of the largest retail organizations in Brazil ) LuizaLabs decided to implement SwiftKanban. When Ram and I went there for the first time to do the initial training and onboarding, I asked the head of their Agile team, Henrique Imbertti, how they’d found us. He said he’d seen us first at the 2011 LSSC in Long Beach, California!! That was 8 years back! He said – “I saw your product at that time and I liked it! And have been following you ever since!” We had a hearty laugh and agreed that that had to be the longest sales cycle in Digité’s history!
Over the years, we have met with and built great friendships and relationships with some amazing customers and Agile/ Kanban community members globally who have encouraged us, supported our work, given us ideas, feedback and insights that have helped us grow not only SwiftKanban, but also our own understanding of the Lean/ Agile domain and market – and how to approach the market to provide the best combination of tools, solutions and services that best help each and every company who chooses Digité as their software vendor.
Over the years, we have also had the good fortune to be able to give back to the Kanban community, sponsoring conferences and other events, organizing an almost unbroken series of Kanban webinars and panel discussions, setting up local Meetups in India and much more – and we have been the better for it!
SwiftKanban Over the Years
Since its launch in the summer of 2011, we have grown the overall functional footprint while striving to keep it’s UI and user experience (UX) upgraded and its performance, security and scalability top-notch. In that process, we have faced the typical challenge that software vendors face – of continuing to enhance our product while keeping it simple and intuitive – and often the criticism of our well-wishers who only want the best for us, a number of times. And as a result, we have benefited!
Here’s a quick recap, a rewind and fast forward of some key milestones for us over the years –
2011 – SwiftKanban GA version launched
2012 – Scrum/ Scrumban support in SwiftKanban
2013 – Card Hierarchy with % Progress, Portfolio Kanban
2014 – Board Playback, Blocker Clustering/ Blocker Analysis, User-level WIP Limits
2015 – Enterprise Service Planning Support, SwiftESP launched
2016 – Portfolio Lane with % Progress Tracking, Personal Kanban/ Home
2017 – Upstream/ Discovery Kanban, Forecast Completion Dates
2018 – Card Data/ Flag Data Pivot Tables, ChatBot, Team Dynamics
2019 – Dependency Management, Improved Onboarding
2020 – MS Teams/ Zapier integrations, Story Mapping, Roadmapping, Portfolio Column
2021 – Business Rules, AI-driven Similar Cards, Sample Metrics, New Board Layout
And with that, we have SwiftKanban 10.0 just launched!!
If you are already a SwiftKanban user, we hope – and are confident – you will like it. If you don’t, please do share your feedback with us so we can improve!
If you are not a user yet, please consider giving it a try. If you love Kanban and the promise of the Kanban Method, we promise – you will not be disappointed!
Once again, thank you for all your love and support through the years – and we look forward to continuing the exciting journey together for many more.
Co-founder/ CMO/ Kanban Coach & Trainer