Tag Archives: kanban

Bootstrapping Agile (by yourself) using Kanban – My Agile Israel 2013 talk

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Agile Israel 2013 took place yesterday. This year was they year of “Hands on”. Around 600 attendees came to get practical hands on advice on multiple aspects of the agile world. My talk was about running your agile journey on your own.

This talk was aimed at people looking into agile or exploring ways to go agile for “group level” and above. I presented a mind map I recently created based on work I’ve been doing in the field the last 2 years and some experiences of other coaches on the AgileSparks team. I also mentioned some aspects of the recent and excellent Kanban Kick-Start Field Guide. 

I also experimented with a hybrid delivery approach for this session. I started with an Ignite/Pecha-Kucha style run through the 37 frames Prezi using 20 second auto-advance. Together with a short intro to what I’m going to do took about 10 minutes. Then I allowed serious time (something like 20 minutes) to deep dive of areas the session participants found especially interesting or unclear. This felt quite good as a speaker, and I got some good feedback from people in the audience, as well as some people who didn’t really like the session (red dots – no explanation why…)

The first question was about where how to choose which teams to start with, how to deal with different approaches for different teams, which was a good chance to explain my “Starting with Managers Kanban” approach in more depth – basically starting with value streams rather than component teams, then explore real value-stream/feature teams, then scale to more and more value-stream/feature teams as you grow your maturity, understanding. I think it is especially useful when exploring agile on your own, as it ensures the leads/managers are into it before you go into deep painful changes that are beyond your pain/skill threshold.

Second came up another one of my favorite challenges – how to make sure improvement happens. I took this opportunity to explore this area of the mind map in a bit more depth, basically addressing 3 key areas:

  • The need for purpose/urgency (connecting the drivers for agility with relevant metrics)
  • The need for clear actionable steps beyond just “improving” and “retrospecting” (here I described the concept of “boosts” to use the term coined by the Sandvik people in their great Lean Kanban Central Europe 2011 talk as well as gave some examples like Maturity/Depth assessment, Learning about variability, Learning about bottlenecks and Theory of Constraints, Learning about Rightshifting and how to use it to energize further mindset shift.
  • The lack of progress on identified improvement actions. Here I talked about Personal Kanban for leaders and management teams as a way to create discipline of execution and Improvement Kanban Board to make sure improvement actions are first-class citizens in your execution routine

BTW, readers interested in this topic are welcome to look at my Lean Systems and Software Conference 2012 talk – The Improvement Journey.

The last question we had time for was about my favorite visualizations. Kanban boards obviously. But I also talked about the Talent Matrix and how to use it to grow versatility in a way that is collaborative and inclusive. I also mentioned dependency boards and hierarchical kanbans that can be useful when applicable.

One of the questions people are asking me is obviously do I really believe people can bootstrap agile on their own with Kanban? My answer is that it obviously depends. If you have a great leadership team, the need and motivation for agility is clear, there is the ability to invest in learning on their own, the time to spare for experimenting and taking time to recover from wrong turns, then probably you can make it on your own, at least most of the time. Having someone who knows what they’re doing around can reduce risks, help recover faster from wrong turns, avoid some unnecessary mistakes. This provides some “risk management” as well as acceleration of the bootstrapping and improvement process. Note that even if a coach is involved I believe great coaching still leaves most of the work at the hands of the managers/leaders of the organization and still requires experimentation and evolution by people on the ground.

While obviously attending a 30 minutes session is not enough to make this happen (dear attendees, don’t expect a Certified Kanban Boostrapper title…)  I believe we can help change agents use this approach to bootstrap agile in their organizations. If you want to learn more about this approach, we are considering a “deep dive” workshop that will get you to that level – including Kanban, the Implementation approach, the different Boosts and Models mentioned, and other tips and tricks we use at AgileSparks to help organizations improve.  Leave me a comment here or at AgileSparks if that is something that interests you.


