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.

Challenges include:

  • 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.

 
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Outline/structure of the Session

What are visual systems?
Overview of work visualization using Kanban systems
Challenges and sources of resistance to using Kanban systems
Challenges in teaching Kanban
How the Kanban Holiday Card Simulation works
What learning emerges?
Why does it work?
How will this knowledge benefit my organization?

Learning Outcome

Attendees will learn to recognize sources of resistance to using Kanban systems and strategies to overcome that resistance using hands-on, practical techniques and simulation that enables people to practice using Kanban systems in a safe environment. Attendees will be presented with a list of learning patterns that have emerged from many runs of the Kanban Holiday Card Simuation that they can take and apply to their own teams.

Target Audience

Anyone desiring to stand up effective Kanban systems but unsure where to start; includes those who work in software, business, operations, non-software IT services, and people simply interested in managing their personal tasks in a more humane way

schedule Submitted 1 year ago

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  • George Dinwiddie
    By George Dinwiddie  ~  1 year ago
    reply Reply

    Nate, you mention a simulation but tagged this as a talk.

    • Nate Conroy
      By Nate Conroy  ~  1 year ago
      reply Reply

      This is a talk describing the results of having run this simulation with a large number of classes. Will work on the title wording and tags to make that clear. Thanks!


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