Kanban in three easy steps.

There’s not a lot to Kanban, which is one reason it is desirable.

Yes, you should be agile, and that means following the agile principles, and reading the agile manifesto. Past that you will find different agile methodologies, the most infamous one being Scrum. Kanban is much preferred, and a lot easier to implement. To do Kanban, there are three main things you need to do.

First, visualize your workflow. Make this visualization highly visible to everyone. Preferably, this Kanban board would be posted in plain view of the developers working the project. A Kanban board is very easy to create; you take a board and divide it into columns representing the different states of your workflow. Then as issues appear, they enter the first state by appearing as a sticky note on the left column. As work progresses through the other states, it moves across the board, through the different columns.

There are many web-based tools for doing an online Kanban board. In this age of remote work, an online board becomes more necessary.

The second step to good Kanban practice is to limit the amount of work in progress. This means to avoid multi-tasking. A developer should be working one story at a time. If a developer has ten stories open at once, and declares them all to be “in progress”, there will be very little progress. Often a “work in progress limit” is posted above a status column. Before additional post-its can be added to a column in excess of the posted limit, other post-its need to be removed from the column. Either they are promoted to the next step or pushed back to the backlog.

The third step for Kanban is measure and improve throughput. The two most common metrics are lead time (from appearing in the backlog to delivery) and cycle time (from work start to delivery). Lead time is more focused on how long a new idea will sit in the backlog on average, and when it gets too large, the team has too many projects pending. The larger it gets, the more likely there are stories in the backlog that will never, ever get completed.

Cycle time is more focused on the performance of the team doing work in progress. Obviously some stories are bigger than others, and thus cycle time represents an average. Generally, this system works best when most stories are roughly the same size. Try very hard to have extra-large stories, and break them up into smaller stories when you see them.

That’s it, that’s all there is to Kanban. If you can do the above three things, you can do Kanban.

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