What would you include in an offline kanban board and why?
Welcome to part 30 of our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters and agile coaches in interviews and client engagements.
This is an interesting interview question because an offline Kanban board is a Kanban. It’s just the medium through which you are viewing the Kanban that changes, in a digital environment, not the content or flow of the board.
What should you include on the Kanban?
When we work with Kanban, we focus on how the team currently work and evolve to a place of discovery on how they want to work and what best works for them.
We want the Kanban to reflect that and make workflow visible.
So, if there are 6 different steps that the work flows through, you are likely to have 6 different columns on your Kanban to make that flow of work visible.
The team will name each column, and make it clear on the post it note or work item that X criteria need to be met before the work item can move to the next stage of development.
I call this exit criteria and it’s an agreement amongst the team that if these criteria have been met, the work item can be placed into the next column for the team to focus on.
A great scrum master or agile coach will work with the team to continuously refine and improve the Kanban. It may start out rough and ready, as a way to get started, but evolve based on what the team learn and the solutions they develop to improve the system.
An example of Kanban in action.
About a decade ago, I worked with a team who created a list of work items – known as a product backlog – and this consisted of roughly 10 to 12 items.
We created a column, after the backlog, simply called next.
These were the 4 items that the product owner had decided was the most valuable work to be completed, and it allowed the team to focus on what created the most value for customers.
The product owner or developers could move the item from the ‘next’ column into the column that followed as soon as the exit criteria had been met. That often involved a quick chat about the item and a confirmation that all was in order for the item to flow to the next stage of development.
As we moved through each stage of development, we could shift our focus from understanding the problem or requirement, to designing the solution, and testing whether the item met the exit criteria and could be passed a customer for review.
At the start of the process, we probably had around 12 different columns to reflect each of the necessary stages, but as we improved our process and the organization readjusted some of their policies to help improve delivery, we reduced the number of columns on the Kanban.
So, it was and continues to be a work in progress. A living, breathing system that can be adapted based on needs, requirements, or improvements we make along the way.
Kanban as discovery.
One of the things that made the process of working with Kanban great is that we could as a team, identify what really mattered and be clear about why it mattered.
Sometimes we may want to explore whether a specific column was necessary, and a team chat quickly illustrated why it was necessary and how it benefited the team. We could also run an experiment to test our hypothesis and either adapt or confirm that what we had was great.
It allowed the team to refine our way of working and create a system that really worked for us.
As we refined the system, we discovered new ways of working and those changes were immediately visible to everyone on the team, including customers and stakeholders, to ensure transparency.
This results in greater trust from product owners, customers, and product stakeholders.
So, I don’t think you need to get too caught up in creating the perfect Kanban out the gates, you just need to get started using your current way of working and then refine that process through tests and experiments.
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