What’s Helped Me

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part VII

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The latest version of our board. Tip-use dry erase markers. Our board changes regularly as we evolve our processes or try to accommodate management demand.

Here is the latest observations, challenges, lessons learned, triumphs, etc. of the Kanban board experiment in my current project.

Recent Comments

“I love the post-it notes.” ~A visitor for one of the other teams.

“It’s so pretty!” An interviewee for another team.

“Hey, whatever works.” ~ Our newest project manager (this is a common comment and bothers me for some reason).

“Its actually pretty ingenious.” ~ Our IT director to our visiting global PMO (who were visibly skeptical of the board). This is the first positive comment to come from him about the boards. I love it!

“And here we are investing in tools.” Global PMO member.

“Are we trying to save money?” Global PMO member.

“I have to tell our leadership that the greatest risk to the project is wind.” ~ Our IT director referring to the post-it notes.

Observations

  • Bottlenecks become more apparent when the time frame is shortened and the work load increases. Ex. I’m the main one updating the board. If others could do it when they complete their work, that would mean I wouldn’t have to do it all the time. At the same time, if I don’t do it, we lose insight into what is happening on the project.
  • The boards take up a lot of space (and is actually growing). What if every project used a board like this? Would we have any wall space left? Would we be fighting for wall space?
  • As numbers/WIP increased and the pressure to hurry up and finish increased, it became more apparent how much time it takes creating post-it notes. The short-term thinking side of me wanted to stop doing it and just get on with the work, but I reminded myself how the initial time spent creating them paid off in the long term. I was surprised at what feels like my ‘instinct’ telling me not to use the board.
  • A pretty big negative for the board is stats gathering. It takes me up to 2 hours gathering the info from the post-it notes and putting it in a spreadsheet for reporting.

Lessons Learned

  • My supervisor didn’t like our process for shipping and scheduling equipment. He wanted us to change it because he thought it was creating bottlenecks. Our team didn’t like the idea. We thought it complicated matters and created a risk. In the end, everyone decided to try an experiment based on what he wanted. The board was updated and after a few hiccups and adjustments, the new way worked just fine. Lesson Learned—Don’t be too resistant to an outsider’s suggestion for changing your process. They might be on to something and you can always try an experiment to see if it works. If not—just go back to the old way. We are fortunate my supervisor simply did not force us to change our process and allowed the experiment.

Triumphs

  • For a couple of weeks, it appeared I wasn’t going to be able to bring the board to the new location. I had a team member come up and talk about possibilities of where we could put it. And here I was thinking no one cared. That really meant a lot. In the end, it boiled down to the IT director, who is determined to make the project a success. I told him the board was critical to the project’s success. He agreed there would be a spot for it in the new building.

Experiments

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The boards’ first attempts at limiting WIP.

  • I’m attempting to limit WIP (without the team members realizing it). It seems to be working. I’m sure if management knew I was doing it, though, they would get mad.
  • I put up a brief synopsis of what Kanban is near the board. My supervisor read it and it sparked some good conversation. I’m hoping others will read it as well. Perhaps I can alter it so its more readable.
  • I think I need to stop giving logical explanations for using the board. I’m trying to ‘testify’ instead. The idea is to appeal to a person’s heart, not their head. I’m trying to remember to say things like:
    • “Its the best tool I’ve ever used.”
    • “It didn’t make much sense to me when I first saw one.”
    • “It saves my bacon on a daily basis.”
    • “It allows me to sleep at night.” (my favorite)

Challenges

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Post-it notes on top of post-it notes–sign of too much WIP!

  • Because there is so much WIP, we have tons of issues identified on the board (highlighted with blue post-its). There are so many, its now become noise and I need ANOTHER post-it (white) to identify higher priority items we need to discuss as a team. Having no WIP limits suck!
  • Limiting WIP is such a foreign/difficult concept here (though the seeds may have at least been planted). I tried to explain why limiting one of my team mate’s WIP would help her but I was told, “No—just send them all to me.”
  • Global PMO visited our office and saw my board. I was happy to see our IT director talk it up (see his comment above). I gave a brief explanation of how the board worked. There seemed to be some skepticism (their comments are above). Its kind of odd to me that a PMO group doesn’t recognize a Kanban board.

Opportunities

  • Another project manager asked me about the board. He said he’s struggling with the organization of his project and needs something. I let him borrow my Kanban book and Stop Starting, Start Finishing. He quickly discovered Kanban was being used elsewhere (one of his team members said they used one at Hyundai). I’ve seen him walking around with the Kanban book and he said he wants to sit down and talk with me about it. One of his teammates has been wanting to try Kanban for some time. He even took my class. This gives us a champion on the inside.

