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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Pitfalls of Kanban Series: Wishful Thinking

Pitfalls of Kanban Series: Wishful Thinking post image

I find it pretty common that teams who adopt Kanban try to draw the ideal process on their boards. Not exactly the one they really follow, but the one they’d like to. It is thinking taken from prescriptive methods – since we have this ideal process we want to implement let’s just draw it so we know where we are heading to.

Bad news is that Kanban in general, and Kanban board specifically, doesn’t work that way. You may draw pretty much any process on your Kanban board, a better or a worse one, too detailed or too generic, or just simply different. However in each case data you get from the board won’t reflect reality.

The end result is pretty simple as with the board that is not up to date people will be making their everyday project decisions basing on a lie.

What more, drawing the ideal process on the board instead of one that team really follows brings additional pains. People are confused when it comes to work with the board, e.g. I’m supposed to do code review but I haven’t and won’t do it but hey, I should put an index card here because our process on the board says so.

As a result it is way harder to show value of Kanban board, people lose interest in updating it and whole Kanban implementation quickly deteriorates.

The first step to deal with the problem is admitting your process is less-than-ideal. Pretty often it means admitting your process is simply crappy. As funny as it may sound teams find it really hard to go past this step. We wish we were better and this wishful thinking blinds us.

Then it’s time to adjust the board so it reflects the way team works. It may be painful. I saw teams throwing out code review stage. I saw those throwing out all the testing stages. That didn’t mean they didn’t want to review code or test. That meant they weren’t able to do it consequently for majority of features they built.

Note: at this stage a pressure from the top may appear. How come that you aren’t testing? That’s outrageous! That just cannot be! Well, it is, so better get used to it for a time being because drawing the ideal process on the Kanban board is almost as useful as drawing unicorns there. If such pressure appears, you definitely want to resist it.

The final stage is continuous evolutionary improvement. If you track down root causes of suboptimal process you will likely find that your flow is unbalanced. If you want to balance the flow slack time and WIP limits should be your best friends. Treat them seriously. Don’t violate limits; don’t get tempted to use slack time to build new features.

This change won’t be fast but at least odds are it will be successful. Drawing results of your wishful thinking on the Kanban board will fail for sure.

Read the whole Kanban Pitfalls series.

in: kanban

1 comment… add one

  • Dave Nicolette June 27, 2012, 6:41 am

    I find that if we begin by doing a value stream map of the current process and then convert the map into a Kanban board (to a certain extent, just a different format for the same information), then it helps guide people toward depicting the true process instead of trying to craft a “perfect” one.

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