Tag Archives: Kanban

What makes you Fit for Purpose?

Can someone answer this question?   Well yes, I can help.  In short it’s what you do, be that individually but mostly in a team, to ensure anyone you serve receives the service you provide in a reasonable time frame with appropriate quality.

Where does that start?

It starts with understanding who your customer is.   Taking steps to learn about the customer and what satisfies them.  There are some tools available to you to help like Customer Surveys, Customer Interviews, Customer Empathy Maps, Personas and going to see for yourself.

Somewhat lagging but still providing information about the customer and their needs ( which can and are probably changing) is a Net Fitness Score which is an alternative to Net Promoter Score.  If you are producing software you can add code to capture data about how your customers are using the application.  This is is part of a process called instrumentation that is done to computer programs.

This takes us into the area of measurement.  In addition to customer measures, a team can also use other metrics to ensure delivery is just right.  By just right, we mean that any feelings of over-burdening (muri) are minimised to ensure that a team can sustainably deliver work.

Here some measures include, service response times (cycle time) for the different types of requests a team gets.  Are we able to deliver those reliably.  By reliable we mean within the realms of probability and not exact measures.  Knowledge Work being naturally variable in nature we tend to defer to probabilities like a Service Level Agreement. 85% of the time we can deliver in 3 days as an example.

In aiming for better on-time delivery you may need to eliminate muda or wasteful activities.  You may find amplifying collaborative activities and learning new skills will help. These type of improvements stem from understanding the nature of different requests like demand (high and low periods), expectations of quality and when request are expected to be fulfilled (Cost of Delay).

Another measure is acceptable defect levels, with the aim to reduce these to a negligible level.  Defects may need to be balanced with responsiveness.  If you require greater responsiveness then Fit for Purpose may mean acceptance of higher failure load (another name for total defects).  Responsiveness may also mean less predictability and some work may have an have a wider range of delivery date performance.

If failure load is high, then addressing some level of quality can also have a bearing on on-time delivery.  In software development that means ensuring little or no technical debt.  High levels of technical debt lengthen cycle times as a team looks to deal with the complexity of software laden with technical debt.   Continually reducing and maintaining low levels of technical debt will help maintain reliable delivery.  It will also allow innovation to occur because the team is freed from the burden of low quality.

Addressing these and becoming reliable means you will have confidence to communicate service level expectations within reasonable levels of probability.  Doing this with appropriate quality will often result in plaudits to the team and reversing what may be many sources of dis-satisfaction for the customer and team a like.  Find out what makes your system of work Fit for Purpose.  Work hard on reaching that level.  Agility will be a natural result.


The Importance of Shared Purpose

My latest blog is actually one written for my employer here in the United States, Code Genesys.

You can take a look at it here and is on the importance of shared purpose.  Keep practicing that because it’s hard for first timers and anyone whose experienced for that matter.  Well worth the investment in time 🙂

I have an example of a company who go to great lengths to maintain their purpose.  An old blog article written 2 years ago.

Where’s the teamwork when we can’t see each other

I’m an Australian working in the USA coaching highly distributed teams. We speak English but even then there are slight differences, like Australian English and American English and even within America like from South to North.

We find it’s hard to get people to use video cameras. They are cheap however the culture tends to not encourage use of them. It’s always hard to collaborate at the best of times and distribution would be a good excuse not to do that.

Seems most distributed companies can’t get past just the phone and a little screen sharing.  When we use just these, we can’t see each other’s facial expressions and body language.  It’s hard to know how to react to feelings and we have to assume or turn up our intonation sense when listening (perhaps even speakers and listeners can make more us of their voice to relay feelings).  Another big issue is having attention – where I work inattention is called ‘multi-tasking’ and we know that don’t work.

Overall, this is more a problem around the difficulties in collaborating and the fears around that.  We’ll need to work on that to allow the tools to be useful.  Make it safe.  Create the culture and camaraderie of teamwork and reward that.  Highlight even when people are doing things that harm teamwork via a team working agreement.  Realization can quickly occur after that and a team can self correct.

Then there is technology, my friend Agile Bill Krebs, is teaching and coaching on tools to assist the distributed work place.  There are simple tools like join.me which is down the low end of the spectrum through to immersive environments like Minecraft.

The technology is there – it just needs a willingness to try using it and adapting to use it to it’s utmost advantage.

Your last resort is to abandon the distributed model.  That can be avoided I suggest.