Wishes

  • I really wished our partner could see and use the board. I think it would help them tremendously (which would help us). They seem to be so overwhelmed. I know they are in spreadsheet hell. I’ve been thinking about looking into Lean Kit (though I am skeptical of electronic Kanban boards over physical ones).  It may be too late to use it for this project, but perhaps we could use it on the next one???

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII

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Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part VI

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Our board. Note the graphs to the left indicating trends. I’ll post about those soon.

Here are some recent goings-ons with the Kanban board.

I’ve told this to others in my organization and I’ll continue to say it, this board is central to the project’s organization and understanding. It saves my bacon daily–simply because I know what the heck is going on. I highly recommend one.

Just to remind my readers—my organization does not embrace Kanban, Agile, or any type of improvement methodology or philosophy. This series documents the challenges, failures, and triumphs of trying something different.

  • There are many who still just don’t get it. I still get teased:
    • “Watch out! Don’t knock off any post-it notes!” as a group of people walk by.
    • “What if someone just comes along and . . .”  Person moves post-it note to elsewhere on the board (actually, I can figure out where its supposed to go just by looking at it).
    • “What if there is a fire?” often said with a smirk. (“Everyone grab a post-it note!”
    • Of these comments, I know some of its just good ribbing and some its genuine disbelief. Regardless, this is something I’ve learned just comes with the territory. For the most part, I feel people have come to respect what I do even if they don’t quite get it.
  • The series was featured on the Deming Institute! One of my team members, who had lived in Japan, immediately understood the significance of this. “Everyone has GOT to know about this!” he said. This is about as far as the excitement went, though. I told my supervisor, and he seemed to think it was cool, but didn’t say much about it. When I told our PMO lead, he asked, “Whose Deming?” After I explained, another colleague laughed and said, “It sounds like a cult.” This sucked some of the wind out of my sails.
  • Team members are starting to interact with the board after some encouragement. I’ll be at my desk and here the pop and soft rattle of a post-it note moving on the board from behind me. Its a good sound—the board removes me as a bottle neck. The board is showing the team what needs to be worked on without me telling them!
  • One of our team members, a former navy man, compared the board to boards they use in the navy to monitor ships that are all over the world. He said he likes the board.
  • I’ve said this before and will say it again—it would be better if all those who use the board were right next to it. Those who are at my location work in another room. They have to get up, walk out of their room, down a hall, and in to my area to see what is going on. Up to a hundred feet. I can understand why they might think the board is a pain. I also think this causes the board not to always get updated like it should.
  • Related– it would be better if all our remote partners could see it. I believe one of our partners suffer from cumbersome internal processes and systems and I think our board could give them some clarity. There are things I regularly see that I have to keep bringing to their attention, but if they could see it themselves, they wouldn’t need me to point it out. Ideally, the board would be electronic so all remote team members can see it, but also retain its current size so those in its presence can read it and discuss it.
  • We’ve had new people come on board to help me with the project. I asked them to use the board. There was some resistance to it, including from their manager, at first. This company is used to working in spreadsheets (which I’m seeing more and more of the problems of). One member openly said, “I’m not going to use this.” I think she was intimidated by it, but once I told her why it was important to the project and I showed how it worked and told her not to worry about all the nuances, she chilled.
  • One of the new team members seems to really like the idea. I think he may become a champion of convincing others of the board’s merits. I think a board like this would help them with their own work. I’m wondering if he is starting to see this.
  • The new people have been taking the post-it notes back to their desks. I allowed this because they needed the information on the notes to complete their work. The negative– sometimes I’m looking for a site and can’t find it. I’ve started wondering if this was a good idea. I’m worried the post its will get lost. This again drives home the point that it would be better if we were all in the same location.
  • While everyone knows I’m very aware of what is going on with the project, they are not happy with the results they are seeing (the project has been behind schedule since the first week). This make me concerned that people will conclude that a board like this does not help get a better result. My argument—what type of predicament would we be in without it?
  • Its official. We are moving to a new location and there seems to be some disagreement on if there is room for the board. My supervisor and teammate think so, but others have told me there won’t be any room. I wonder sometimes if I am going to be made to conform. I wonder if anyone has any idea how important this board is to understanding a very complex project and how its central to the project’s organization. Of course, if it can be accommodated–all who currently use the board will be in the same location and that would be very, very good. We’ll see what happens!
  • Someone told me that one of the manager’s admired the fact that I did what I believed to be right despite strong pressure not to. He said we needed more people to do that. I believe they were referring to the board.
  • As I study Lean, I’ve come to the conclusion that the board actually duplicates effort which is wasteful. I have to write information from an e-mail or spreadsheet onto the post-it note. This is the downside. The upside, it puts the information in a form where I am able to synthesize it. I am unable to do this when its in its original form. I wonder if there is a way to get both worlds?
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See the column on the far right? That’s how many we have actually completed! Conclusion- we have plenty of starting and not enough finishing. See those blue notes? Those are things we have to revisit. That’s a lot of rework and only adds to the WIP. I’m not certain how to convince others that this is an issue.

