Kanban, as any other methodology, isn’t a silver bullet. There are situations and teams when it shows its full potential but there are others where its impact will be limited. Where Kanban suits best then?
It is said Scrum works best with teams of 7 or close to this size. Sometimes we deal with smaller groups. 3 people working on a project isn’t something very uncommon. For such micro-sized teams Scrum is often too formalized. You can limit a number of rules you follow and still keep good quality. And you have a bit more time to do the real work.
Frequent priority changes
“Walking on water and developing software from specifications are easy if both are frozen.” Unfortunately we deal with a lot of changes as we build software. There are new features; importance of tasks changes, new top priority bugs requires instant attention. Our response is moving to more flexible approaches. We try to avoid BDUF projects. We switch to agile methods employing short iterations. We even make iterations shorter and shorter. It allows us to change priorities frequently. Once every couple of weeks if we take typical Scrum implementation.
The problem is when priorities happen to change even more frequently. Once every few days. Or even every single day. And yes, there are such projects. Kanban is a great answer for them. Feel free to change priorities every day. As long as it is well-grounded it shouldn’t ruin your project.
A typical maintenance project routine looks like this:
- Whenever high-priority bug is submitted fix it as soon as possible
- Low-priority bugs becomes high-priority ones when resolution deadline approaches; then see above
- Whenever a client orders change request (CR) and there’s no high-priority bugs – try to do it as soon as possible
- If there are more than single concurrent CR ask project manager about priorities
- If there are no bugs or CRs do some refactoring or other improvement job
Sounds like ideal Kanban playground, doesn’t it? That’s typical case of event-driven development (not event-driven programming) where you don’t actually have a roadmap or something but you do whatever new day brings. After all you don’t expect to have a bug submitted tomorrow, or do you?
Multiple small projects
Working on several rather small projects or sub-projects with the same team at the same time is pretty difficult. Resources (what a nice name for your people) are usually insufficient since it is harder to synchronize stream of small orders to keep it at the same level all the time and bringing more people just-in-case isn’t the best business strategy around. This ends up with (surprise, surprise) a lot of priority changes and trade-off games. “We can complete this additional project on time but we’d fail to meet a deadline here or there.”
With standard structured project management approaches coordinating different threads with ever-changing priorities becomes pretty much a hell. What Kanban does is it organizes workflow so the main, well almost the only, thing you should care about is setting priorities at the beginning of workflow.
The common part for all of environments above is they don’t require many constraints to work. Few simple rules which come with Kanban should be enough to get things done. Another common thing is mid- and long-term planning is hard or even close to impossible, which is another problem hardly resolvable with more structured approaches. These two things are the most specific for environments where Kanban shows its full potential.
This isn’t really a post which is a part of the Kanban Story but if you found it interesting you should like the story as well.