The Ladder of Leadership and Kanban

Here’s a comparison of David Marquet’s Ladder of Leadership which derives from his work as a nuclear submarine captain and writing his book Turn the Ship Around and then subsequent workshops and writings and the Kanban Method.

The Kanban Method says start where you are.  Other frameworks require a more explicit transformation to new roles and ceremonies.  The Kanban Method also says Improve Collaboratively and Evolve Experimentally (using models and the scientific method).  Of it’s 9 values it also states Leadership.  Acts of Leadership from every level.

A model that you can use to improve and create leadership from everyone is called the Ladder of Leadership (although not explicitly steeped in the scientific method, it is a model).  It starts where you are.  Everyone, and this doesn’t matter what position one holds, is looking to be told what to do.  This is where mostly everyone is.

The Ladder of Leadership recognizes this.  Everyone can use the model as a frame to help each move up the ladder to become more intentional.  By recognizing where someone is on the ladder whilst in conversation, a colleague can frame a question using the next rung on the opposite side of the ladder.

The Ladder of Leadership – Capt. Marquet

Measurement of success comes via a proxy from other measurements like faster cycle times, better quality (less failure demand) and people should be happier and if they aren’t something is still awry.

It takes some time to achieve this.  One must be prepared to stay the course despite the bumps in the road.  If it doesn’t work on one occasion, reflect upon that.  Realize we are humans, have a laugh and try again using what you’ve learnt.  The ultimate aim is to create leaders not followers.  Leaders can relieve bottlenecks and fix problems quicker and with more knowledge than someone further away from the problem.

Avoid the Workflow Masquerade

Here’s a tip for scrum teams.  You are almost certainly using a task board.  If not start today.

That task board typically consists of the standard TODO, Doing, Done style.  Sometimes you will see the Doing column divided up even further – some mature teams realise that but a lot don’t so here comes the tip.

Simple Board

Typical Simple Board

In doing sprint planning or planning for a User Story the team identifies a number of tasks required to complete the story.  For example, perform detailed analysis, code the UI, code the business logic, perform testing.

It turns out to be quite a laundry list of tasks.  Within that list is always a pattern.  That’s right always.  All your user stories almost certainly involve a component of analysis, coding and testing.

So the tip is to make that visible and stark to everyone viewing your board.  Evolve from the three column format of ToDo, Doing and Done and divide that Doing column into Analysis, Code and Test.

More Workflow Board

Go for this.  Workflow is visible

Whilst your at it, define some common policies for those columns.  For instance for coding – code and test UI, code and Test Business Logic layer and so on so forth.  That’s called your Definition of Done.

What does this do for the execution of the sprint?  Here are several things it can and should do.

  • Sprint Planning becomes more focused on asking real pertinent questions about what’s coming up rather than diversion on getting the laundry list together.  You could really ask the what if questions of the Product Owner and making a deeper start in technical implementation details and discerning the risky parts of the work.
  • Make the flow of work more visible.  This will increase the effectiveness of daily standup.  Speaking to the cards on the board and seeing where they are at, how long they have been in a part of the workflow causes more transparent and focused discussion of the work.  Of course the team should be willing to discuss the reality of the situation and some will refuse to do that even when it’s staring them in the face.  Note:  This is when the real rubber hits the road – the Scrum Master, Agile Project Manager will be willing to seek out help the team discover the causes and deal with the organisation impediments.
  • Show the real time for each part of development.  This can help the team improve on specific problem areas.  Because there is real data for each point of the process, the team can choose where to focus their improvement efforts to decrease the overall time to deliver.

So you may ask.  Is this Kanban.  The simple answer is no.  A Kanban System has more components – most importantly WIP limits on workflow steps.  However use of a these ideas more readily found in Kanban systems will still create visibility.  Evolution to more flow based systems could be an end result or perhaps just a hybrid like Scrumban.

So avoid the workflow masquerade.  Make those tasks into workflow and get on with real work.

Managing work with ScrumDo – Part 1

ScrumDo is another online tool for managing work.  It competes in the space of tools like LeanKit, Jira Agile, Kanbanery, SwiftKanban and a host of other tools from other vendors.  The differentiation it appears to me, is that ScrumDo is slanted to a (outright) ScrumBan view of the world, combining aspects of Scrum and Kanban in what could be a much stronger product than some other offerings out there (my experience is only with LeanKit, Jira Agile and TFS/Visual Studio – not a huge amount :)).  You could run a Scrum, Kanban or a ScrumBan – and you can in other tools for that matter, but the features in built in ScrumDo make it appear or feel more targeted to this.

