Monday, June 6, 2016

Kanban environment - An introduction - 02

In the first post of the series, we have introduced the concepts at the base of a Kanban system. In the following, we will show 4 easy steps to model any process and to represent it in a Kanban environment.

First step - Map the process

The first step to take is to map the process to be monitored and controlled with kanban. 
Care must be taken to describe the process as it is currently implemented and executed, and not as it was designed. Many times process design and implementation are found to be quite divergent. 

The level of details to which the process must be mapped is a delicate aspect. A too coarse-grained description won’t catch the process peculiarities and soft spots. A too detailed description, on the contrary, could be distracting and de-focus from what is worth to be mapped. There are no rules, a trial and error procedure could do the trick.
Please, take a look at Figure 1.

Figure 1. Examples of mapped processes.

The (a) column depicts an extreme coarse-grained description of a process, not useful for description nor management. It is absolutely impossible to understand what the process is doing; just its interfaces are mapped.
The (b) column, on the contrary, represents a too detailed description of the same process. Please, remember that we are trying to map and to model the process, not to decompose it into its smallest parts. If you model the world, you obtain an easy and useful tool, if you mimic it, you just obtain something as murky as reality itself. 
The (c) column is a well-balanced mapping of the process. Not too many stages, few interactions, a clear flow through the activities. This representation is suitable to monitor and control the process; if we need more details, we will be able to add them later.
Spend 20% of your time to put under control the 80% of your process, not the other way round. 
Improvement is always possible, and it should always be our target, but we need some solid base to take our first steps.

Second step - Map the process’s interfaces

To achieve a reliable application of Kanban, and to be able to keep the process under control, in a satisfying way, we need to understand and map all the process’ interfaces. 
First, we need to identify all the processes that provide inputs to the process we are mapping and the rate at which we are supposed to absorb these inputs. 
Second, we have to identify all the processes to which the process we are mapping provides inputs and the rate at which we are required to deliver them.
Finally, we have to reconcile reality with expectations, negotiating openly, not sacrificing quality nor getting too much in the way of other processes.
Please, remember that Kanban is not about fast delivery, it is about steadiness in delivery, continuous improvement and waste reduction. Still, some constraints must be respected, after all, we are part of a production system and not crazy mavericks.

Third step - Create the informations radiator

It is time to transfer the model of the process, created in the First step, in a suitable information radiator. The classic form of a Kanban Board divided into columns, full of small pieces of sheet. Each column of the board represents a stage of the process, as described in Figure 1.

Each column of the board, except the first one and the last one, represents a stage of the process. The first column represents the gate from which new activities enter the process. The last column represents a kind of archive in which accomplished activities are stored.
Each yellow square in the columns represents an activity in progress, ideally with no external dependencies and assigned to a single resource of the team.

Fourth step - Use Kanban to monitor the situation

Use the Kanban board to monitor the flowing of your process for a few weeks. Take note about how many activities are present in each column for how much time. The kind of analysis suggested here is paramount to process improvement.

In the next post we will go more in depth with the utilization of Kanban to monitor and control the process. Stay tuned.

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