The other day I had a discussion over a Kanban board design. A team has realized the board doesn’t reflect the way they work ideally. We started analyzing what happened. What did actually introduce a disconnection between the reality and the board? We ended up with quite an interesting conclusion. It appeared that the board showed the process as we’d like to see it. Unfortunately in reality the situation was far from optimal. The team wasn’t able to follow the “ideal” process even though they would like to do so.
A natural reaction was asking a question: should we keep the board as it is and try hard to adjust the way we work to the “right” way, or we should sort of degrade the board to sad reality.
First of all, I understand why this question pops up. We naturally want to keep the board “better” so as to help us improve our process. We expect the board to be the sign pointing toward the ideal.
Except Kanban improvements don’t happen this way.
Yes, you’ve already have my answer in the post title so you shouldn’t be surprised. The board should reflect the reality no matter how sad it is. The reason is simple: when you work with Kanban you make everyday decisions basing on what you see on Kanban board. Now, if the board lies you are likely to make wrong decisions.
We probably discuss decisions like “whether I should start building another feature or maybe help with testing the other one” or “are we ready to deploy it into production yet?” However, if such wrong decisions stack up they don’t do any good to you, your team or your project.
Not only is there hardly any improvements at all but you actively harm the project.
Kanban improvements work differently. People change their behavior or attitude basing on what they see on the board and constraints the board enforces on them and not because the board shows the ideal world. So first, there should be a change in the way the team works and only then we should adjust the board.
In other words the board should always reflect the reality.
If you liked this post you may also like the whole Kanban Story series, which is a documentary of one team’s adventure with Kanban.