A Kanban system aims to optimize value by optimizing flow by finding the right balance of effectiveness, efficiency, and predictability in how work gets done.
Policies play a critical role in the success of a Kanban system. Policies in a Kanban system define rules, guidelines, team member roles and responsibilities, and procedures for handling work items and help establish consistency and predictability in the workflow. They provide the structure necessary to ensure that the work is being done at the right time, by the right people, and in the right way.
In this article, we will explore the importance of policies in a Kanban system and how they can help to streamline workflow, improve team communication, and deliver value to customers.
An Explicit Policy defines specific assumptions for when Work Items start or move in a Kanban system. It is recommended that teams create as many Explicit Policies as needed to support efficient flow.
All relevant Explicit Policies should be displayed on the Kanban board or readily accessible to team members. A minimum set of Explicit Policies is necessary to optimize flow and support Little’s Law for discovery and delivery. However, team members may be required to breach Explicit Policies by exception.
5 Reasons why using Kanban policies is a smart choice:
- Enhance workflow management: Kanban policies help teams visualize and manage their work-in-progress (WIP) limits. They also allow teams to prioritize work and avoid bottlenecks.
- Improve communication and collaboration: Kanban policies provide a common language and understanding of managing work. It makes it easier for team members to communicate and collaborate effectively around their definition of workflow (DoW).
- Increase efficiency: Kanban policies help teams identify inefficiencies in their process and make improvements. By limiting WIP and focusing on completing work before starting new tasks, teams can work more efficiently.
- Quality assurance: Kanban policies help teams ensure that work is completed to their definitions. By setting policies around quality assurance, teams can catch and fix issues before they impact customers.
- Continuous improvement: Kanban policies encourage teams to evaluate their processes and improve continuously. By regularly reviewing their policies and making adjustments, teams can optimize their workflow and deliver better results.
GET STARTED WITH YOUR KANBAN SYSTEM POLICIES
I do not recommend using a specific recipe. However, the steps below have worked very well in my experience:
- Step 1 – Involve the team: Kanban policies should be developed collaboratively with the team to ensure everyone is on board and understands the rationale behind the policies.
- Step 2 – Identify the policy’s purpose: Start by identifying the problem you are trying to solve or the goal you are trying to achieve with the policy. This will help you define the policy’s scope and objectives.
- Step 3 – Identify the policy parameters: Define the rules and guidelines governing how work is managed within the Kanban system. This may include setting WIP limits, defining the criteria for work acceptance, or outlining the quality assurance process.
- Step 4 – Set policy triggers and actions: Establish triggers that signal when a policy is activated and the actions that need to be taken to resolve the issue. For example, suppose a WIP limit is exceeded. The policy may require team members to stop starting new work until the backlog is cleared or declare a temporary exception to the defined limit.
- Step 5 – Document and communicate the policies: Write them clearly and concisely and share them with the team. Make sure everyone understands the policies and how they will be enforced.
- Step 6 – Review and refine policies regularly: Kanban policies should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are still relevant and practical. Make adjustments as needed based on feedback from the team, customer, or changes in the environment.
Examples of explicit policies for different parts of a Kanban system:
- Policy statement: “We will limit the number of work items in progress to five per person to improve flow and reduce lead time.”
- Trigger: When team members exceed their WIP limit, they should stop starting new work items until they have completed some in-progress work.
- Actions: The team should work together to identify and resolve the bottleneck causing the WIP limit to be exceeded, such as re-prioritizing work, slicing, or swarming.
- Caution: Setting WIP Limits that are too high might result in the Trigger never being executed. This will delay and possibly prevent improvements to the system.
- Policy statement: “We will use a pull system where work is pulled into the system only when there is the capacity to work on it, rather than pushing work into the system based on availability.”
- Trigger: When a team member is assigned a new work item, they should check their WIP limit to ensure they can start work on it.
- Actions: If the team member has the capacity, they should pull the work item into their workflow. If they do not have it, they should work with the team to prioritize work and identify when they can start the new work item.
- Caution: Kanban system members need to communicate more effectively or be made aware of each other’s capacity; it may lead to delays in completing work or even bottlenecks in the workflow. Additionally, suppose there isn’t a transparent prioritization process in place. In that case, it may be difficult for team members to determine which work items to pull into their workflow and which ones to defer.
- Policy statement: “We will use visual signals such as cards or sticky notes to communicate the status of work items, so team members can quickly and easily understand the state of the work.”
- Trigger: When a team member updates the status of a work item, they should move the visual signal associated with the work item to the appropriate column on the Kanban board.
- Actions: The team should regularly review the status of work items on the Kanban board to identify any issues or delays and take corrective action as needed.
- Caution: The visual management system may only accurately reflect the actual status of work items if team members diligently update the visual signals. It’s crucial to establish clear guidelines and expectations for updating the status of work items on the Kanban board and provide training and support as needed to ensure team members are using the system effectively. Regular reviews of the visual management system can also help identify areas for improvement and ensure that the system accurately reflects the work’s state.
Work Item Types:
- Policy statement: “We will define three types of work items: bugs, features, and tasks. All work items will be labeled with their type to help prioritize and manage work more effectively.”
- Trigger: When a new work item is created, it should be assigned a type based on its nature.
- Actions: The team should use the work item types to prioritize work and manage workflow more effectively, such as allocating resources based on the type of work or ensuring that bugs are prioritized for immediate resolution.
- Caution: the policy may create silos within the team, with team members only working on specific types of work items rather than collaborating across different types. This could lead to a lack of cross-functional knowledge and skills and may result in a less effective and efficient workflow. To mitigate these risks, it’s essential to ensure that the work item types are used as a starting point for prioritization and workflow management. The team also takes into account the specific details and context of each work item. Additionally, regularly review and refine the work item types to ensure they are still appropriate and effective for the team’s needs. Finally, it’s crucial to encourage cross-functional collaboration and knowledge-sharing within the team to ensure that all team members understand the work and can contribute to its successful completion.
In conclusion, explicit policies are essential to the success of a Kanban system, as they provide a framework for optimizing workflow and improving team collaboration. Organizations can create effective policies that promote efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction by taking a strategic approach to policy development and addressing potential challenges.