Here in Part 1 of a series of posts I describe the setup of the first iteration of a project I’m currently running.  In a previous post on LeanKit, I noted that I lacked a proper breakdown of tasks for big items on my Personal Kanban that was causing some morale issues – although I did get to end with flying colours, it’s not a way of working I recommend.

Note: I include many screenshots.  I recommend clicking on the image to get a clear view if you so desire.

Cleaning up the Previous Board

I did a board for the previous project but it fell into disuse.  I decided to clean it up.  The standard board presents two horizontal lanes, an Expedite Lane which anyone from a Kanban background will recognize and a lane for the current iteration.  Here’s what I started with and you can see the expedited column is blank.  It’s hardly used and I didn’t want to use it so a later view you will see that I removed it.


I used the Iteration Planning Tool to move items, but you can also use the above view:

Iteration Tool - Movinf Current to Completed

Cleaning up the Board – the Board Editor

I removed the Expedite column in the Board Editor, a view of which is shown here.  Subsequent to this I’ll show later on some other edits that include WIP limits, effectively ScrumBan-ing the board, and adding policies under the columns like Definition of Ready for stories and Definition of Done for development  tasks.

Editing the board - want to remove the Expedite lane for this project

Epics and Stories

The first thing to do was create the Epic and Stories.  I’m following standard scrum backlog grooming practice and I created the Epics and Stories.  As this a project to create course material for an ICAgile accredited course for my company, About Agile, the Epics and Stories followed the layout of the ICAgile learning objectives for the most part.  Easily filled in – not a big Release Planning session required for this project 🙂

There are a number of views for creating Epics and Stories. Here is the Backlog view:

Adding Stories to New Iteration

And here’s from the Epic Planning View:

Epics planned out - feels like 2 to 3 two-week iterations worth of work

Sprint/Iteration Planning

With a Release plan created (though Epics and High Level Stories and no more) it’s time to create the first sprint/iteration.  The first iteration was already created as shown above and is also a way to setup an iteration.  There is also some setup that can be done – interestingly one can set resource availability in hours – I wonder if this fits in with #NoEstimates 🙂 , something for later. The steps correspond roughly to part 1 of sprint planning as you’ll find in the scrum guide.

Iteration Planning - Resource Allocation

Along the way you may find that you need to change things around.  For instance I needed to to convert a story into an Epic (I’m playing multiple roles being the only person on the project – PO and Developer and ScrumMaster):

Converting Story to an Epic

I also had to move a story between Epics.  This can be done in the Edit Story view.  Notice standard Fibonacci Series relative estimation can be changed here (as well as elsewhere):

Move to another epic

And also through a specific view that converts a story to an Epic.  In this example I found I needed further breakdown and hence converted the story to an epic:

Converting Story to an Epic

Sprint Planning Part 2 – Some Task Breakdown

Here I’ll show some view that allow the first few items of the sprint to be broken down.  I don’t break down everything as the July 2013 version of the Scrum Guide guides us to do.  I just setup enough to get going and start producing, also leaving some room for the innovation.  This view shows I’m actually working on the sprint planning tasks:

Planning, cycling between choosing and how to do the work

And this one is showing how desperately hard I’m trying to think of the tasks that may be required for a task.  Inevitably there will be something I missed:

Tasks - trying to think of everything

and as always – I try and use a pomodoro/tomato timer – I sometimes forget that as well.  Here I’m taking the time to take a break during sprint planning, but maybe if your doing this in a group you’d space the pomodoro to longer than 25 minutes:

Taking a Pomodoro Break during Planning

Done some editing of the board whilst I created the Sprint Plan

Here I present some editor views.  As I was creating the plan and learning the features available in ScrumDo I changed things to suit the desired way of working.  Here I removed the Expedite horizontal lane and added WIP limits.  Most columns use points for limits except the Done columns which are using card count to force a pull into the next column of the value stream.  Will see how that pans out.

View of new Board with WIP Limits and removed Expedite Lane

In this view I’m adding a Policy and a WIP limit for the TODO column.  This view is accessible via the board editor:

Adding Policy and WIP Limit for TODO column

So I got to the end of editing the board and sprint planning and the board took more shape with the first 4 tasks, the most important, having been broken down:

Created Tasks for first few days of the sprint

Advisable to have a Sprint Goal

Yes you need a milestone to aim for and I recorded mine as part of the sprint planning task and used the time recording view to keep track of the time I spent.  As far a time spent, I’m not really sure I want to 1. Give a time estimate and 2. Record it.  Fighting off Parkinson’s Law and Student Syndrome is already hard enough.  Time estimates can be taken as targets and both of these dysfunctions can kick in.