  • This company does not believe in (or understand the importance of) limiting work limits and finishing before you start something else. As a result, the board is getting cluttered with tons of post-its and its getting harder to find specific posts its. There has also been times where I have duplicated a note.
  • During my last post on this series, I wished our partner would start sending over smaller batches at more frequent intervals so we could create flow. I was able to convince them to do that. However, we are still not getting the results we want from them. Because I don’t have a clear insight into our partner’s processes, I’m unable to understand where the bottlenecks are and where to help fix them. Management is getting frustrated. We asked the partner to double their batch size, but because still don’t see good results, leadership has insisted they do them all at once. So much for the concept of flow. . .
  • Because management has asked for everything to be released at once, I predict our board is going to get very crowded and our WIP is going to explode. I wonder sometimes if the board will be any of any use at that point. I might be spending all my time just updating it and that’s not going to help us get any work done. That could just be the fear talking, though. Who knows?

What I wish for

  • I wish management would visit our area more often to understand what is going on and help us solve our issues. The board (and all the charts I display) is just as much for them as it is for our people. They don’t come by, though, and we usually only talk during reporting meetings (which often results in their frustration). Without management being able to ‘see’ what is happening they have to revert to my interpretations. They aren’t getting the results, though, and as discussed, they are very much getting more and more frustrated.
  • I wish there was some way (technologically) for everyone involved in the project to see this board without us losing its size and “physicallness” it currently has. Even if I were to create this board in OneNote (which would be a large undertaking) so everyone could see it, I’m not certain everyone would use it and I would lose the benefits its currently giving the project. This is a risk I’m not willing to take.
  • I wished people at my company would read my blog. Maybe I’ll get ballsy and send my blog to our IT director. Hmmm . . .

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

Personal Kanban: Bringing Focus to Chaos- Part 2

As a project manager, I’ve got a ton of things I have to worry about. The devil is often in the details and there are a LOT of details. How do I keep track of them all? How do I know which to tackle first? How do I know how much I can do in a day? Thank the project management gods for the personal Kanban board. This is my go-to tool for personal time, priority, and energy management. In my last post I described the basics of the personal Kanban board and how it works. In this post I’ll describe how I determine what I can do in a day.

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Notice that each of the post-its have a number in the top right corner. This is an idea I got from Scrum. These are velocity points.

In a nutshell—velocity works like this:

Each item I have to do is given a certain number of points. I use the Fibonacci sequence. For me, the numbers are a combination of time, effort, complexity, and uncertainty. They are not precise time estimates, such as “this task will take me 15 minutes.” They are relative. To give you some type of idea of time, though—a 1 point item takes about 5-10 minutes. A 2 point story is about 10-25 minutes. A 3 is about 30-45 minutes. I may assign a higher point for an item if its hard or exhausting or if I’m not certain how long it will take. Like I said—its relative, but if I keep to my rules, I find it to be pretty darn accurate.

Over time, I keep track of how many points I can accomplish in a day. This will tell me how much I can get done in a day. My average is 36.5. So, when I plan my day, I put up @ 37 points worth of work.

 

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38.5 points ready to go. I have one in WIP–ready to go when I walk in to start work in the morning.

IMPORTANT: 37 points is NOT my target. My target is to do as much quality work I can in a day by staying focused. Time and energy is limited. I know with all things being equal, I can produce in the 37 point range. At the end of the day, I don’t fret if I don’t hit 37 points, and I don’t celebrate if I go over. The reason? Variation.

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Here’s a graph of about two months of work on a control chart. You can see this is a stable system with an average of 36.5 points with an upper control limit of @ 50 and a lower limit of around 24. If I go outside those limits, I will look at what went wrong. If I see a downward trend, I will investigate; if I see an upward trend I will investigate. None of these have ever happened.

If you think about it, this is actually a pretty amazing amount of predictability when you consider how crazy work can get. THAT is what brings order to the chaos.

