How to Start Implementing Kanban

Introduction

Most product managers and workers in the space have heard about the kanban methodology. But how many know how to properly implement it in their organizations?

This article examines the ins and outs of how to start implementing kanban in your organization today.

What Is Kanban?

Kanban is a framework that is used for the implementation of agile during software development. 

It requires full transparency between team members along with a realistic optimization of the tasks to maximize efficiency. This transparency is maintained through a visual representation and a productivity tool called the kanban board

Advantages of Kanban

The core principle of kanban is to promote time efficiency and task planning. Kanban is very flexible. The changes outside the team do not hamper the work in progress. 

Since it is continuous in nature, product owners can prioritize tasks in kanban without disrupting the current work in progress. Kanban teams continuously deliver products to their customers. 

Another benefit of the kanban framework is how it optimizes the cycle time so that teams can effectively predict the completion of tasks. Cycle time is a crucial metric for kanban teams because it measures the amount of time a single task takes in the workflow from start to finish.  

In comparison to scrum (another agile framework), kanban is flexible because it promotes changes and continuous delivery. There are also no roles (product owners, managers, etc)  assigned to team members. Some teams combine the good parts of scrum and kanban. This blend of the two is called scrumban. 

How to Start Implementing Kanban in Three Easy Steps 

We’ve seen that kanban is a flexible model because it accommodates the team’s needs conveniently. Let’s look at how to start implementing kanban in a team. 

The following are steps you can undertake to start implementing kanban right away.

Step 1: Define the process.

We can define the process in kanban by creating a visual representation. 

This is done by creating cards that represent tasks. For example, we can create one card per task in our list and then put them on the board according to their status or priority. 

The color-coded kanban board will show you which stages your work is currently at, and what needs to be worked on next.

You can ask questions such as how tasks are scheduled, who assigns them, and what their priority is. How will they be allocated among team members, based on skills or availability, is another good question to ask.

Because it is kanban,  we do not need to “fix” the process. Keep it as fluid as possible. 

When we talk about defining the process, it is also important to evaluate the current workflow because it will help us identify where we need change. Change can be implemented in kanban when you understand whether your workflow is good or bad.

A good workflow in kanban means that everyone is working at the same pace. The work is continuous and without any delay. 

A bad workflow in kanban means that one person or group is doing all the work and others are waiting around for more tasks. There are a lot of stops and abrupt starts in a bad workflow.

It’s important to know which type of process you have so that when you start implementing kanban, changes can be made smoothly.

Step 2: Measure the Work in Progress (WIP).

WIP is nothing but the measure of how many tasks are being worked on at any given point. How much time an employee spends doing a task should be measured, too, as well as how long it takes to finish a job.

It is important to make sure that the WIP is limited so that multitasking is avoided and focus is fostered. To limit the WIP, it is important to set limits on tasks and the number of people that are working on a task at any given point in time. 

This ensures more focus by reducing multitasking opportunities for employees. Team members can complete their tasks more efficiently to successfully implement kanban.

The benefits of reducing the WIP include improved workflow, increased focus, and reduced multitasking opportunities.

Step 3: Assess and Update.

As mentioned in the first step, kanban is not a fixed set of processes. 

Since it is fluid, this last step involves welcoming change and constantly evolving. Modifying in kanban is important because as the work process changes, tasks and priorities change as well.

Make sure you analyze your priorities by asking questions such as: 

  • What is your goal in the near future?
  • How do you know if the work was done well?
  • How does it affect others in the team and organization?

It’s also important to always have a backlog of tasks ready for when priorities change. This means having an idea of what needs to be prioritized next and what should be mostly worked on.

Make sure to also assess the team performance by using kanban metrics such as lead time and cycle time so that you gain some actionable judgment. How team members feel about the work they are doing is also an important metric to track!

How does the team feel about its work? How are you doing in meeting deadlines for tasks and projects? How is the team feeling at the end of a day’s worth of work?

These are all questions to ask when you implement kanban.

Now that we know how to implement kanban, we need to further investigate portfolio management with kanban, who manages it, and the responsibilities of managing it.

Portfolio Management With Kanban

Portfolio management with kanban is run by the epic owner.

Epics in kanban are used to represent features, tasks, and other portfolio items.

Managing portfolio items such as implementation and prioritization is essential in kanban. 

This portfolio management is made up of three parts:

  • Prioritizing portfolio items to understand where development effort should be made.
  • Implementing the portfolio items.  This means creating tasks, estimating them with time and other resources needed to complete work on them. They also need to decide how (or when) those portfolio items should be completed by having dependencies between each one that needs resolution before moving onto the next one.
  • Managing portfolio items by determining what should be done next or if any work on a portfolio item is being stalled for some reason, which may require taking corrective steps like removing impediments that block progress.

Who Is Responsible for Managing the Portfolio Kanban?

Team members are not assigned any roles in kanban. As much as it is a shared responsibility, epic owners are primarily responsible for managing the portfolio kanban. 

Remember that, in a scaled agile framework (SAFe), the role of an epic owner is ‘assumed’ by an individual rather than assigned as a job title. Epic owners are successful only when they collaborate effectively with other team members as well as groups. 

An epic owner guides the individual epic through the portfolio kanban system. Once the epics are down the portfolio kanban system, they are responsible to create the lean business case. 

Along with managing portfolio kanban, their other responsibilities involve defining the epic, formulating its minimum viable product, gaining approval, and finally implementing. They also support initiatives moving down the continuous delivery pipeline towards the release on demand. 

Having said that, there is no hard and fast rule that epic owners have to be the ones who manage the portfolio kanban. One of the features of kanban is there is no role assignment.

The person responsible for managing the portfolio kanban is the person whom the team is following. Who this person is depends on your organization’s policies and processes since there are many ways to set up portfolio management.

No matter who is responsible to manage the portfolio kanban, the responsibilities include:

  • Prioritizing work in order of urgency or impact; deciding which deliverables will go up next; delegating those tasks, etc.
  • Managing a timeline for the team, communicating priorities, and making sure that there is enough capacity to meet deadlines.
  • Checking if kanban cards have been completed correctly to make sure they’re not blocking anything else.
  • Identifying potential risks or issues with the implementation of requirements and features; determining if the available resources for each project are feasible or not.
  • Developing work plans and timelines for teams that include dependencies wherever necessary.
  • Facilitating discussions about progress on key initiatives at management meetings.

Responsibility for Implementing and Managing the Portfolio Kanban

As mentioned above, the responsibility for implementing and managing the portfolio kanban lies on the epic owner.

This responsibility is important because it gives the team a clear understanding of how to manage and maintain their portfolio items, with an emphasis on prioritizing important work over less urgent tasks.

This responsibility for implementing and managing the portfolio kanban can be challenging when the portfolio is large and complex.

The epic owner needs to figure out how to deal with portfolio items that are not relevant, outdated, or problematic for some reason.

In this case, it may require delegation of tasks which could mean assigning them to another team member or outsourcing work outside the company.

Conclusion

Now that you know how to implement kanban in your organization, it’s time to use software that helps you do the implementation easily. 

Try Chisel for prioritizing features and builds, getting team alignment on them, and, of course, putting them on your kanban board.

Crafting great product requires great tools. Try Chisel today, it's free forever.