Kanban within a Sprint – Improves execution effectiveness

November 29, 2014 at 9:31 am | Posted in Agile - Beyond the obvious, Best fit Agile, Blogroll, Out of my mind | 1 Comment

Introduction:
Most people say they are doing Agile when they are actually doing Scrum. This is because Scrum is the most widely used agile method; with a good reason. Scrum provides a complete framework that includes roles, ceremonies and artifacts. Over last 20 odd years of its existence, it has matured and scaled to large projects.

Common challenges:
However Scrum does not provide sufficient guidance to the teams about how to manage their work within a sprint. There is no guidance on when to start work on which story / task. It does not provide guidance on how to keep the work moving smoothly without interruptions.

It mainly focuses on capacity utilization and relies heavily on burn-down chart to anticipate the risk of spill-overs. But there are cases where in spite of available capacity there is just not enough time for quality work before the due date. Hence there is a need to look beyond Scrum for help on these challenges.

Other possibilities:
Scrum is not the only agile method. There are others like Kanban and Lean. Kanban came from manufacturing, especially Japanese auto industry, and was pioneered in software development 10 years back.

Kanban is a light-weight method and is commonly used where the 2-3 week batch mode of Scrum doesn’t fit very well. Such situations include support activities, projects in maintenance mode, or anywhere the requirements come in at random and with a short completion time.

So a common approach is to choose between either Scrum or Kanban, but not both together. However there is an area of Scrum, single iteration or sprint, within which the Kanban principles can be considered for improving the execution effectiveness.

Benefits:
Expected benefits of introducing Kanban within a sprint are,
• Improved Agility –Measured as turn-around time (Elapsed time from the start to finish)
• Higher Productivity – Average velocity per person per week
• Better Quality – Reduced defects and rework

Kanban principles:
Kanban relies on pull mechanism to decide when to start an activity, and has just three simple principles.
• Limit the work in progress – Complete the work-in-hand before taking up the next task.
• Observe and manage the queues – Long queues introduce an inherent delay to every item. Lengthening queues indicate a capacity imbalance.
• Identify and remove the bottlenecks – Worst bottleneck decides the system throughput. Removing it reveals the next worst.

How Kanban principles help each improvement area:
Limit WIP: Pull system allows JIT re-prioritization (Agility). Uninterrupted attention reduces setup time (Productivity). Focused attention helps do a thorough job reducing defects and rework (Quality).

Manage Queues: Short queue reduces waiting time for all items in the queue (Agility). Reduced waiting time minimizes spill-overs (Productivity). Reduced waiting time provides more testing time before the due date (Quality).

Resolve bottlenecks: Removing bottlenecks Improves flow throughout the system (Agility). Improved flow results in higher capacity utilization (Productivity). Absence of a bottleneck means no need to compete for getting beyond it in hurry (Quality).

Implementation phases:
For best results it helps to follow a step-by-step implementation. The suggested steps are,
Set up the board to clearly visualize the work:
By default a board normally contains just three states – To Do / In Progress / Done. But the total span of a team’s work typically contains multiple stages. Visualizing them on a board as different columns helps to clearly see the flow. Further breaking the stages in pairs of doing & waiting clearly separates WIP and Queues.
Put in place data discipline:
The team will take some time to ensure that the data in the tool is in sync the with ground reality. But it is important to achieve this discipline to get reliable data for measurement and analysis.
Modify board design to facilitate measurements:
Initial measurements on live data will reveal areas of high variability. The board design would be modified through setting up swim lanes and filters to reduce this variability.
Baseline the current agility / productivity / quality:
Before we can measure the improvements, the current level needs to be captured.
Agility would be measured as the elapsed time between given points in the flow. Agile tools like JIRA provide powerful reports for cycle times and cumulative flow.
When doing Scrum, the productivity and quality measures would be in place to baseline the current levels.
Keep measuring and improving:
After the successful completion of first 4 phases, the teams can start reaping the benefits. Areas of improvement and the extent of benefits achieved will vary from project to project. There is no out of the box solution; but there are available pointers to indicate possible areas of improvement. Continuous improvement needs to become an iterative activity, with a short feedback loop.

Conclusion:
Scrum is the most widely used and powerful framework. Its power can be further enhanced by understanding and applying a few Kanban principles. The best place to start is within each sprint.

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