Tips

  • Break down big items. I won’t go beyond an 8 (that’s about an hour and a half worth of work). Anything larger needs to be broken down. Small tasks keep you focused and keeps things progressing. If I have a large item to work on, I write “Epic” in the corner and put it in the “To Do” box. When its time to work on it, I break it down into smaller items.
  • When you complete an item, re-evaluate its points. I find that sometimes I was wrong in my initial estimate. It may be higher or it might be lower. I cross out the old number and write down the new. This gives me a more accurate total when I count up total points.
  • If something unexpected comes up during the day, I create a new post-it, stick it in the “To do” box and remove equivalent points from the “To do” box. Example– My supervisor unexpectedly comes by to get some information about the project. In the end, this was the equivalent of about 2 points of work. To stay within my daily velocity, I add 2 points for my supervisor visit and remove 2 points from my “To do” box (preferably, the lowest priority should be removed).
  • I use different colored post-it notes to represent my different projects. This helps me understand where I’m putting my efforts and helps me to better plan out my days.
  • Related: This is a great way of collecting personal data. For example, I can track how often I am interrupted or how much time I spend on reporting or in e-mail. I’ve also used it to track how much of what I do is adding to customer value. This helps me understand what I’m actually doing and what I can do to improve.
  • Some items have a specific time associated with them. For example—meetings. I put the time associated with this task in the top center and place it approximately where it will fall during the day (not necessarily by its priority). For example, an 8:30 phone call will be toward the top and a 4:00 meeting will be toward the bottom.
  • Related: Some items may be high priority, but take place in another time zone. For example, I may need to schedule a high priority appointment with one of our California sites, but because they are three hours behind my time zone, I won’t be able to reach them until mid day. I place them in the center of the day’s priorities (about the time they will be arriving to work so I can hit them up first thing).
  • Create a post-it for stopping to review what you’ve accomplished, plan for the next day, think about what you can do differently, and review and prioritize what all you have coming up in the “To Do” box (they call this a retrospective and backlog grooming in the Scrum world. This is represented by my “Wrap-Up” post-it). This is VERY important for this process. Its the last item on my list of things to do, but always takes priority over anything if I hit the 3:45 pm range.
  • As the day winds down, I will re-evaluate what all I have left to do in the “Today” box. I may add or remove items depending on how much time is left in the day.
  • I mentioned Jim Benson in my last post and I’m going to mention him again. While I came up with this idea independently, Jim is the trailblazer for Personal Kanban. I look forward to reading his book to get some ideas on what I can do better. I recently discovered a podcast interview he conducted with Mark Graban over at LeanBlog. I highly recommend it.

 

Personal Kanban: Bringing Focus to Chaos- Part 1

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If you walk into my work space, you are going to see post-its all over the damn place. If you didn’t know what it all meant, you’d probably just think I was just messy, but there is actually a sophisticated system to my madness.

Central to my personal organization is my personal Kanban Board. I began fooling around with this at my old job back in the summer of 2015. Our scrum team had experimented with one. It didn’t stick, but I started thinking I might be able to use it myself. Right away, I fell in love with it.

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My first board. Picture taken with my old phone. Sorry for the poor quality.

By far, this is the best tool I have EVER used for time, priority, and energy management. The benefits blow me away sometimes: it keeps me sharply focused, allows me to understand how much work I have to do and if I’m getting overwhelmed or too far behind, gives me data on my own performance, allows me to understand how much work I can complete on any given day so I can plan better, and gives me the feeling of accomplishment. It also allows me to sleep better because I’ve emptied my head of all the things I need to do by writing them down and keeping them in an organized fashion. Perhaps best of all– it allows me to be creative and as a result, work becomes fun. I always brighten when I see it and it makes coming to work more enjoyable (even on Mondays!!).

Materials:

  • For the board, all you really need is a flat area and something to divide sections off with. I used the front of my cabinet and masking tape for the board at my old job. For my current board, I use poster board (I use two or three so I can expand it in any different directions as need be) and cut up post-its to create the lines.
  • Post-its
  • Thumb tacks (or command strips)
  • Sharpie

The Board Set Up

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At its basic, the board is divided into four areas. Working from left to right:

  • “To Do” (far left): This is everything I need to do. If I need to do something, I write it on a post it note, and place it in this area. The higher it is on the board, the higher the priority.
  • “Today” (the middle): This is the stuff I plan to work on . . . well . . . today. I work from top to bottom, right to left.
  • “WIP” (Work in Progress): The most important area. This is what I’m working on at the moment. I don’t work on anything else outside this box. Notice it has room for only two post-it notes. This makes me limit my work in progress, reduces multi-tasking, and increases focus.
  • “Done” (far right): This is what I have completed for the day.

Extra Areas.

These are areas I have experimented with. I wouldn’t call them necessary, but they have helped me.

