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Jumping off the hamster wheel with Kanban

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Jumping off the hamster wheel with Kanban

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You're running and running and running but the scenery never changes. You never actually get to your destination. So, you run faster and faster thinking that if you just try harder then you'll get there. Do you feel like you're living your life in a hamster wheel? You're not alone. Many teams face conditions that keep them feeling exactly the same way.

This presentation walks through the challenges from my 1st development manager role, but is presented as a holistic story by including the challenges and changes of the business we were embedded with. Specifically, unsustainable amounts of work, a constant barrage of emergencies, feeling forced into the percentage game, and high levels of specialization.

You're running and running and running but the scenery never changes. You never actually get to your destination. So, you run faster and faster thinking that if you just try harder then you'll get there. Do you feel like you're living your life in a hamster wheel? You're not alone. Many teams face conditions that keep them feeling exactly the same way.

This presentation walks through the challenges from my 1st development manager role, but is presented as a holistic story by including the challenges and changes of the business we were embedded with. Specifically, unsustainable amounts of work, a constant barrage of emergencies, feeling forced into the percentage game, and high levels of specialization.


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Jumping off the hamster wheel with Kanban

  1. 1. Julia Wester @everydaykanban Anna Kovats @anna_kovats Jumping off the hamster wheel with Kanban Agile 2016
  2. 2. Who are we? @everydaykanban @anna_kovats Julia Wester Consultant, Trainer, Blogger, Learner Anna Kovats Efficiency Afficionado, Mgr, Internal Consultant
  3. 3. Our story begins @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  4. 4. @everydaykanban @anna_kovats Perceptions
  5. 5. Common challenges @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  6. 6. Searching for help @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  7. 7. Searching for help @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  8. 8. @everydaykanban @anna_kovats We had learned to value starting over finishing. Could this be our problem?
  9. 9. Four Core Principles @everydaykanban @anna_kovats 1 3 2 4
  10. 10. @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  11. 11. 1: Visualize your work (in your workflow) @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  12. 12. @everydaykanban @anna_kovats Expedite Intangible Fixed Date Standard Visualize info that gives you info about your problem
  13. 13. 2: Limit your WIP (aka Work-in-process) @everydaykanban @anna_kovats 5 12 5 2
  14. 14. The cost of not limiting your WIP 5 interruptions x 10 minutes = 50m lost work time [pp/ per day] 50 minutes x 5 days per week = ~ ½ work day lost [pp/per week] 8 people x ½ day per week = 4 working days lost in a week @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  15. 15. Let’s test how well you multitask! @everydaykanban @anna_kovats A B C D … J 1 2 3 4 … 10 I II III IV … X An exercise in two parts
  16. 16. @everydaykanban @anna_kovats AK JW start Focus / commitment end Whether it is a standalone piece of work… or an entire project. WIP limits put a focus on focus
  17. 17. @everydaykanban @anna_kovats Enable focus at a higher level Quit the percentage game
  18. 18. 3: Manage Flow of Work @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  19. 19. My job: facilitate this process
  20. 20. 4: Make Process Policies Explicit @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  21. 21. Goal: Know what work is most important @everydaykanban @anna_kovats 5 3 3 A C B C D C On Deck Doing Review Done A B D D B A
  22. 22. 5: Implement Feedback Loops @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  23. 23. 6: Improve Collaboratively @everydaykanban @anna_kovats Specialization and a small team led to a focus on cross- training to remove bottlenecks. Our Cross-Training Experiment
  24. 24. @everydaykanban @anna_kovats Level out specialization to save the experts for the big stuff
  25. 25. only way to go higher confidence level better set expectations Stacie Buckley, Director of Business Operations,, Turner Sports (2012) Changed minds, happier teams @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  26. 26. Successful journey, key outcomes • More realistic about what we could accomplish • Discussions became less emotional • Increased capacity without increasing cost • Saw major increase in revenue @everydaykanban @anna_kovats
  27. 27. @everydaykanban @anna_kovats Want to begin your journey? • Start with a problem • Respect the past • Be a scientist • Learn via all outcomes • Repeat the cycle
  28. 28. Have any questions? • Learn the signs of too much WIP & why it happens • Learn how to avoid change resistance • Learn ways to visualize your work & it's key attributes • Learn methods for prioritizing work • Learn methods for balancing project & non-project work • Understand why cross-training is key for specialist teams @everydaykanban @anna_kovats Want to dive deeper into any learning outcomes?
  29. 29. Anna Kovats Carry on the conversation… @everydaykanban /in/juliawester Julia Wester /in/anna-kovats-36438810

