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My top tips for mastering Kanban to boost your tech career

Career advice

Getting to grips with Kanban workflow management is a surefire way to stand out to the world’s leading organizations. Professionals who understand how to utilize this method can enhance improvement and collaboration within their organizations, resulting in higher-quality outputs and faster project completions.

We interviewed Izabela Navarro, a senior Scrum Master and one of K2’s top consultants, who has utilized Kanban to manage projects. In the following interview, she explains how Kanban has evolved into a versatile system applicable across industries. She provides key insights into how mastering it equips professionals with highly sought-after skills to enhance business productivity.

Please explain what Kanban workflow management is.

Kanban is a workflow management method initially developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota. It aims to help teams visualize their work, limit work in progress, and maximize efficiency. The term “Kanban” originates from Japanese, translating to “visual signal” or “card.” Unlike other methodologies like Scrum, Waterfall, and Lean, it focuses on flexible time frames, roles, and specific areas of concentration. Here’s a summary of its key principles:

  1. Visualizing workflow: Kanban uses visual boards with columns representing stages of the process. Cards on the board denote tasks or work items, facilitating clear progress tracking.
  2. Limiting work in progress: The method stresses restricting the number of tasks in progress at any time. This prevents overload, enhancing productivity and quality.
  3. Managing flow: Kanban optimizes work flow by identifying and resolving bottlenecks or areas of slowdown.
  4. Continuous improvement: Teams continuously refine workflows through regular reviews, identifying and implementing improvements.

Tell us about a time when you used Kanban on a project

I managed the IT portfolio development for a large natural resources company. Initially, processes were chaotic with unclear priorities and constant urgency, often leading to missed deadlines. Introducing Jira Atlassian for project management, defining team roles, and implementing Kanban with clear task boards and work stage limits significantly improved transparency and efficiency. Monitoring metrics such as lead time, item throughput, and quality indicators enabled us to continuously refine our processes.

Could you elaborate on the concept of “upstream” and “downstream” in Kanban workflow management?

“Upstream” refers to preceding stages in the workflow, such as planning and requirements gathering. Improving upstream efficiency ensures that downstream stages, like coding and testing, receive high-quality inputs, enhancing overall project success and stakeholder satisfaction.

Conversely, “downstream” includes activities following the current stage, focusing on refining and completing the project. Enhancing downstream efficiency ensures timely delivery and meets stakeholder expectations.

What are some common challenges organizations face when implementing Kanban?

  1. Resistance to change: Existing practices may meet resistance when transitioning to Kanban.
  2. Lack of understanding: Clear comprehension of Kanban principles is crucial for successful implementation.
  3. Work overload: Initial challenges in setting appropriate work in progress (WIP) limits may occur.
  4. Scaling: Extending Kanban across teams or departments requires careful planning and coordination.

What are some key metrics that companies should track to measure Kanban success?

  1. Lead time: Measures the duration from start to completion of work items.
  2. Cycle time: Measures active task completion duration, focusing on workflow efficiency.
  3. Throughput: Measures the rate of completed work items over time.
  4. Customer satisfaction: Gauges Kanban’s impact on delivering value and meeting customer expectations.

What advice would you give to organizations adopting Kanban?

  1. Promote open communication: Foster an environment for constructive discussions.
  2. Clarify priorities: Ensure transparency and accessibility of information.
  3. Embrace incremental changes: Adopt an evolutionary approach to process improvement.
  4. Cultivate collaboration: Encourage a supportive rather than competitive organizational culture.

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Ottilie Wood

Ottilie has worked with K2 since 2019. Over that time she has specialized in content creation to engage our world-class clients and customers.

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