  • “Waiting” (bottom): These are items where I have solicited others to help me complete a task and I’m waiting for compliance. For instance– if I sent an e-mail to someone and I’m waiting for a response or I’ve called someone on the phone and left a VM. Lately I’ve taken the rule that if this area fills up, I won’t work on anymore tasks relating to needing someone else to help me complete something. The reason– it increases my overall WIP, i.e. too many things started and not enough finishing. If I don’t get a response from the person after a few days, I put the post-it back in the “To Do” area and start over again.
  • “Help Boxes” (Top): This is my latest experiment. I often have needed conversations for my supervisor, our tech lead, or our partner. I put these on post-its and place them in the appropriate box . When I get the chance to talk to them, I address the box. Often, these conversations turn into action items and go into the “To Do” box afterwards. If it was just something I needed to know, I just toss the post-it.

It works like this

  1. Things I have to do are accumulated over time. These go in the “To Do” box.
  2. Once a day, I pull items out of the “To Do” box into the “Today” box. I’ll discuss how I determine how much I know I can do in another post (hint—it has to do with those numbers in the top right corner).
  3. Starting from the top right and working my way down right to left and top to bottom, I work my way through the day, pulling post-its into the WIP.
  4. When completed, I put them in “Done” or they go into “Waiting.”
  5. By the end of the day, my “To Do” and “WIP” box should be empty. The “Done” box will be full. There may or may not be post-its “Waiting.”
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This is my board at the end of the day. My “”Today” area is empty, my “WIP” is wrapping things up. My “Done” area is full.

Tips

  • The “WIP” box is the most important box. This is your focus. Set a work limit for it. I do this by making the WIP box the same size as my WIP limit. In this case—two post-its sized. Don’t work on anything else until what is in the box is finished. You will decrease multi-tasking and get more work done.
  • Keep the board within arm’s length from where you work. In my case, its right next to my computer. I think I might be less likely to use it if I had to keep getting up to move post-its all the time.
  • Keep post-its and a sharpie close by. Things come up all the time. If I think of something I need to do, I quickly write it on the post-it and pop it on the “To Do” area.
  • Keep poster board putty nearby for when the post-its begin to lose their stickiness.
  • Keep the WIP box near eye level. When I lose my train of thought or am interrupted, the box snaps me back into focus.
  • Make it bright and colorful. Post-its have a World of Colors collection. I like the Rio di Janeiro. It makes the board look more fun and as a result makes work fun. I personally like having a black backboard. It makes the colors pop.
  • In the beginning, you may change your board a lot as you get used to what works for you, so don’t be afraid to try something or fret if your board keeps changing. Heck, I still change mine to accommodate my needs. You should do the same for your board. Its meant to evolve. If it doesn’t, there might be something wrong.
  • You are going to go through a lot of post-it notes (and sharpies). Make a budget for it. Staples has a sale @ October/November when they get rid of all their back to school supplies. You can get some good deals then.
  • Jim Benson is an expert with Personal Kanban, but I’ve yet to read his book. I’ve kind of grown this idea on my own. Jim has been doing this a lot longer than I have and I’ve seen a couple of his presentations. He’s a smart dude. I’m sure I would get some good ideas from reading his book. Its certainly on my list. You may want to check it out.

In my next post, I will talk about how I determine what all I can do in a day.

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part IV

Here’s some latest happenings on my wall charts. The last post is here.

  • The head of our IT department came by my cubicle the other week. My boards attract his attention whenever he’s in the area. We started discussing what was going on with the project. He could see from the board that sites were starting to move through the process which made him glad. He could plainly see the blocks. He was able to help me get rid of six. He seemed a little perturbed we hadn’t figured out how to get rid of them ourselves, though. He then looked at the burn down chart next to the board, pointed at the WIP which was still way above the sloping diagonal line and said he wanted the WIP on the line the next time I gave my report. That was unnerving. All I could say was I wanted it on the line too. Maybe he isn’t pleased how things are progressing, but I hope he appreciates the transparency I am trying to show. Its something he once said he wanted from the project managers. I actually wished he would come by more often so we could have more discussions. At the same time, if he did, I can’t help wonder if he will only blame me for not getting more work done.
  • My other team member gave input on how the board could be better changed– showing the sites that have been queued the longest from top to bottom. He also has becoming by more frequently to look what needs to be done. I wish he sat closer to me so he could have more easy access to it. I think it would help. The problem is, my project is just one of three or four others he has to work on and my supervisor who sits in the next room over, prefers my team member to be closer to him, also, I don’t sit with the rest of my department (which is sort of good, because there is no wall space there).

 

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My teammate’s contribution to improving the board. He wanted to identify how long our sites had been in provisioning.  Note the burn down to the left.

