Do you find yourself or your team members stuck on the same task for days, blocked but don’t know how to move on? Helpless but don’t know how you can make things move?
Or do you spend just too much time each day, always interrupted by your supervisor or other team members, wanting to know the status of an item or simply checking up to make sure you are working hard to complete an item on time?
If you’ve ever worked in a team under a supervisor, I’m sure we’ve all once faced the same problems. And maybe, Kanban may just be the answer to how you can work out these problems and improve your team’s performance.
As part of the Content Management Team at Titansoft, I’ve worked closely with many development teams practising Scrum. Through the experience of working with them, we’ve picked up many useful Scrum practices like the concept of Sprints, Definition of Done, Scrum board and more. These practices helped us greatly in improving the processes running within the team, and bring the focus to the product increments we deliver. But we’ve always felt our Scrum board was a little lacking and less than effective.
Not long ago, we’ve talked about Kanban being evolution, not revolution. Early this year, we started to introduce the Kanban concept to the team. Together, we built up our first Kanban board — uniquely-designed to visualise our team’s workflow. After months of running Kanban in the team, I’ve put together what we have learned so far on our team’s Kanban journey: 8 ways how you can use Kanban to improve your team’s performance.
1. Visualise everything
As a team lead or supervisor, you are probably interested in what each team member is working on at the moment. As a team member, you would want to know what other team members are working on at any point of time, either to offer a helping hand if you could or to start collaborating on something else if they are able to do so.
And this is exactly what Kanban can help you on. Through Kanban, our team is able to visualise what each one of us is working on right now, what has the team finished and what needs to be done next.
2. Limit waste
By limiting the work in progress items, you keep your team at a steady pace and prevent overload or waste. Stop your team from over multitasking and bring them back to the focus of delivering only what is absolutely necessary. We’ve found this Just-in-Time (JIT) concept to be extremely valuable in improving our team’s productivity.
3. Drive focus
Kanban encourages many practices that strive on improving overall team’s productivity over individual’s performance. It’s crucial for a leader to identify and maximise these opportunities to achieve the team’s goals. In our team, we find it useful to highlight the daily focus during daily stand-ups to emphasise what exactly needs to be done at the end of our work cycle (i.e. think Scrum sprint length) so team members can work together to achieve these goals.
4. Define a shared definition of done
By specifying a Definition of Done criteria for each Kanban column, you are subtly giving a minimum standard for each item before it can move downstream. I find this useful in explaining to the team, the minimum to be done at each workflow stage and it also stands to be one of the 5 core principles of Kanban: Make processes and policies explicit. It makes co work easier because everyone now has the same understanding over team’s definition for quality and manage expectations.
5. Increase accountability
Avatars on your Kanban board can help in reminding and informing everyone what is going on. Using avatars, you can encourage members to move to this work item to get it done if the workflow stage WIP is met and all other stories are visualised as blocked.
6. Ask questions & facilitate discussions
The visualised Kanban board is also an excellent vehicle for the team to raise questions and bring out points for discussions. In our team, we take a short break nearing the end of each day to discuss the progress for the items on our Kanban board. We also talk about rules on how and when to pull in new items ready for the next day. Frequent discussions help the team to identify if changes are required to keep improving the current Kanban.
7. Strive for continuous improvement
Kanban promotes continuous improvement. If it works, improve it. If it doesn’t, change and talk about it next time. At the start of our early adoption of Kanban, our team went through many discussions to make changes to make our board work for us. It can be a big change like adding new workflow stages or smaller ones like adjusting the WIP numbers. We even jot down these changes on a little post-it next to our board so we could talk about what works or what doesn’t. The team adopts the try-and-see mindset when designing our Kanban workflow steps. If it does not work out, then change!
8. Know your lead time
There are many good things we can learn from adopting Kanban, and one of them includes a measurement metric called “lead time”. By encouraging the team to measure lead time for our items, we can evaluate and discuss ways to improve our workflows for similar items in the future. The Lead Time Chart tells the team the average amount of time it takes for a task to be processed from the time of request (and put on a board) to the final delivery point. It’s especially helpful to bring the charts up during discussions to find out ways the team could improve.
Of course, adopting any new work models or systems in a team requires a learning curve and firm commitment from all members. Next up, I’ll be sharing a little more on the obstacles and problems we have faced in our road towards Kanban! If your team has implemented Kanban or looking at ways to implement it, leave us your thoughts for discussion!