Kanban’s Third Rule

Maximize throughput.

With Kanban’s goal to increase the speed with which work flows through your team, you will need to do certain things to maximize the speed of tickets moving across the board.

First of all, you need to track some statistics. After all, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. The most basic measure is the number of tickets moving into production in a given period. Unlike Scrum, you do not timebox effort into forced intervals (sprints). Instead, pick a period that is good for reporting, such as months, and count how many tickets were delivered into the finished state during each period.

One challenge with this is that not all tickets are equal. Some stories require a lot more work than others. In the long run, this typically does not matter, as it all averages out over time. To mitigate this, break up complicated stories into smaller bite-size pieces. Not only will these move faster, but they cause a lot fewer problems for testing and delivery.

Another Kanban statistic is to measure the average lead time. For each ticket, measure how long it took from the time it was added to the backlog to the time it was finished. The average lead time gives people an idea of how long it would take for the team to deliver a new idea into production.

Cycle time is another useful statistic. This measures the time from when work starts (in progress) to final delivery (done). Unlike lead time, it does not count the weeks spent idling in the backlog. Cycle time is more a measure of how fast tickets travel across the board once selected.

To keep track of these, you will need to record timestamps on each ticket for various important dates, including the date the ticket was added to the backlog, the date work started, and the date work finished. If these can be added to a spreadsheet or SQL database, it makes reporting a lot easier.

You can use similar techniques to measure portions of more complex workflows. If your workflow has 23 steps, for example, and you are interested in how the flow moves through steps 6 through 9, you could record timestamps at those steps.

As the team gets better with its processes and automation, the times should start to come down. To get there, the number one goal is to reduce wasted time in the system. Identify activities that waste time and determine the causes. This can be things like poor requirements, poor working conditions, lack of communication, problems with tools, and so on. Be sure to pause and reflect periodically to study these things and come up with ideas on how to reduce the time wasters.

Another thing you need to do is ensure the right amount of resources are available in each step of the workflow to avoid bottlenecks and idleness. These are obvious on the Kanban board, with large clusters of tickets indicating a bottleneck, and empty columns or swimlanes indicating possible idleness.

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