How to Apply Kanban to a Large Project with High Feature Variability

How to Apply Kanban to a Large Project with High Feature Variability

I was introducing some ideas I’ve learned recently about throughput management to a friend of mine who is on a large project. The question came up, how to make throughput a useful metric when there are some very small features that go through the system and others that can take months with a large team.

Let’s review a bit: throughput is the measurement of number of items you process through a system over a period of time. So you would say that you did fifteen features and bugs last month, and ten the month before.

If you had no control or process in place to deal with the fact that a new customer might want its killer feature, which is months of work for you, then this metric will quickly become meaningless. What to do?

There is a simple way to handle this and a complicated way. I suppose the complicated way will be what’s needed for my friend’s project, but the simple way is good enough for my project. [Read more…]

Kanban Decoupling Input Cadence from Delivery Cadence

Kanban Decoupling Input Cadence from Delivery Cadence

For my entire career, I have approached software development project planning at the level of the release. In waterfall, you plan a six month release, the first phase of which is to design and estimate the requested features to determine how much can go into the release. You are supposed to plan the whole thing. In Scrum, you plan a three week release up front. The cadence is shorter, but the process very similar. David Anderson’s Kanban book provides another approach that separates the input process from the output process. [Read more…]

Learning from Ebola Healthcare Workers with Enterprise Problem Solving

Learning from Ebola Healthcare Workers with Enterprise Problem Solving

In a large enterprise it can be difficult to implement large meaningful change. On many days I have ended up frustrated while sitting down to a margarita during one of my quarterly retrospectives. How do I get through all the opinions and politics to create real, lasting change? After reading about the Lean Startup Cycle, I have a new way of thinking about it, which starts with healthcare workers in West Africa fighting Ebola.

When these brave individuals arrive to risk their lives and help others, they are met with a striking contrast to the first world. As you have probably learned, there are entire tribes of people in West Africa who celebrate the recently deceased within an elaborate ceremony where the entire tribe drinks after the deceased loved one in a shared cup. Science certainly had nothing to do with it, but science does tell us that when the deceased person has Ebola, this is a surefire way of getting the whole village infected. Couple this with the cultural norm that those who are sick should travel large distances to medicine men who will heal them, and you have an epidemic.

So, faced with such a terrible situation of men, women, and children dying every day due to a horrible disease, what do I imagine is the reaction of these healthcare workers? Do they pound their fists and whine, “We could change this situation if these people weren’t being so stupid?” Do they clock in and out, thinking that the problem is just too large and that they will just collect a paycheck so that they can support their family? In other words, is their primary approach to the situation that of frustration? [Read more…]

Kanban Standup Meetings: A Way Out of Standup Hell?

kanban stand up meetings

In every Agile project, you’re supposed to have a daily standup meeting to facilitate communication and collective ownership. Intentions are always great at the beginning, but for me they have always descended into a tolerable mess. Can the Kanban method teach us anything about how to do them better? [Read more…]

Defining the Kanban Input Queue

Kanban Input Queue

I have been reading David Anderson‘s wonderful book on Kanban this week as a means to get more specific on the project improvements I want to make based on what I’m learning with Lean Enterprise. This book has disrupted up my approach to backlog management and prioritization. Within a Scrum or Waterfall process, whenever a customer asks for a request, you put it on a list and regularly prioritize that list. The backlog as a whole is the input queue in the system.

Currently there are 397 issues on our backlog. We can’t possibly be meaningfully prioritizing all of these.

In a Kanban system, this is seen as waste. Why spend all this time prioritizing something when only the top five things at any one time are important? Is there a way to communicate to users that we just won’t get around to certain things? [Read more…]

Is Continuous Delivery Needed in Our Organization?

continuous delivery

Continuous Delivery sounds wonderful when you’re at a conference. You hear about companies like Netflix that deploy to production many times per day. When learning Chef, people often ask me if we really need something that will enable us to deploy that often. Some of them are on projects that take many months to deliver, and the customer would have it no other way.

I answer this problem by splitting it up into two questions: [Read more…]

The One Metric that Matters


The more I measure the more successful I am. I’ve known this for a while, but I realize that the lack of measurement is still the thing that is holding my career back. I’ve already written about how measurement is key to The Lean Startup Cycle of using the scientific method to find innovation in your organization. So I’m hooked with this idea, but I desperately want to implement it in a good way. I want to have a breakthrough. [Read more…]

Progression of Responsibility


While reading Lean EnterpriseI’m coming up with a lot of great ideas and improvements for my organization. Much of the book so far has been about how to properly execute portfolio management within an enterprise to make sure that (1) you maximize ROI, and (2) you don’t manage your existing proven products with an investment horizon of this year or this quarter the same way that you would manage innovation products that have a longer investment horizon. It’s a fascinating read.

Something occurred to me though. In order to gain entry into the higher level strategic decisions, one must first master the lower level ones. Here’s a progression I can see, that I wish I knew about ten years ago: [Read more…]