Added the Sprint Goal as part of Planning

Tracked time for Planning - but you should save any edit before doing it as I lost my sprint goal comment when I clicked first time

Extras: Policies show up as tool tips

This policy is quite big and not easily view-able.  Not a big issue.

Policy Defined for Doing Column - possible issue with tooltip to fix

This one looks better, not so big:

Definition of Done for the Review Columns

So at the End of the Day

So I did my sprint planning and fixed up the board as shown above in the selection of screenshots.  I made a start on the tasks and found that having the smaller milestones and thinking about tasks drove more satisfying outcomes.  The experience of the previous work, which I’d not done before, was a good input and I have adapted from those experiences.  Having something to aim for what certainly helpful on this first day.

New projects almost always start off a bit haphazardly as all participants find their feet.   This really is dependent on how new the domain is and team forming attributes of a new team The trick to to reflect and adapt, something all too often forgotten or put in the too hard basket.  It’s OK to feel unsure at the beginning, but don’t let this drag on.  Take action to remedy the situation.  It may take several goes at it, but as long as a culture of safety exists, you should be able to take out some very valuable lessons and this is very important to build further from.

Here’s the board at the end of today for this project (BTW: this task, to write this blog, is on my personal board and not this one :))

In subsequently posts I’ll describe new features of ScrumDo as I come across them.  It will interesting to see what metrics and reports I can get out of it.

Status at the end of the first day - will not pull into review until we need to

Note: You can now read Part 2 of the series.

Visualize Life with a Personal Kanban – Part 3

After my last article, I said I’d be writing about the extra features available in LeanKit that allow metrics to be derived.  This will not be the only focus of this article.  I’m including my recollections of running my Personal Kanban over the last few months. Lets first start with what could be some problems.

Task Size

For the last 2-3 months I’ve been working on a project this has meant it has remained in the In Process column for this long.  Many of the other tasks are very short – they stay In-Process for hours at most.  Also when I’m reading a book this can stay In-Process for a long time.  This is also like projects and as I mentioned in Part 2 and cards like these are supposed to be a place holder for projects.

Is this really a problem then?  Maybe or Maybe Not.  Cycle time has been increasing as shown below in the Cycle Time graph from LeanKit.  I’ll talk about why this may be a problem, in so far as a Personal Kanban is concerned.

LeanKit CycleTime Increasing - June 18

 Is Task Size a Problem

Maybe, maybe not.  It could be how you perceive it.  For a Personal Kanban an average cycle time of 5 days might not concern you.  Maybe it would come back down.  Maybe it will find it’s average here and stay around the mark, reflective of the project work that is being done.

However, maybe an increasing cycle time could lead to the following types of dysfunctions:

1. Lack of Milestone Motivation

Finishing something creates a feeling of satisfaction.  Leaving big jobs in process means this satisfaction does not occur.  Feelings of ‘When will this be finished’ occur.  It then can feel hard to keep going and requires an extra bit of self motivation to keep going.

2. Procrastination

This follows from the first point.  Having a big job is more reason to avoid doing it, taking longer to get started.  Feelings of guilt might arise.  A uneasiness and even unhappiness can result.  Can this effect quality.  Perhaps, in my work has been validated to be of a very high quality.  However, for me, it has created a peaks of valleys in the emotional roller coaster.  One needs to wait to the end to get the feedback.  I did feel this emotion and asked to have a colleague look at my work midway through to validate it somewhat.  That was useful.

3.  Feedback

As mentioned in point 2, lack of feedback created feelings of whether the work was of a worthy nature.  Dividing the work in to separate smaller tasks allows feedback to asked for on a regular cadence.  I reasoned at the time that the project was a sole effort and therefore wouldn’t require such a rigor.  I think that was an error.  I think this is case for why Pair Programming is such a good practice.  Positive feedback on a constant basis should be paid back in better quality and better overall cycle time.

Don’t Put Big Projects in a Personal Kanban

Another solution is not to have big projects in a Personal Kanban.  Do they belong here?  You wouldn’t put your work projects on a Personal Kanban would you.  A project has more rigorous policies around ‘doneness’  Personal Tasks could be argued that they probably don’t have amount of rigor involved.