Editor's Notes

  • Thanks for being here
    We’re here today to tell you a story about how you can get in your own way when you’re trying to get work done and how Kanban was a catalyst for helping us jump off the hamster wheel of insanity and frustration!
  • Julia:
    - worked at TBS from 2000-2012. there had 1st mgmt success, fluke?
    - try again SEA, worked!
    - try to help at scale so I joined LK
    - I love helping teams tame the chaos of everyday work and talking about how management doesn't have to be a dirty word.

    - in 2004, started as WM, 2007 moved to PM to “get ahead of the problem”.
    - 2009 leadership role to help change from within,
    - took over the Director of Ops role in 2012
    - Helped implement and manage change to better ways to work together as a team between business and technology in three major companies: TBS, Weather, and Cox and doing the same in my current company: IgnitionOne.

  • Anna:
    talk about NBA contract with Turner Sports: business venture and equal partnership
    interested in better understanding the reason and drive behind the pressure to make things happen

    2009 1st mgmt role for the team, team of about 8 developers, plus some occasional contractors.
    Anna & I worked together before, but 1st time on either side of process

  • Julia:
    1st problem – not getting stuff done.
    Working their asses off, some working on 15 things at a time! They would eat at their desks and work overtime.
    Not sure why we weren’t getting anything done.
    Getting frustrated; stakeholders losing confidence

    Partners/stakeholders/clients couldn't understand why so long, thought our team not managing resources properly
    Connected folks knew team working hard, disconnected Management assumed ppl were substandard/inefficient
    Blamed people, not looking at it as a system problem
    Clear early on, applied same models that worked for smaller teams, less stakeholders, lower volume

  • Anna Only

    Lots of stakeholders (21 different groups) and pressure (90-120 concurrent projects; 60-70 active, 200-350 ticket backlog)
    Relationship building and maintenance was going to be critical (this will be a theme throughout) - how to build this?  TRUST!

  • Julia:
    -- didn’t assume incompetence or laziness.
    -- no buckle down, no bribery
    -- favorite tweet: to road, work harder fit more cars
    -- my job to find solutions to this puzzle

  • Julia:
    -- husband had insight to team, suggested Kanban
    -- pivotal moment, look what I’m doing now!
    -- no magic bullet, simply elegant concepts
    -- face reality, surface issues, experiments
    -- the Kanban book said that if you start less, you will probably finish more.

  • Julia:
    -- big light bulb: companies have taught us to value starting more than finishing
    -- certainly it had to be a learned behavior.
    -- At this point I’m pretty certain that this is part of our problem
    – because I can look at the items assigned to each developer and know that they can’t possibly spend time on all of these in one day, much less focus on any of them to get them done.

    -- reinforce – always push to take more work but never asked when we’ll finish.
    -- When are you going to get to this?  Myopic view - only focusing at RIGHT NOW thing, not everything at once.
    -- Only later “why didn’t you do the other 10 things too”?

    -- going to talk about underlying principles of Kanban
    -- then walk you through our journey of implementing its core practices

  • 1st 3 of the 4 Kanban principles were chosen specifically to reduce emotional resistance to change.
    Very appealing, start where you are, layer on. No huge adaptation REQUIRED, that is forced upon you.
    Embrace the idea evolutionary change (Kaizen) -- Baby steps to awesomeness
    You can make big changes, but you have to do so responsibly. In many cases, small changes carry less risk.
    Respect roles, titles, responsibilities – they are there for a reason
    Improvement doesn’t happen to you. Own the process
  • - 6 core fundamental habits or practices
    A & I introduce them as we walk through journey.
    We won’t cover every detail you might want or need to know about a Kanban practice (would take all day – or longer),
    we’ll introduce how they fit into our journey and we can discuss greater detail in QA or after the talk.
  • Julia: Kanban GOAL: optimize the flow of work through the system so we GET MORE DONE
    Why? Visualization is a powerful tool to aid understanding for human brains. – Visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text.
    -- sometimes we show a spreadsheet of work items in arabic (to english speakers) and then we show them the same information on a Kanban board and its amazing how much you can intuit from the board vs the xls even though you can’t read the text.
    1st Must understand work and workflow
    Workflow is series of actions to get work done – columns = actions
    Why understand first?: Changes without information can do more harm than good.
    Already had a virtual system so we started using the boards to visualize our work and workflow.
    Did only that NO other changes. Just watched work flow through and started learning what was going on with our work.