 

  • One day, this same team member came by to look at the board. I heard one of the other employees chiding him about getting into the whole post-it note thing. My team member replied that the board actually had its merits.
  • I had someone ask me how to make a Kanban board so they could use it for their own purposes.  I had to cram what I could in a 30 minute session because his time was limited. He’s used similar boards in the past but hadn’t thought of putting in ‘Done’ columns. I also explained to him the importance of limiting WIP but I’m not certain he understood. Since I went over with him how to make the board (a few weeks now), I’ve seen his board still lying on the ground next to his cubicle. He said he’s been busy. Whenever he comes by he still marvels at my board. Wish I could do more to help him.
  • This same person I helped said that one of these board would help one of the other teams. I had the same thought because what they do is similar to what I do. I know their manager has seen my boards, but she is one of the folks who doesn’t understand why I just don’t use a spreadsheet. Her team would have to want a board like this, and they haven’t shown much interest, and I’m not certain how supportive she would be.
  • There’s some talk of moving the department and there is a concern there won’t be any wall space for my board. I’m not sure what I’ll do in that situation. I could go electronic, but the board will lose a lot if its power if I do that. Its size and location is much of its strength. It will be more difficult to have conversations about it if its tucked away on my computer. It will also make it more difficult to read. Of course, since I’ve been here, there has been talk of moving and it hasn’t happened.
  • I had another project manager come by to view my boards. She really liked them and I could see the wheels turning on how she could create her own. It reinforces the idea that I need to make time to teach how these work. This same project manager said my ideas would find more acceptance and traction in her department than in mine. Maybe.
  • The board is getting more and more crowded with work. Its starting to look like a parking lot. My company does not understand or appreciate the concept of limiting WIP or flow. I’m thinking of ways to rearrange the board that will highlight where items are queuing. My concern is this will only cause people to get upset that we aren’t doing our work. We’ll see. Perhaps it will start more conversations about how having too much WIP is slowing us down.

The next post in this series is here.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part III

For those who know me, you know I like boards. Some know I’ve used Kanban boards. Here’s my latest.

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As cool as this one is, the board is actually not a true Kanban board. In order for it to be, we would have to be limiting our work in progress (WIP). This is actually one of the reasons why I struggled with moving to a Kanban board–because I couldn’t figure out how to limit the WIP.

Why couldn’t I limit the WIP? My company takes the traditional approach that the best results are achieved if everyone is at capacity and believes push is more effective than pull. Also, we rely on a partner who have their own methodology for completion. That’s a battle we’ll have to fight another day. Hopefully the board will help highlight the problems of this strategy and one day it can grow up to be a real Kanban board and the company will benefit from it.

One of the benefits Anderson touts about Kanban boards is that they create change by showing the flaws in a system and sparking conversation. Admittedly, I’m a little disappointed this hasn’t happened. Folks haven’t said a whole lot about it (where as the old boards did). Perhaps this is because, to them, it’s just a dry erase board with some post-its, which is rather common place. Or they have just gotten used to me making boards all the time and figure this is just another one of the odd things I do to stay organized. A friend of mine pointed out the board might get more attention if I was more centrally located (I’m kind of tucked away in a corner).

Despite the board not catching on like I’d like yet, it’s still the best tool I have. It’s helped us become better organized, helped highlight troubled areas and streamline our processes, and it continues to keep us hyper aware. Also, personally, the board has helped me understand the concept of push vs. pull and has certainly made me think more about the problem with queues. Also, a couple of project managers in the development department have asked me to do a training session on Kanban. Maybe it won’t catch on in my area but perhaps it will in others.

The board is fairly new and the project is just getting off the ground. There is still plenty of time for it to generate discussion and evolve. I’ll be posting from time to time on how this is going.

I’m ending this post with a couple of close-up shots of the board and stickies.

It’s evolved over time. Glad its dry erase!

Each site gets two post it-colors. One for circuits and one for equipment. These are going on in tandem so go to different areas of the board. Dates indicate when equipment is sent or a circuit installed. Big black checkmark indicates it actually happened. The smiley face means we received an IP from the internet provider.

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Blocks are pink, describe what the problem is, and gives a date on when it became an issue.

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Here’s an example of how the board highlights potential bottle necks. This area got filled really quick one morning. Our tech lead is responsible for completing these. My supervisor saw this cluster and when I explained what it was, he gave kind of a sheepish grin and said, “Oh, I guess I shouldn’t have asked him (the tech lead) to go take care of something at the other building then.”

Fortunately, it was quickly relieved and perhaps the board helped highlight this issue, but this shows the problem of a push vs pull mentality and not understanding limiting WIP.

