Kanban insights: a project management methodology

Kanban has meant a breakthrough for many teams that used methodologies like Waterfall or Scrum. Their differences and similarities have been a topic of discussion for many agile project management experts and their teams. This subject has already been tackled in this blog but today it is worthwhile remembering the magnificent conference at Talks at Google by Eric Brechner.

After spending over 20 years in Microsoft and successfully applying the Kanban system into developing teams of organizations as big as Xbox, Eric Brechner shared his experience at this summit. Using Kanban for a few years already, he was no strange to agile project management as he moved on from using Scrum for 8 years. His success with Kanban motivated him to write the following book: “Agile Project Management with Kanban”.

"First time in my career that I feel that every minute my team is working, they are working in actual value going into the product. […] Not extra minutes, not extra documentations. They are working for stuff that affects customers.” - Eric Brechner

This one hour talk goes over very interesting points about this agile methodology and task management.

  • Pretty good talk from the beginner standpoint as questions fly and the speaker answers them right off the bat. He even uses Kanban for answering a good bunch of them. In this case, with 4 columns: Backlog, Breakdown, Answer and Validate.
  • Going through how to build the backlog and prioritization, the focus is that it all must be simple. Using stickies and moving the around gives a good sense of how simple can this agile project can be. Personal preference can be used for bending some actions like duration of daily standup meetings. There is no agile project management police that will arrest you.
  • WIP limit is an interesting concept shown here. Including limit of tasks in a column is a healthy but challenging routine that can improve results. Take buffer and unexpected into account for this number. The agile project manager also explained that this limit plus the dependencies of tasks can create some idle time that should be correctly addressed.
  • A big question raised by the audience is how to deal with big due dates and estimating your tasks through task-completion rate. Tracking your results with metrics is one of our favorite features here in Taiga. Experience and good use of Kanban meets predictability so Eric’s teams don’t estimate anymore in the most strict sense. For him, it is more about priority in the board than estimating time.
  • Eric Brechner introduced a personalization with an extra sub-column inside the answer column called Track. When something does not work as expected, there is a person with the duty of tracking the dependencies of the task and how to solve it. When that task gets unblocked, it is the first priority to fix.
  • A topic brought up by the audience was roles. Assigning different roles to people and even make them rotate is proven to be healthy for the team. From assigning to someone the movement of the tasks on the board to the technical debt, there is a lot that needs to be splitted.
  • Eric Brechner also advocated for assigning the tasks from the top of the pile to people that are available. This can create some problems at first as there are certain tasks that need specific skills or certain people to do it. However, by assigning them to the next available guy, who will team up partially with the guy that masters the skills, you will avoid bottlenecks in the future and make your team stronger.
  • You can apply Kanban from to a 70 people team to for personal use. There are several activities that should be adjusted like standup meeting’s focus, but the system is flexible enough. In Eric’s opinion, usually 4 to 10 people is a good size and multidisciplinary teams are recommended. Camaraderie and team effort should be incentivized as it makes the team more productive.
  • Last but not least, adapting from Waterfall or Scrum to Kanban is said not to be difficult. Based on his experience, the biggest difficulty on moving from Waterfall is tracking on a board and doing small tasks at a time for making it flow. On the other hand, from Scrum, the new board was similar but included WIP limits and they allowed them to keep the same routine tasks, along the weeks the team realized that the sprint meetings and other uses of Scrum were just overhead and they stopped doing it. It is healthy to change and look for the agile methodology that better fits your team and situation, that is why in Taiga we offer the possibility of using both Scrum and Kanban in the same project.

As you can see Agile project management is a hot topic even in the biggest tech organizations, no matter if you use Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall or any other agile methodology. Use it in your advantage and adapt it to your team. Taiga team will always be there to help you.