A project is a different Class of Service, mixing the two is probably ill-advised.  You’d rather feel good about what you are doing and having what you are doing traceable to the type of work you’re doing could help to reduce uneasiness around throughput.

Beware the Holding Pen

I found that my Holding Pen column was getting a little over used.  Long running tasks or putting off tasks is an indicator that the task is too big or just an excuse to procrastinate.  Consider a WIP limit to force resolution one way or another.

I also recommend having a WIP limit on the Ready Column.  I introduced one on this column to force me to do the work rather than have it for another dumping place for tasks, making it difficult to prioritise.  The dumping place for all idea still exists and WIP limit on Ready reminds me not to use Ready for these ideas, however ‘urgent’ stuff does tend to find its way there and stay there for some time. Maybe this limit can be revised down.

WIP Limit of Ready Column

Other Charts

Let’s talk about some of the other charts in LeanKit.  These charts are available in the Team and/or Portfolio editions and not available in the Free Edition.  They may or may not be useful in a Personal Kanban.

Card Distribution

The most interesting chart for me is the Card Distribution By Type.   I was a surprised at the amount of email I was sending at 15%.  This is not be confused though with the amount of time being spent on that task or any other task.  I tend to think my Project work is taking up more time than this 🙂

With the By Priority chart I find that I tend to allow most of my cards to be normal priority.  Rarely is something so critical that it needs immediate attention.  This may indicate that I’m not so rushed to get stuff done or a little lazy in setting the priority.  Setting priority is a fleeting thing for me, only a second or two for consideration.  It’s not a big deal.

The By Lane chart appears to show that I’m getting through work at a good rate, over 75% when you include Done and Retro lanes.  It would be even higher if I include the Daily and Weekly habits which cycle through ToDo, In-Process and Done on a daily or weekly basis.

Card Distribution by Lane June 18 2014
Card Distribution by Card Type June 18 2014
Card Distribution by Priority June 18 2014


Cumulative Flow Diagrams

Probably the most important if not most used chart in a Kanban Value Stream.  Here’s an early one.  It looks quite nice.  Seems to be getting through work quite well, this is before the big Projects entered the mix. Slight fattening of the In Process (green) band about 11 Feb 2014, only indicative of the size of the work but maybe also meaning that the work in there is too big – as I mentioned earlier this was a problem.

LeanKit CFD displaying Ready - Today - InProcess - Done - Retro - with Card Size


When viewing the chart without card size your get quite a different view as shown below.

LeanKit CFD displaying Ready - Today - InProcess - Done - Retro - without Card Size


In the next example you can see the full screen dialogue.  The bottom of the screen shows the lanes that have been selected for the chart.  This is important as I also have separate ‘small’ projects and Daily and Weekly habits which I didn’t want to include in the main kanban.  It does allow you to select separate parts of the board and do separate analysis, like on the Projects.

LeanKit - CFD - getting wary of fatening InProcess, Ready. Limit WIP - too big items in there


Efficiency Diagrams

These show allocation of work across the categories of Completed, Ready and In Process.  Lanes are allocated to these types and lanes which aren’t allocated fall into the Unknown bucket.

Below is the diagram that shows the percentage and it shows not significant variation.

Efficiency Diagram By Percentage

However this diagram by Queue Size shows a gentle increase indicating the larger items that were taken on.

Efficiency Diagram By Queue Size

However the next diagram calculates the same diagram but with card size included.  Overall I don’t read a lot into these charts from my board.

Efficiency Diagram By Percentage with Card Size


To check that I haven’t missed anything I went in search of other examples from elsewhere.  I found the documentation in LeanKit not providing a lot of clarity about how to use this diagram or not enough to make sense to me.  I did find something on their blog.  Quite interesting variations there.  Completion Rates weren’t very uniform as my examples suggest.  Looks like more complex work involved.  Could it also mean work was in different phases of the value steam.  Be interesting to compare the boards at these times.

There is another diagram called Process Control .  It doesn’t seem to work for me.  I revisit this blog entry when I work out what is wrong.


I find it enjoyable viewing work entering the board and progressing across.  All my ideas get captured as well.  I’ve fell into some traps but at least I can see them and I’m actively managing the situation to improve.  I’ve added columns, moved them around and tinkered with WIP limits and added some where I felt they were needed.  It’s getting better all the time.

Look forward to using this even more in other settings.