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The next post of this series is here.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Implementing Change Using Kanban-Part II

The wall charts I were using were good, but had their issues.

I used Kanban boards in the past and loved them. From the beginning of the project, I wanted one. I tried several times to prototype something. But I couldn’t figure it out. I re-read Anderson’s Kanban book (thanks Carolyn!). Still couldn’t figure it out. For about a week, I gave up, thinking maybe a Kanban board just wouldn’t work with this project. There were just too many intricacies.

Something must have gotten into my subconscious, though, because for some reason, almost overnight, I figured it out.

I had used cardboard for my original wall charts. I knew a dry erase board would be better, but they were expensive and I wasn’t sure I could convince management to get me one. I looked around for a cheap alternative and found this video. Voila, Dry erase board + markers and erasers for @ $20. What a bargain.

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The board is divided into each step of the process, similar to the original wall charts. What’s really different is the post-its. Each one represents a site. They work in pairs. Green represents the equipment for the site. Yellow represents the circuit. Pink represents a block. Orange is a note that requires attention.

The pros of using this type of board vs the original.

  1. It accommodates a lot more sites. There are currently 44 on the board with a lot of room to have more (this had been a concern for management with my original boards).
  2. Its dry erase so I can modify it easily (which is pretty regular). The other boards used tape which was harder to change.
  3. It shows what people are working on. I can spot a bottle neck a mile away.
  4. It’s easier to read. The old wall chart had a lot of different colored pins that one had to remember in order to read the board correctly.
  5. Related—it’s easier to maintain because it doesn’t have so many pins to keep track of. I don’t have to worry about them falling on the floor or being put in the wrong row or column.
  6. It was less expensive (a little). The other chart required tape, pins, and 3×5 cards. All that added up after a while.
  7. It was easier to make. The old wall charts required me to make the grids which could take over an hour per board. I then had to make the column headings, the card, and add the pens. For this board–I just slapped some command strips to the back of this baby, drew some lines, added the post-its, and it was to ready.
  8. It’s prettier. The brown cardboard for the old charts was kind of ugly and ghetto.

Cons

  1. It’s harder to find a site because there are a lot on the board. The old charts were organized by site so I could find them quicker.
  2. The post-it notes don’t always stick. I keep poster putty nearby. If a post-it falls, I just put a little putty on the back and re-stick. Works like a charm.

Next post—my experience using the board.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Implementing Change Using Kanban-Part I

I think the hardest part of being Agile or a Deming disciple is dealing with resistance to change. I’ve heard the phrase that a scrum master’s lot in life is to have to swim upstream. Sometimes it feels like swimming up a waterfall.

I’m in a department that is not Agile. Fortunately, my managers are tolerant of me using agile/Deming methods and tools (I’m not sure they realize that’s what I’m doing). I thought I’d share my experiences of using them here.

My main tool is the card wall. This is one of the first things I created when I started. It stems from Deming’s emphasis on understanding a system. The tool itself is inspired by my experience with Kanban boards. Here’s a picture of it.

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Yeah, its a little blurry. Sorry. I have an old phone.

 

Why a wall chart for implementing change? I got the idea from David Anderson’s Kanban system. It’s a visual representation of a project’s system. Its like holding up a huge mirror to the project. People see the flaws and  fix it. According to Anderson, its a good way of implementing change for an organization that is resistant to change because it doesn’t ask for any changes. It just shows the flaws.

For this project, we had to upgrade the networks for 31 sites in Canada. We had to track the circuit installs, the equipment being configured and shipped, and the final install when equipment and circuits were connected.

Each row on the chart represented a different site and each column represented a different step of the process. Half of a 3×5 card contained various information about the site including install dates and indicated where in the process the site was. Different colored pens indicated the types of equipment and the type of circuit being installed and where it was in the process. Pink scraps of post-it note indicated blocks and issues.

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The result- I became hyper aware of what was going on with the project. At a glance, I could tell what was going on at each site. Few things, if any, got by me. It was my number one weapon and thank God for it.

When I put these up (there were eventually four of them) they got a lot of attention from the other employees. No one here uses wall charts so they didn’t know what to make of them. Some thought it was cool. Most were indifferent and took the tack, “well, whatever works for you.” Some didn’t get why I was doing it. I was often asked why I just didn’t use a spreadsheet. Some asked what I would do if I was moved (i.e. I’d lose all the information on the chart because it wasn’t portable). I could also tell there were some who thought it was a waste of time.

