Will Kanban rescue agile software vendors?

I’ve always been a big fan of visualization. This comes in many forms, such as the slides of my presentations, the usage of whiteboards during workshops and the visualization of process flow in my teams.

In agile teams, we rely heavily of process visualization.  We need to be able to see what we are doing, so that we can react early if things are slipping.

So far, the one ‘Must Have’ I had, was a wall on which we could visualize our process.  By drawing swimlanes, post-its which represent work items, colors to indicate types, etc.

I had not seen an application that worked as efficiently as a physical task board which was there all the time, right in your face.  If a customer required us to use a tool, we used both.  One physical board for the team and one electronic board that was kept in sync by a volunteer (which in most cases was me).

Since I started with Kanban over a year ago, I noticed my ideals started to shift.  Suddenly a tool made more sense to me.  This is why:

  • We were measuring flow, which required extra administration keeping track of timestamps when work moved through our workflow.
  • More people were involved in the Kanban flow, because we were treating a piece of work from customer request until delivery.  This made our teams bigger and they were almost never co-located.
  • It is sometimes easier to see flow issues in a tool, than on a physical board, because of the uniform layout and extra historical information that is stored in the system.
  • We needed another type of progress visualization.  A burndown chart was no longer useful.  We needed cumulative flow diagrams, SPC charts, etc.  These are quite hard to make and update on a flip chart.

But I’ll confess to you honestly.  I don’t like the feeling of being pushed towards electronic tracking.  How do we replace the ‘in your face’ power of information radiators?  I don’t want our walls to be packed with TV’s. It’s sad enough already that we spend most of our time behind a computer screen each day.

Do you feel the same shift happening? How do you cope with these challenges?

Will the success of Kanban bring a boost in the tool vendor business?

About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.

5 comments

  1. Interesting question. And a good observation. Having worked for one of said tool vendors for years, I noticed the increased possibilities when I read about Kanban and started using it. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen vendors actually rise to the challenge so far–the flexibility of visualising work on a physical board has yet to be matched by a software tool (but I don’t know all of them).
    Your arguments for software tools are valid, yet I see a bunch of reasons for tangible ones (as you seem to as well)…
    Maybe we could combine a database for the tracking details with a physical board in some yet-to-be-invented way:-)
    Take care
    Olaf

    • Thanks for the comment, Olaf.
      I feel that a lot of people are having difficulties with this question.
      Maybe technology will offer a solution in a not so distant future 🙂

  2. Cecilia Fernandes

    I know it’s been a while since you’ve posted this, but I guess this will be of interest.

    There is this project of a Brazilian guys named Rodrigo Yoshima that attempts to give the metrics a Kanban process needs while keeping the physical white board in use. The project is called Flow Kaizen and it definitely is worth knowing.

    Despite the “never co-located team” problem, I guess it’s a pretty neat approach to the problem mentioned here.

    Ceci

  3. Marko

    Hi Nick! Do you use any software for Kanban or simply operating on a whiteboard? I’m now using a free Kanban Tool trial.

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