Kanban Implementation Roadmap for Beginners

Kanban Implementation

Here is a draft of a work-in-progress guideline on implementing Kanban in a Connectwise environment. This is based on our experiences and research so far, and will continue to evolve as we mature our Agile implementation.

Kanban 101 – Visualize what you’re doing today

Start as simple as you can but no simpler.

Start with visualizing what you’re doing today, before graduating to more advanced concepts like establishing WIP limits.

Reflect Reality! Visualize the REAL status… that may mean getting everyone to update their ticket statuses to reflect reality. If the ticket is in an “In Progress” state but hasn’t been touched for weeks, then move it back a step to another column.

Make everything (except perhaps the Backlog) fit on one screen if possible, without scrolling. It’s important to be able to SEE everything. Short TODO lists are always better! Besides, psychologically it’s much more rewarding to knock off a couple items from a short list then a long list. And, it’s not very rewarding to go home on a Friday with a long TODO list still remaining.

If everyone is ignoring fields like due dates and budgets, then reflect reality by clearing those fields from the CW tickets. Then over time, you can start to add those back if they will actually pop up out on the Kanban board and people will actually do something about it.

Remove unnecessary resources from tickets. Ideally, there should only be one person assigned to a ticket (aka card). Otherwise, everyone thinks somebody else is working on it, so nobody does it and nothing gets done.

Kanban is useless unless everyone is looking at it every single day.

While CW Kanban allows you to map multiple CW statuses into a single Kanban column, at this time you may want to revisit your Board Setups in CW and review the statuses. Can they be standardized across boards? Or does it make sense to customize statuses by board? Can any statuses be removed, renamed, or combined? Or perhaps there are too many tickets in a particular status, and need to be split to make it easier to visualize and prioritize?

Once the above habits are established, then proceed to Kanban 102.

Kanban 102 – Manage Waiting/Blocked status

Team members may be used to working In Progress, New items assigned to them, or grabbing from the backlog.  The next step in implementing Kanban is to review workflow, and encourage Finishing over Starting. This means that we all need to be looking at cards stuck in other buckets such as Waiting (client or 3rd party or something else), Blocked, Abandoned, etc before accepting new work. Especially with these kinds of cards, individuals may need to ask other team members for help, escalate to management, the client, or a vendor to help move it forward.

Kanban 103 – Horizontal Swimlanes

While CW Kanban makes it trivial to enable swimlanes, they should still be treated as an advanced concept. Keep in mind that what is visualized will impact behavior – for better or worse. The good news is that you can easily change the layout – try one type of swimlane for a week or two. Then as part of the next team retrospective, collect feedback on how it’s working out.

With CW Kanban, swimlanes can be created based on basic fields like Project, Client, Connectwise Board, Team, or Member (technician). However, to really improve velocity in your organization, you may want to think about value stream mapping. As one example, value streams could be Internal Projects (for your own company), Client projects, Changes, and Unplanned work as mentioned in the Phoenix Project book. For each column and swimlane, WIP limits could be set for both minimum and maximum to control the amount and velocity of work going through the system.

Kanban 104 – Establishing WIP limits

Don’t worry about WIP minimums and maximums until the previous habits are in place and the whole team is collaborating around Kanban.

A key part of setting realistic WIP minimums and maximums is to involve and empower the team. Explain the WIP concepts, give them a little homework to think about it, and then set the context for debate that allows everyone to open up and contribute. This will help get buy-in on a very critical part of Kanban – setting lower WIP limits to move from multi-tasking to single-tasking. The goal is to increase velocity by working together to complete work quicker. Moving from a culture of parallel activities (eg: a golf “team”) to real collaborative team effort (eg: basketball team) may take some time, trust building and discussions.

Kanban 105 – Culture of Continuous Collaborative Improvement

Establish a culture of continuous improvement, also called Kaizen. Set up some rhythms, such as weekly retrospective of what worked well, what can be improved.

Remember that this is a cycle – you will need to go back to basics regularly. Don’t be afraid to change something that’s not working. There are also no sacred cows… doing something because “we’ve always done it that way” is an awful reason! Poke holes – is any given activity, habit, or process adding value or just waste?

Encourage leadership at all levels, from individual contributors to upper level management. Over time, you may see titles and responsibilities shift or disappear as the team takes ownership.

Kanban 106 – Embrace Pull instead of Push

True mastery of Kanban is when work is pulled, instead of pushed, through the system. A key requirement is having explicit WIP (Work In Progress) limits. Without WIP limits, even a system designed for Pull will deteriorate into Push since everyone can keep accepting new work and overload themselves.  The shift from a traditional Push (scheduling, dispatch, micro management, etc) method as advocated by Connectwise to Pull is a MAJOR CHANGE, but well worth it!

Kanban 107 – Reduce Waste

Reduce the Seven Wastes:

  1. Delay, waiting or time spent in a queue without value being added
  2. Producing more then you need. This could also be over-designing or over-building something. Aka “Overkill”
  3. Over processing – more work performed then client will receive benefit for
  4. Transportation… eg moving ticket between lots of people and teams
  5. Unnecessary movement or action
  6. Inventory
  7. Production of Defects: bugs, downtime, unplanned work, customer followup requests, extra training required