    great new way to get status
    able to see where to focus OUR attention so we were helping make progress and not becoming bottlenecks
    allowed us to better anticipate issues/roadblocks; build better contingency plans

  • Julia: tailor the visualization your work based on the issues you are facing.
    FEELING of lots of emergencies
    SUGGESTED classes of service (DEFINE)
    Requestor designated, not overly policed, but had to stand up to scrutiny
    Got go ahead to implement, so we did!

    had to train on definitions; help people understand impacts
    also needed impartial arbiter that was empowered to challenge and change people’s assessment
    helped keep the pressure off and allowed us to delegate and share decision making, better use of time
    Healthy decisions based on specific predefined criteria; less emotion and NO nepotism.

    14 expedite tickets for 8 person team in Feb. (20 working days) - expedite every day and a half, effectively taking up 1-2 people out of capacity for the whole month to take us down to 75%
    Able to share this, talk about impact on delivery of other work
    Visualizing info around a problem allows discussion and solution building

  • Julia:
    Normal is a push system. Explain push & tie back to initial problem
    Limiting WIP by constraining amount of work per workflow step
    Usually feels very counterintuitive, but worth a shot!
    Why do it? WIP limits quickly illuminate problem areas in your flow so you can identify and resolve them. (talk about in manage flow)
    It also enables focus which promotes getting things complete. That’s why we see so many hack days, etc.
    RESULTS: Focus led to faster completion and better quality of work.
    RESULTS: But the constraints led to better prioritization and conversations about slack time

    had me at visualization BUT what’s this LIMIT thing?
    skeptical how in a world with so many stakeholders’ competing and constantly changing priorities we could effectively manage and keep priorities constant enough for this to work
    worried perception would be that we were not even looking at important things or reducing capacity
    liked the idea of increased visibility and real-time information on progress - tell me more about this VISIBILITY thing?

  • Julia: Anna, what do you think a business would say in response?
    ANNA: They would question why we’re paying for an additional headcount that’s not doing any work four days a week and would want to reduce the team
    When we choose to interrupt focus it has an economic impact.
    Often the people making those decisions don’t understand that economic impact.
    If they did, they might just change their behaviors.
    Educate ourselves, share this with our stakeholders and work together to enable focus for better economic outcomes.
  • Everyone likes to think they are expert multitaskers. Let’s test your skills.
    Anna getting timer, you grab pen & index cards from your table.

    2 rounds, similar exercise. In each, have 3 cols of info. Letters A-J, Numbers 1-10, Roman Numerals 1-10.
    First round = focusing. One column is one job.

    2nd round = task switch b/t the three jobs.
    Left to right: A, 1, I then B, 2, II, etc. Again, mark your time on paper when finished. DO IT!

    Who did better on the 2nd round? Who in the 1st?
    In this simplistic exercise focus already matters. Imagine what happens when you add complexity. The result can be exponential.
  • Focus is the key. focus enables delivery. Constraining work enables focus. This is why this practice is so important.
  • Stop percentage game
    Explain project/pool policies.
    Specialization still existed
    Showed us how to live within means.
    This last step was one of the most transformative steps we took to understanding how much work we could really accomplish with our finite human capacity.

