One weird trick to get your teams to visualize work, limit WIP, and adopt Kanban
Standing up a Kanban system seems simple enough. If you’re already a Kanban fan you know that simply visualizing a team’s work and limiting work in progress (WIP) can produce a consistent flow of completed work. Add measurements and explicit process policies to your Kanban system and teams see dramatic increases in throughput, lower operating costs, and capacity perfectly tuned to demand of their customers.
Yet, despite this promise, a team's use of their Kanban system can languish. Why? The challenges are simultaneously more basic yet more difficult to overcome than one might think.
This session will first identify common sources of resistance you are likely to encounter, drawing on the presenters’ real world experiences with a federal organization in which all software projects deliver using agile methods and a majority of projects have adopted Kanban.
- Establishing sufficient personal safety to make work visible
- Facilities e.g. “Where could we put a board? Are we allowed to put things on the wall?”
- Learning the mechanics of a pull system
- Sticking to WIP limits
- Evolving a team culture that values finishing work over starting work and throughput over utilization
Next, we will share what we’ve learned about making Kanban relatable through the hands-on Kanban Holiday Card Simulation, which has been run in 17 training classes with 330 federal staff from a variety of professional disciplines. In the simulation, students define a workflow for sending out holiday cards, create a Kanban board to represent that workflow, and carry out the work of a family producing cards while visualizing their work on the board and limiting WIP. We impose just one teensy rule that ensures the process has a constraint. Then, let the learning begin!
Profoundly, we have time and again observed students’ emergent discovery of the Theory of Constraints and subsequent uncovering of 4 actions that may be taken to speed the flow of work through any constraint.
We will describe how this simple, non-technology simulation provides a safe space to create and run a Kanban system and can give your teams the courage, practical experience, and permission to create Kanban systems when they return to their real jobs – whether their sphere of influence extends to creating a board to track just their own work, their team’s work, or the work of a whole organization.