Kanban – creating a sense of control

A central tool in managing the team’s work is the Kanban board. The team owns their Kanban board and everything on it. It is there to visualise the team’s work, to provide a sense of control and create a sense of flow. So for example, if there is a bottleneck in testing, it’s there for the whole team to see and the team can collectively prioritise eliminating it.

In short, the Kanban board is a powerful tool for creating a sense of collective ownership in the team. But there are some ground rules that apply otherwise this effect is lost:

  1. The tickets on the board represent the team’s work and what can be delivered by the team. The board must not contain work done by external parties (i.e. anyone not in the team).
  2. The team must ruthlessly prioritise, rework or eliminate stuck tickets. Even one exception can lead to more exceptions, and before long flow is lost.
  3. Bottlenecks mean “all hands on deck” to solve the problem and regain flow. Plus, it makes no sense to keep pushing more work into an already long queue. WIP limits can be applied to highlight bottlenecks, but usually common sense prevails.

Following these ground rules means that any member of the team, at a glance, can see the status of the team’s flow, and know that if there is a problem with the flow then it is a) within the power of the team to solve that problem, and b) that is more important than pulling the next ticket from Todo.

If the team do not follow these three ground rules, then it will be hard to create a sense of ownership when there are a whole bunch of exceptions to the rules that erode the team’s sense of control. It becomes someone else’s problem.

Put another way, if the team use Kanban properly then it will create a sense of flow that everyone in the team can identify with and which transcends the individual roles and specialist competencies that a cross-functional team naturally has. But fail to do this, and Kanban is just another messy backlog with unclear priorities that the team eventually stops paying attention to. Then it just becomes easier to pull the next ticket from Todo instead.

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