My article last week discussed the need for team members to act with responsible transparency. Each team member requires discipline and wisdom to judge when an issue preventing them from completing their work items can be resolved quickly without the need for broader communication or escalation.
If a blocker surfaces and no one other than the person who encountered the impediment is aware of it, the delivery of that work item could be critically impacted resulting in a cascading set of delays. The same holds true for the team as a whole. I've occasionally worked with teams whose members are uniformly confident in their ability to resolve any blocker which arises. Such teams can go out of their way to show that they are in control and everything is going well on their delivery work, right up till the moment when it is clear to all that this is not the case.
So assuming that team members are doing a good job of surfacing impediments, how should these be communicated and tracked?
The project manager will likely be accountable for maintaining a project issue log but depending on where that artifact is housed it might not be visible enough to create the right sense of urgency from the stakeholders who can help the team resolve issues. Also, such a log is likely to track higher level issues and not just those affecting individual work items.
If a detailed schedule is being used to plan and track work activities, blockers could be directly linked to the affected activities, and indicator icons or flags can be set to highlight the tasks which are currently blocked. But that still requires stakeholders to regularly review the project schedule.
A better approach is to expose blockers through existing information radiators.
If a work board is used to help the team manage their work flow, blockers can be identified in one of the following three ways:
Blockers can also be tracked separately using a pain snake (sometimes called a "snake on the wall"). Every time a new blocker is identified, a new stickie is added to the snake. The length of the snake will help encourage the team not to allow too many blockers to remain unresolved.
So how bold are your team's blockers?
The new year is a time for making resolutions and most people’s lists are likely to include some behavior-related ones (e.g. I resolve to eat only one dessert with dinner!) as well as some goal-oriented ones (e.g. This is the year that I’ll get washboard abs without the benefit of Photoshop!). While behavior-related resolutions usually come down to our self-discipline and soliciting and receiving candid feedback from those closest to us until those behaviors become ingrained, goal-oriented resolutions might require us to do some planning and tracking.
This is especially true for personal development-related resolutions. You might be aspiring to attain a new role, a new credential or to gain competency with a new skill.
Perhaps you’ve taken the time to write down these goals and shared them with those around you. That’s great as studies have shown that documenting and communicating goals increases our sense of commitment and ownership to their completion.
Unfortunately, when it comes to personal development, reality has likely asserted itself now that we are through that halcyon first week of January. Whether it’s work priorities or family commitments it can be easy to de-prioritize those development activities, especially if there is no one reminding you of them regularly. Like the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable, days will turn into weeks and soon you might find yourself singing “And so this is Christmas and what have I done?”
Sometimes the problem might not be ignoring personal development activities but being overly ambitious by taking on too many at the same time and not completing them. It feels great to start something new but it can be less fun to see it all the way through especially while also juggling work and family activities.
If this sounds like you, Kanban might be just the support you need to accomplish your development goals.
Break your development objectives down into a few key activities, prioritize those activities, define the workflow for them, establish Work In Progress limits taking into account your capacity, and transfer those activities on Post-it notes to a simple work board containing high and low priority swim-lanes as well as one for blockers. Ideally this work board should be installed in a prominent location such as the side or front of your refrigerator where others will be able to see and support your development activities. This has the bonus benefit that when activities get blocked, you can draw on the creativity of your family to overcome them.
A development journey of a thousand miles begins with a Kanban step.
(Note: this article was first published on my personal blog on January 7, 2018)