This is something I see very often and at least in a couple of flavors. The problem can be a team member who haven’t really bought the whole thing and see little value in updating all these stickies on the board every time something changes. It can be more a whole team’s thing – Kanban implementation has its leader, or a champion, and when they have a day off suddenly the board starts to deteriorate as people don’t feel pushed or obligated to update anything.
On a side note: I would put it on the same shelf in my mind as when Scrum teams don’t do daily stand-ups when a leader is out.
This issue is tricky as it doesn’t seem to be much harmful but, if tolerated, it basically renders the whole Kanban implementation useless. The first step we do with Kanban is we visualize all the work. Basing on that we make informed project decisions every single day (with help of WIP limits, explicit policies etc.)
Now, if the board isn’t up to date these decisions are made on a basis which doesn’t reflect the reality. We may violate the limits or cease to help a colleague with a critical issue not even knowing about that. This way, not only do we make suboptimal everyday decisions but we also cripple the biggest power of Kanban – its improvement mechanism.
Potential solutions of this problem depend on what flavor of the problem you face. If it is a single person you can work with them to convince them there is value in updated board for them too. You can also ask them to give everyone in the team a credit of trust and give a method a try for a few weeks or a couple of months. It usually is enough to turn them back into the light side of the force.
However, in the worst case scenario you last resort may be setting up a proxy who updates the board instead of a problematic person. It will be a hit on team’s morale (“we have someone who is treated differently”) but it’s a tradeoff some teams are willing to make. Especially that, eventually such person either changes their behavior or leaves a team.
If we think of a whole group not updating the board it is a signal that there’s little or no buy-in for the idea. Unless this can be changed most likely the Kanban implementation is doomed.
The way of getting team’s buy-in will of course depend on people. However, I find it pretty successful to ask the group to give the method a try. Of course considering there is a problem I believe Kanban can help to fix quickly. Thanks to simplicity of Kanban it doesn’t cost much hassle to “try it” and pretty often first results are rather quick as almost always teams have some low-hanging fruits in terms of improvements they can make – quick wins they just aren’t aware of.
Read the whole Pitfalls of Kanban series.