Productivity Using Kanban: Part 2

Productivity Using Kanban: Part 2

By Jess Morgan, Sr. Manager, Information Technology Applications

Sequels are rarely as good as the original, but someone thought it was worth it to have a part two.  Darn, not very compelling. Let me try again. Following my first AMC blog post on Kanban, I’m picking up where I left you, still curious about Kanban, perhaps seeking encouragement to take the first step into having a board of your own one day.

My intention is not to convince you to use Kanban, but if you’re interested in learning more, please continue reading. I’m going to expand on a few items from the original blog that I painted with broad brush strokes. Disclaimer: these aren’t rules of Kanban as much as tips on how to work within the Kanban structure and battle some of the more challenging areas.

One of the biggest challenges and greatest rewards of Kanban is learning how to prioritize. Spoiler alert: there is no right or wrong way. The key to prioritization, as an individual or a team, is examining the thought process behind what you consider important. Importance is such an ambiguous and relative term. I have a better word. Let’s talk about value. What did I say? Value? Yes, the absolute goal of Kanban is to deliver and complete work of value. I guess I lied, there is a right way to prioritize. The right way is any way that directly aligns to how your team (or you) deliver value. 

As I mentioned in my first article, you should not try to prioritize everything. As and when work arrives, it either goes into ready or backlog. If you can act on it now and it should be acted on now, it goes to ready.  If it needs analysis or if it can wait, put it in backlog. If you are working in a team, the team must agree on prioritization in order for Kanban to be effective. This doesn’t happen magically! It’s called conversation and it will involve debates, rules, and exceptions. Spend an ample time understanding what drives your work and what delivers value. 
Next up, that pesky WIP limit concept. We all take on more than we should at any given time. Right now as I type this, I have committed to far more than I can complete and on my current trajectory, unless something changes, I will most likely get NOTHING done on time and have no wins to my name. So I’m preaching to myself as much as I am to you. I only hope we both get the message. 

How do you dig yourself out of having too much in progress and little or nothing completed? First get all the stuff on a board – or your desk, a whiteboard—some place where you can see it all. This is the start of your Kanban. Write a due date if the date is fixed. Add a nice summary so you don’t have to think too hard about what it is. Once you have them written down, go through the items and decide if any can be postponed by having a simple conversation to reset expectations. Find a few? Great, put those back to the backlog.  What’s the backlog? It’s the very left side of your workspace and it contains items not yet ready to be worked on. Feel free to label it. On these backlogged items, take some notes down about what you’ve done to date, anything that will help you remember where to start when you pick it up again. 

Next, go through the remaining items and decide if there are any that someone else CAN do. Don’t worry about bandwidth for now, but focus on skillset and capability. Put those in another area and put a colored dot on them. What you have left are things that must be done and must be done by you. If there are still too many, find any that you have the capability to complete in a short amount of time.  Move them to the top, right side of the work area. From here, you have actionable items that you can complete to reduce your workload. 

Mini Kanban

Jess shares her streamlined Kanban board after following her own advice!

For the other must be done and must be done by you items, line them up in order of priority (value). For the items with the colored dots, invite capable people over to your work area for a “stand up” session and auction off the work. Once you have done this, you will realize that you don’t want to have to dig yourself out again and will obey the WIP limit (yeah, right, we’re human). As I keep reminding myself, the goal is not to START as much as possible, it is to FINISH as much as possible. If that sounds familiar, I just quoted myself from my first blog. With that thought in mind, I’m going to go finish something. You should, too!

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