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What Is hurting Us And What Can We Do About It?

What Is hurting Us And What Can We Do About It?


In this blog post I wanted to share some of the real life examples of when I ask teams two questions:

1. What is hurting you as a team?
2. What are your customers saying about you as a team?

When we look at these we easily see how some of the general practices of the Kanban Method can help these teams manage their evolution to deal with these real problems successfully with little to no cost spent and no significant overhaul in applying a snazzy new framework.

Let us jump in!

What hurts us?:

When learning the Kanban Method we want people to take away pragmatic and actionable tools and techniques that will help the individual when they return to their teams so they can make a real impact and start managing their own evolutionary change.

In speaking with numerous teams and individuals when we ask them to take some time to think about; What is hurting you as a team? Here are some of the common answers that we have seen:

  • Too much work for the team
  • Last minute requests
  • Morale is low due to volume of organisational change

Let's dive in to some of these:

What Is hurting Us And What Can We Do About It?

Too much work for the team - This one is great and probably the most common one we hear and like most of us I can relate to it. Old school thinking has us believe that the busier we are then the more we'll get done right? Unfortunately with knowledge work (amongst other work types), it does not go that way. The Kanban Method teaches us to limit the work we have in progress. This is so we can get these limited amounts of work done and fed back on early and often so we can learn faster to make sure we are doing the right thing and we've built the thing right.

Think about cars on the road, no one gets anywhere in a traffic jam so why do we jam our teams with so much work in progress? For more on the benefits of limiting work in progress please see here: WiP Limits & Flow

What Is hurting Us And What Can We Do About It?

Last-minute requests - This can be a killer for flow but the reality is that in a complex world we need to be able to deal with last minute requests.

There is a need to minimize the impact of these requests so that they do not interrupt the team's or even the business's flow. You firstly need to understand how to deal with these types of work.

The Kanban Method introduces us to Classes of Service (how we treat the work) and guides us to identify the different types of work we receive (where it comes from and how often it arrives).

Once we understand this and our team's capacity, we can start to manage our work more appropriately so these last-minute requests become work item types. From these steps, the Kanban Method further teaches us to agree on clear policies that are understood so that when these types of work items enter our systems we know how and when to deal with any requests coming our way.

Morale is low due to the volume of organisational change - One of the reasons the Kanban Method appeals to us so highly is how it acknowledges the human element of change. We are not dealing with carbon life forms, we are people and people react to changes in their environment. The change management principles of the Kanban Method are Start with what you do now. Understand the current processes as actually practiced. Respect the current roles and job titles. Agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change and Encourage acts of leadership at every level.

There is nothing worse than being told by some consultant or boss in an ivory tower that you all need to change and this is how it's going to be from now on. By starting from where we are now, respecting the current roles and titles (so no one's identity is under threat) we can agree to pursue evolutionary change through small experiments that we can roll back if necessary.

I am not saying that big bang change can't work but it definitely comes with huge risks (disruption, rejection, resignation, the list goes on). The risk is way lower and the change is much more likely to stick if we pursue managed evolutionary change where we bring everyone along on the journey. Encouraging and empowering everyone in the organisation to help make that happen.

What Is hurting Us And What Can We Do About It?

What are your customers saying?

When we look at the second question; What are your customers saying about you as a team? These are a lot of the typical answers that we see:

  • No idea of when items can be delivered
  • No understanding of why things take so long
  • No overview of what is in progress - so not clear whether their initiatives are on track

Again, let's take a look at these a little closer:

What Is hurting Us And What Can We Do About It?

No idea of when items can be delivered - This is a major pain if you are a customer. Unless it's a good book, TV show, or Movie, we are not a fan of suspense, especially as a consumer. Asking for something and feeling like it's in a black hole.

With the Kanban Method, we leverage the service management principles which guide us to focus on the customer and to evolve policies to improve customer and business outcomes so that we become more predictable and build trust.

No understanding of why things take so long - Our customers and stakeholders can have no idea why things take so long as a lot of the time they do take a long time, most likely longer than we first estimated.

This brings us back to limiting our work in progress (or WiP limits). If we can successfully limit our work in progress and utilise the newly found predictability in our systems when we start to apply classes of service and leverage our system's data, we can start giving confident levels of predictability with meaningful figures that customers and stakeholders can have confidence in and therefore trust in.

This is opposed to wild guess estimations that are more akin to licking your finger and putting it up in the air.

What Is hurting Us And What Can We Do About It?
What Is hurting Us And What Can We Do About It?

No overview of what is in progress - so not clear whether their initiatives are on track - When we have no overview of what is happening and where our desired items are in the system we get nervous and trust starts to dissolve between us and our stakeholders. By leveraging the 1st general practice of the Kanban Method of visualisation and the 5th practice of implementing feedback loops we can increase transparency and understanding.

If we need to scale this, simply we do more kanban.

We can take it from the team level to the service level, right up to the portfolio level so we have clarity and alignment at all levels. From here we can build trust and become more fit for purpose in our product and service offerings.

In Conclusion:

A great place to start with all this is to get together and understand what should we offer to be fit for purpose so we know the direction to aim for. From here, we start to think about what is hurting us and stopping us from achieving our goals as well as what our customers are saying about us. Finally, we can then start to do something about it.

Teams that are keen to utilise agile values and principles may be holding a retrospective. This is a great forum to surface these issues. However, if we fail to identify what makes the work fit for purpose in the eyes of our customers and stakeholders and compound the lack of actions from our retrospectives, then the retrospectives just become a talking shop with little to no impact. By getting the issues aired and understood we have a great platform to start our managed evolutionary change journey to becoming fit for purpose and delighting our customers.

So my questions for you are, "Do you recognise the above?, What is hurting you and your team? What are your customers saying about you? And, what are you doing about it?"

If you'd like to explore the Kanban Method further and find out how it may be able to help you and your organisation then please get in touch via the website. Alternatively, book on to one of our upcoming courses here: Training Courses