Today I'd like to share a few a success story that I've had recently with using kanban as a method for managing projects. In May of 2010 I decided to use this thing called kanban with one of my smaller project teams. The team was really excited about the idea although a little wary as well. I had only been there for about a month and already had a reputation as someone lets to try crazy weird new things.
It's been a little slow getting up and going with kanban and all of the concepts that come with it but I'm really happy with where we're at now. We finished out our first release using a kind of hybrid approach to kanban trying to not go to deeply into value stream mapping and user stories and some of the other concepts that come along with agile or kanban.
Value Stream Mapping
At the beginning of our second release we sat down as a team and figured out what our value stream looks like. A value stream is essentially just a series of toll gates that your project work moves through where each step adds value to the end product. It's a great way to understand the way that you're currently functioning as a team, and a visual way to understand how you could improve the process flow by which you produce the product.
In the process of developing our value stream we figured out doing things in real time is going to save time overall. For instance, with documentation, we used to wait until close to the release time where we were going to testing in order to hurry up and get all of our documentation done. I think the general assumption we had was that we didn't want to waste time doing documentation until we were finished coding because otherwise we may have to change the code and then go update the documentation again. In reality, working this way has saved us quite a bit of time.
For one thing the developers don't have to go back into their code and go through it again to try to remember what the heck they coded back three months ago. There is a lot of waste to get injected into a project when you wait so long between the time that you do the work and you try to document the system.
Another major benefit we found from kanban in general and value stream mapping specifically, is the focus it helps create when we are working on tasks. With kanban a very important premise is that you limit the work in process. By mapping the value stream and making sure we only have one or two user stories or tasks in work and any given time, it helps protect the team from bad multitasking and getting distracted.
The kanban board also makes progress and status reporting extremely visual and easy to manage. In combination with the daily standup meetings that I started back in May. It has really improved our communication as a team.
Ahead of Schedule
Now, I'm happy to report that we are over a month ahead of schedule on our second release! The original baseline schedule was made at a time when we didn't have a lot of these practices in place that we now do. I have three other systems to experiment with, so the experiment will continue. But so far I'm really loving what kanban, user stories, daily tag ups, and continuous integration are doing for us.
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