One comment did catch my attention and made me think about my strategy. This person pointed out that the 31 Canadian sites were just the tip of the iceberg. After Canada, I had almost 500 sites in the U.S. I would have to track. Though I had four charts, they accommodated only about 40 sites! What was I going to do?

There was another thing about these charts that bothered me. Though I could tell what each site needed and what was happening next, I couldn’t really see what our team was working on and where the bottle necks were.

The last thing that bothered me: I seemed to be the only one using them. I think I had made it a little too complicated for people to understand. If I want to change people’s minds, I needed them to better see what was going on. Simplicity was key.

I had to think of something else.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Its all About Focus

The first thing our scrum teacher taught us about agile was the importance of focus. I come back to that lesson daily, oftentimes hourly.

Its funny. Many people would agree focus is important, but very few practice it. Multi-tasking is very much the norm.

Most people I speak to about multi-tasking fall in to two camps. One declares they are good at multi-tasking*, usually take pride they can do it, and say they would have it no other way. The other group, far more numerous, has surrendered to the idea that having many things to work on at once is just business as usual. To them, multi-tasking to get things done is just stone cold reality.

I’ll take on the first group in a moment, but for the second group who believes this is our reality– here’s another reality—people do not multi-task well. In fact (despite what the first group thinks), we are terrible at it. Its a scientific fact. To say multi-tasking is what we have to do in order to get a lot of things done is as realistic as saying we are going to clone people so more work can be completed.

Let’s now address those people who believe multi-tasking is efficient. If you think this, you actually might be in trouble, but to be sure, lets perform a simple test to see how good you are at multi-tasking.

Take a look at these two sentences:

George Washington cut down the cherry tree.

Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin.

Step 1. Get out a stopwatch. Time yourself on how long it takes you to write these two sentences. It took me 34.62 seconds.

Step 2. This time you are going to time yourself writing these sentences at the same time. In other words, write one word from the first sentence, then write a word from the second sentence and go back and forth until you have completed both. For example—you would write G, A, e, b, o, r, etc.

Ready? . . . Go!

How long did it take you? I timed out at 1:58.75. Did you have any problems writing the two sentences? Did you make any mistakes? How is this part of the exercise different than the first?

Its true we can’t completely do away with multi-tasking. Sometimes you do have to switch. However, mutli-tasking needs to become the exception rather than the rule rather than the other way around. Learn to recognize when you are multi-tasking and seek to minimize it. Learning to focus on one thing at a time takes practice. In a future post I’ll give you a tool that t I use to help minimize my multi-tasking and increase focus.

In this article, I focused more on an individual and his/her ability to multi-task. Can a team multi-task? How about an organization? How do we change the tide of this god-awful myth and become more focused in our work and ultimately get more work completed?

 

*The University of Utah found that a small percentage (2.5%) of the population CAN multi-task as effectively as those who mono-task. Before you raise your hand and say, “that’s me,” the same university found those who think they can multi-task are the worst at it and those who don’t are better.

Kanban Board- The Best Tool I Have

00 Team Kanban BoardMy current project could best be described as stressful, confusing, and complicated. There is a large learning curve for both the product and the team processes. Its been hard enough keeping up with these things let alone keeping up with my duties as a scrum master—i.e. keeping tabs on what the team is working on and figuring out what I could do to help them become more efficient.

Thank God for the Kanban board.

I had heard of them off and on over the years and even tried my hand at making them a few times. Last fall I attended a presentation for a company that had adopted Kanban. The main thing that piqued my curiosity about them was that the presenter claimed they were useful for companies that were resistant to change. He suggested “Kanban” by David J. Anderson for reading.

I wish I would have found this tool sooner. It has brought so much grounding to my hectic job and has made me a much better scrum master. The Kanban board makes what the team is working on highly visible. Here are some things that I frequently find:

02 Early Findings

01 Multi-tasking

02 Work Marked as In-Progress but is Actually Completed

03 Developer Can Not Move Stories

Additionally, its helped with these items:

  1. I know when team members don’t have anything to work on.
  2. Helps me identify places where work can be redistributed to create a more efficient flow.
  3. Creates a sense of urgency and makes my job much more fun. Its almost like a game now!

The Kanban board works in any type of system- traditional or agile. If you get even half of what I’ve gotten out of it so far, it will make your workload much more manageable.

NOTE: I used One Note to create this board as opposed to the more common wall chart. I did this for a couple of reasons. One, I wanted to experiment a little with the idea before I took up any wall space. Second, my team was distributed and I thought an electronic version would be more beneficial.

NOTE #2:  Unfortunately, my team never saw this board so I have no feedback from their perspective. I was told explicitly not to show them for fear of “distracting them with anything other than developing.” See this related post on more of this issue.