You may have heard of “scaling” when looking into Agile development in recent times.
Scaling is the process of widening Agile practices across multiple teams. This includes methodologies such as Kanban.
Usually, organizations or companies see the benefits of implementing Kanban at a singular team level and want to go ahead and start the process of scaling Kanban to implement its practices across the whole organization.
However, as is the case with many other things, scaling Kanban is not an easy feat. That is why we have gathered all the things you need to know about scaling Kanban including why you should consider doing it and how you can go about it.
What is Kanban?
A Kanban board is a tool that provides a visual system for teams to manage project tasks, communication, and workflows. Kanban board assists in streamlining the assignments and avoids any overload since the project managers can quickly reference exactly where each step in the process where currently resides.
The Kanban board consists of columns representing the various stages of progress, such as not starting or in review. Under these existing columns, the team helps to add the cards describing discrete tasks and moves these cards to their appropriate columns so everyone has a clear view of the team’s progress. Multiple product managers use Kanban-styled roadmaps to track progress.
Elements of a Kanban Board?
- Visual Signals – A Kanban board only consists of text, the text should be written efficiently enough to quickly convey the meaning of the task or the item it describes in a few seconds.
- Columns – A Kanban board must be structured as a major series of vertical columns, each of them representing a different stage in the workflow and under which the team can add cards at that stage. Columns typically include stages such as to do or complete.
- Commitment Point – As the Kanban board represents the only work the team has committed to completing, a card’s appearance in a column marked in progress, for instance, sending a signal ream that the team has committed to completing that task.
- Delivery Point – The delivery point represents the end of the team’s work on a specific task, represented by a card on the Kanban board.
- Work in Progress (WIP) limits – The number of cards a team can add to the Kanban board for any given project represents work-in-progress limits. There are several advantages to WIP limits, they help a Kanban board from becoming so cluttered that it loses the benefits of giving its team at a glance view of the progress.
Possible Outcomes of Practicing Kanban
When a team implements the Kanban methodology, arguably it can face three potential outcomes to that implementation.
These three outcomes of practicing Kanban are abandonment, plateau, and continuous improvement.
Certain teams when implementing Kanban can start off with enough determination and gusto but eventually fizzle out, lose momentum, stop improving, and eventually abandon the Kanban methodology or system altogether.
Another possible outcome is what is referred to as the plateau state. This is when teams that implement the Kanban system but while they maintain their initial improvements are unable to further the improvements and push past that level.
Finally, are those teams whose implementation can be argued to be the most successful. If a team practices the Kanban methodology and is constantly looking for ways to improve, implement feedback loops, and evolve these teams are said to have continuous improvement.
While teams that try to implement Kanban see quick results and the benefits that visualizing workflows gives them, in order for you to create a sustainable Kanban system requires constant work to continue to reap benefits.
What is Scaling Kanban?
Kanban is a process of evolving your current system and processes. The methodology allows you to achieve business agility.
This is a methodology of continuous improvement and not a one-time implementation.
While many may feel that the principles that govern Kanban and the practices you adopt are only apt on a smaller team level, this is not necessarily the case.
Scaling Kanban is the process of adopting Kanban practices to all levels of your organization. This includes visualizing work, setting work-in-progress limits, managing workflows, implementing feedback loops, etc across the organization.
Thus, you can understand scaling Kanban as implementing the Kanban practices across multiple layers in an organization and connecting them together so you can create and achieve a flow.
After all, your company is a network of services and teams that are interdependent therefore they can have value streams in need of continuous optimization.
Looking for Kanban Applications? Check this out:
Why Scaling Kanban is Important?
Well, you know what scaling Kanban is, but why is it important?
This is an age defined by fast-paced culture, constant change and improvement, and technology.
The business environment can be seen as turbulent, to say the least.
Therefore, in order for a business to stay up to date and maintain competitiveness in the market, you need to ensure that your company is adaptable and can change with the times.
Organizational survivability depends on scaling agile practices like Kanban.
Systems thinking is another explanation of why scaling Kanban is important. You want to optimize the whole business rather than simply correcting local smaller issues.
How to go About Scaling Kanban?
According to Klaus Leopold, scaling Kanban means to do more Kanban.
So how do you go about doing more Kanban in a way that ensures that you are among those teams that are able to achieve continuous improvement rather than those that end up abandoning the Kanban system?
Let’s look over some principles you and your organization can follow to help with the process.
Scaling Kanban just like implementing Kanban for a team requires a deal of discipline. Whether that be updating the Kanban boards or monitoring general policies.
Implementing Kanban to a larger scale predominantly requires the same effort as you would for a smaller team. Therefore, ensure that you apply the same rules to both to try and get the most out of the Kanban system.
2. Groups and Levels
Another principle in implementing Kanban across your organization is the way the groups or levels in your organization are structured and how Kanban will apply to them.
Ideally, the teams in your company should be small, cross-functional, and autonomous.
The autonomy of the groups is likely to drive motivation and also promote self-responsibility.
You also want to try and apply the same objectives and policies throughout, even if the groups are at different levels.
One of the principles of Kanban is one of improvement and does not require you to change your processes but to work with policies and processes already in place.
When implementing Kanban on a bigger scale you should adopt the same thinking. However, that isn’t to say that if a certain process or policy isn’t working it can’t be changed.
Kanban is aimed at making improvements and you want to thus focus on the connection between the teams in your organization rather than trying to change policies.
Try and decide on a Scrum Master or Agile Coach. In order for your Kanban implementation to prevail you need someone who can lead the process and can take responsibility.
Your Kanban implementation will not be able to be self-maintaining without some sort of leader.
To read more check out this Scrum Master guide.
5. Promote Team Ownership
You want to encourage your team members to take ownership. That way they will be responsible for updating Kanban boards. Without having ownership, your team will lack motivation and involvement. Both of which are essential for successfully scaling Kanban.
Try to ensure the team is responsible for the board rather than management to help create a sense of control and self-management.