    -- saw the value of this new way of thinking and applied more broadly, creating complementary models for project portfolio management
    -- forecast capacity more accurately and further in advance
    -- allowed us to better track P&L at multiple levels/tiers
    -- new processes forced us to make ACTIVE decisions about what to focus on, not PASSIVE ones
     -- use real data to evaluate benefits/costs
     -- couldn’t let decisions stagnate: not making a decisions is still making one; if you see a train coming at you, you get off the tracks, if you see an opportunity, you seize it
  • Julia
    -- everything we’ve done until now leads us to being able to manage our flow.
    -- explain river metaphor
    -- we lived the board
  • Julia: -- facilitating removal of rocks = mgr key responsibility

    -- survival handbook for interpreting and reacting to the working world around us
    -- able to handle any emergency with minimal impact to other work
    -- lessened recovery time from several weeks to ALWAYS less than a week and often less than two days
    -- shift direction quickly without losing momentum or the value the team was creating for our business - less churn/waste in transitioning to new priorities

  • Julia:
    Make better aligned decisions through shared understanding of our process.
    Clearly stating explicit policies builds that shared understanding.
    Make only the rules you need to achieve your goals. OVERHEAD! Can’t
    Some of the policies that you make will affect your board design – adding expedite lanes or buffer queues, etc..
  • Julia:
    Example goal: Developers should know what to work on without asking

    Anna: talk about prioritization process
    -- we established data-based criteria that helped us determine top to bottom priority
    -- examples: fixed date targets, revenue impact, work estimates/budget (ROI), business driver - IDENTIFY YOUR OWN

    Julia: Queue replenishment meetings & pulling in work
    Weekly cadence to replenish queue
    Line of commitment – what that means
    Only pulled enough to get us to next mtg. Talk in b/t if needed. Make changes on rare situations (don’t want to reneg on commitments)
    Cadence for replenishment mtg. based on how quickly priorities shift.
    Our policy became: Pull from the top // pull the top thing you can do (talk about specialties later).

  • Julia:
    Weren’t yet extremely data-focused in this journey. That’s a later level of maturity than we had at that point.
    Did review: speed, time waiting versus active. (cycle time and flow efficiency, respectively)
    Daily interactions with stakeholders
    Daily stand ups with the team to discuss concerns.
    Not just adjusting actions. Some underlying assumptions were changed:
    doing less gets more done

    - weekly reports to management, partners and clients for completed and planned work
    - easy!  meeting commitments
    - de-prioritization was infrequent and ACTIVE and usually happened before management and partners made THEIR commitments
    - confidence in making commitments increased, TRUST increased
    - budgeting became easier to manage and acquire

  • At this point in journey, had shared understanding of our system so can better collaborate on improvements.
    Thing 1: commitment to cross-training. (reduce reliance on specialists for every little thing)

    Really supporting learning takes time, materials and management support. Not just lip service.
    Team agreement – learn at least one thing.

    Building T-shaped people.

  • What are T-shaped ppl?
    Stacking T-shaped ppl…
    Can eliminate waiting for easier stuff
    Reduces waiting on expert for hard stuff – they aren’t stuck doing easy stuff.
    think back to On Deck column, the number of items that you can “handle” can easily grow.

    - business side had to do the same thing so we wouldn’t become a bottleneck
    - build a strong WHOLE team, mix and match people so everyone got a chance to work with everyone else in different scenarios/environments
     - helped everyone to learn how best to work with each others’ personalities leading to:
     - better communications
     - better handle stressful situations
     - better and quicker problem solving
  • Julia: go over quote, pass it to Anna.
    - within few months management, partners and clients started relying on weekly reports to pass on to THEIR bosses
    - management and partners became our guardians
    - decisions were being made earlier on to smooth out the project pipeline
    - delays were easier to communicate because they became EXPECTED based on ACTIVE decisions
    - end of the day: when recession talk started “get more done with less”, team was already doing that and our department was one of the few unaffected by budget cuts

  • Julia:
    --More realistic about what we could accomplish
    --WIP limits are a key enabler to this realization
    -- Established an unshakable level of trust with our partners and clients.  
    -- During problems, they knew we were doing everything in our power and waiting on info so we can focus
    -- Discussions became less emotional – had data which turned feelings into facts
    -- stakeholders at all levels would push back on our behalf even sometimes when we were ok absorbing overflow work
    -- they knew how important it was to the health of the overall business to stay on track
    -- increased visibility for EVERYONE led to better innovation
    -- better decision making made overall P&L more profitable
    -- when renewal came about, our partners increased our budget when they didn’t have to so we could do MORE with MORE
  • So, that’s our journey. Your journey will look different, but hopefully achieve similar or better results. Here are some things to keep in mind when getting started…

    Start with a problem
    Respect the past
    Experiment using the scientific method
    Learn from any outcome
    Start the cycle all over again
  • Questions??