Recent Reading Lists

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute

(UPDATE: This post is quite deprecated now. For up-2-date reading lists go to the AgileSparks Per-Topic Reading Lists)

I’ve recently gone into Seal/Whale mode and didn’t have too much time to blog.  Sorry for that… To make the wait for new content easier, I’m sharing a couple of reading lists that I curated recently for use in client work. People often ask me for reading materials to help prepare for workshops/sessions so I decided to create a couple of Bit.ly bundles to serve as reading lists.

http://bit.ly/AgileSparksMgmtWorkshopPrep – As the name says, this is recommended reading for our AgileSparks Management Workshops (The approach we use to help organizations choose how to start their Lean/Agile journey)

http://bit.ly/Kanban101 – An initial reading list about Kanban (used to introduce AgileSparks clients to Kanban in preparation for an engagement)

http://bit.ly/Kanban201 – Advanced Kanban Reading/Watching Materials

http://bit.ly/ScrumBan – ScrumBan  – collection of resources about the mashup of Scrum and Kanban (as requested by a client of mine recently)

And finally, for my hebrew-speaking audience – http://bit.ly/KanbanHebrew, which as the link hints is material about Kanban in hebrew.

And from the archives – What do I need to read to become a product owner (I’m also working on one specifically around story slicing/splitting – see a preview at http://bit.ly/StorySplitting)

Happy holidays and new year everyone, hope to be back with some fresh material in 2013…

PS let me know if there is a key resource you are missing in one of those reading lists, or a key list that I’m the right guy to curate…



May the WIP Games begin…

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes


Hatsav (Maritime squill) – By Dany Sternfeld on Flickr

The day has come for FLOWer to bloom (maybe we should call it “Hatzav” (maritime squeel) after the flower that brings the autumn here in israel… btw we are in the middle of october and it feels like July, can’t wait for the Vienna weather next week in Lean Kanban Central Europe 2012 – you’ve got your tickets already, right?)

Introducing FLOWer

A couple of months ago I’ve written about experiencing Kanban system design and if you’ve been waiting to see what I’m talking about, today AgileSparks is soft launching FLOWer. Well, at least an initial version of it focused on experiencing the effects of WIP on flow and ROI/Profit of the business. You are welcome to go try FLOWer now.

A couple of notes about the beta:

  • Starting the simulator and seeing it in action doesn’t require any registration. Just open it and kick the wheels. Tweaking the settings requires registration which is currently done by simply associating your google account. We are assuming most people have a google account. We only keep your emails so we can be in touch, we don’t do anything else with your data.
  • We are currently in beta mode which means we limit the amount of users registered to the system. Hurry up and register. First come first serve.
  • We are still figuring out the pricing model. You can leverage that and enjoy it free at the moment. And we will make sure we take good care of early adopters that help us shape up the product.
  • We are trying to make the simulator and the game self-explanatory. We’re probably not there yet, so please comment or leave feedback on the site itself with anything that wasn’t clear, didn’t work as you expected, or points you just felt stuck at.
  • The simulator will run on any modern HTML5 browser. Chrome, Firefox, Safari… iPad Chrome/Safari… But that also means IE is NOT SUPPORTED. 

PS Participants of AgileSparks upcoming Kanban training (on 30-31/October) will also play FLOWer, including advanced scenarios that are “in the oven” at the moment…

So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and play! (Sorry, we didn’t include a Boss Key… but maybe your boss would also like to see how intelligent context-specific and adaptive application of Stop Starting Start Finishing is a way to bring home more Benjamins!)


Using card types and filters as “Virtual Horizontal Swimming Lanes” on a Kanban Board

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

After a serious break from Kanban Mechanics posts, here is one for you Kanban System Designers/Practitioners out there…

I’ve recently become a fan of the “Virtual Horizontal Swimming Lanes” style of Electronic Kanban Boards. These Boards don’t use physical horizontal lanes but instead use dynamic and easy filtering to show virtual lanes. Specifically I helped several teams come up with this style to represent a 2-level board – for Features and Stories (actually 3-levels if you count breaking each Story into Team-Stories or Tasks using a sub-taskboard). Since I get some questions about this, I thought it will be helpful to record a short screencast about it. So here it is.

