…and of course you will also get my 4 (almost) simple answers to these questions
But First a Little Background Information:
For several years I have been working with Kanban as the planning and controlling mechanism on my projects which are mainly IT projects/programs. I have seen Kanban work again and again even in very complex scenarios in both the public and private sector.
I have also dug into the theory behind Kanban – I recently became LKU Accredited Kanban Trainer -, and can give the academic reasons behind why it works so well on any type of project or knowledge work. But the empirical evidence might be more interesting.
It really puzzles me that even if organizations – managers and project managers – agree that their project performance is too poor (it’s a fact that still approx. 50% of all projects fail) they are still very reluctant to try something new.
I can’t help asking the question: “Why do you stay on a path that will very likely lead you to a 50% project failure rate, when there are more successful alternatives? Why not try Kanban – try it out small scale – what have you got to lose?”
A Few (of Many) Advantages:
I admit that I have become a huge fan of Kanban. It is fairly simple, it is visual, and you can always see the true state of the project. It is also a fact that you cannot overload a Kanban system. This means that: 1. your team never gets stressed-out.
You keep your focus on quality, and save enormous amounts of overhead time, while concentrating on the real project work so you can deliver with predictability. You always work on the most important stuff, you always have your priorities in order, and you only release what is complete (done done). This means that: 2. your customer too is very satisfied.
But now to the 4 questions that I always get asked:
Question #1: How do you handle dependencies? There are always dependencies.
Answer #1: Kanban does handle dependencies. You can turn tickets with dependencies into a special work item type, or give them a special class of service. Or you can note the known dependencies in a special part of the Kanban board. Either way you will be reminded of them daily and are not likely to forget them.
Question #2: What about detailed estimates? If you don’t have thorough estimates, how do you know, when you can expect to be done?
Answer #2: Kanban uses what already exists in the organization. Kanban is evolutionary. If you want to make detailed estimates you can continue that practice. That’s your choice. But let me ask you this: “Did you ever see project estimates that never changed?” If your answer is: “No”, then why should you spend time on trying to hit bull’s eye, which is next to impossible anyway, when a ball park estimate will work just as well?
Question #3: How do you know that the team is working on the right things, when you don’t have a project plan?
Answer #3: Of course you have a plan! First of all you have a clear vision of the end product, and of course you are working according to customer requirements/user stories/use cases.
Furthermore, at any given time, you know exactly what the customer/Product Owner has decided are the 5-10 most important things that the team needs to complete next. Since you cannot foresee the future, and cannot know what lies ahead several months from now, you don’t waste time worrying about it, but only focus on the next top priorities that you know are relevant (because your customer said so).
Question #4: What about deadlines? How can you finish on time, if you don’t work with deadlines?
Answer #4: There is more than one answer to that. If you feel more comfortable noting deadlines on your Kanban tickets, just go ahead and do so. But if it is just a normal project task, there really is no need for estimates, because the Kanban system in itself will ensure that all tasks are completed asap.
When you work on the most important items, and you complete them one at a time, i.e. no task switching and no multitasking which prevents you from wasting valuable time, the flow will be optimized and the tasks completed as quickly as the team is able to. In fact productivity on Kanban projects has been measured to rise by several 100% compared to the running Projects the traditional way.
An important principle in Kanban is “Stop starting, start finishing”. Simple as that!