These teams use LeanKitKanban by the way, which does a very nice job, especially with the refreshed UI and filtering capabilities. I’ve worked with simpler designs in AgileZen and more and more tools provide dynamic data-based horizontal swimming lanes these days (Atlassian GreenHopper RapidBoards seems to have a good one that some teams like but I haven’t worked with it too much myself). In order for the tool to support this you will need a way to filter/split into lanes based on data attributes of the cards, ideally with the ability to setup a couple of identifiers for the virtual lanes that will be attached to the items moving thru the lane and then detached from it.

Kanban Board Hierarchies using Virtual Horizontal Swimming Lanes


Also, once you start using such a board, getting to a workable “Release Burnup” which shows you trendlines of your progress compared to where you need to be can be tricky, as it always is with multi level boards. A key trick is hiding the parent expanded Feature when its child Stories are in play as well as hiding the completed Stories from the CFD when they are collapsed back into the parent Feature. This way we avoid showing a piece of work multiple times in the CFD. This CFD is calculated based on card size since that is the way to deal with different levels of size on the board as well as the fact that Features in the backlog might not yet even be Minimally Marketable and so can be quite large. Not this is the way to track a “Release”/”Project” comprised of multiple Features. To track a single Feature you simply use the filter above to see how it is doing, or create a CFD focused just on the cards in this virtual lane and then see the burnup towards completion of this specific feature.

To generate this CFD in your tool you will need a strong CFD capabilities that allow you to expand/collapse lanes as well as ignore lanes and calculate CFD based on size.

If you are interested in the template for this board here it is. Maybe the LeanKitKanban guys will add it to their template library at some point…

If you want to learn more about this leave me a note, I might be convinced to elaborate some more…

Experiencing Kanban System Design

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

As a Kanban Trainer I often introduce people to the Kanban Method for evolutionary change and the aspects of evolving system design and how they drive improvement. I’ve been looking for ways to make this introduction and exploration of the Kanban Method a more interactive experience. I love Russel Healy’s Kanban Game both in physical and online form. It is THE best way to experience how to manage the flow of a Kanban system using a GIVEN system design. I see it as an experience of “Visualize”, “Limit WIP”, “Manage Flow”.

Now what do we do about “Make policies explicit” and “Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally”? Sagi Smolarski (who recently joined the AgileSparks ranks) and myself have been working on creating an experience that focuses on experimenting with policies seeking improvement while using ongoing quantitative feedback. Sort of a dynamic accelerated “Ops Review” simulator. It is still under wraps but we are readying it for a private beta release which will happen very soon. An example scenario would be to start with a certain combination of capacity, demand and system design, and try to fine-tune the system design using policies like WIP limits, definition of done for queue handoffs, swarming preferences, etc.

AgileSparks Flow Simulator

The AgileSparks Flow Simulator – v0.1

Mastering and honing a “static” context will not be easy, as we are trying to model several aspects we encounter in the real world such as the downsides of “too many cooks in the kitchen”, costs of delay both for value erosion as well as cost increase and chance for defects. Finding the right WIP levels for a system will not be easy.

But then at some point we will add “dynamic” transitions into the equation. Can “Slack” help you improve your capabilities? Will you now need to fine-tune the system towards a new balance? Is it worth allowing this “Slack” or squeezing as much value now from the system?

Some of the above is in our “To do” column, some of it in the “WIP”, and some of it already “Done”. I’m really anxious to be able to show this to the Kanban Community and whoever is interested in learning about the Kanban Method. If you are interested as well, let us know

Update: Flower – our flow simulator has been out there for a while now. check it out.