The need for Enterprise Kanban

Posted on November 25th, 2010 in Kanban, Lean, Silver Stories by siddharta || 3 Comments

One of the key ideas that Silver Stories supports is the concept of Enterprise Kanban. What is Enterprise Kanban? And why do we need it?

Waterfall: Big batches from end to end

In the beginning, software development processes were organized in a waterfall-like process. With waterfall, you would create a big batch of requirements, send it down the pipeline, and you would deliver a big batch of software. The problem with waterfall was that it gave no agility at all. Once your requirements were sent down the pipe, then pretty much the only thing you could do was to sit tight till your software came out at the other end, months (or even years) later.

Agile Project Management: Breaking down the big batches

Along came agile software development. Agile allowed teams to effectively break big batches of requirements into small batches composed of stories. With agile you could then develop these small batches of stories into incremental pieces of “potentially releasable” software. This gave a tremendous amount of team agility. You could now swap in a different batch of requirements just-in-time when your business needs changed, and a few days later you would get a new increment of software incorporating the changes.

But here are two outstanding questions: Where do the stories come from? And what happens to these incremental pieces of “potentially releasable” software? These are two areas that are not adequately addressed by most agile processes.

Let’s zoom out a little bit and look at the end to end process.

Agile process are just one part of a larger end to end process. In most organizations, a stakeholder initiative is translated into a comprehensive product backlog. This is a big batch process that usually takes a while. The stories may not be detailed yet, but a backlog is still assembled in a batch. This process takes some months.What happens to the stories? They are sitting in a queue called the Backlog! These stories could be here for a while… many months. When the story finally makes it to the top, it gets into a small batch as is converted into a small incremental piece of “potentially releasable” software.

What happens then? Well, in most teams, the “potentially releasable” software it is not released immediately. It sits in another queue and it gets released in a big batch maybe 3 months or 6 months (or even a year!) later.

All put together, it still takes many months for a business to go from idea generation to release.

If it takes two month to decide a backlog, 3 months to make a release and another month to get it running in production, then you are talking of half a year lead time on the initiative. Not all that different from waterfall, really.

All those small batches in the development part of the flow do little to enhance the business agility because it is often bounded on both ends by two big batch and queue steps.

Enterprise Kanban

The problem is that agile processes rarely look outside the team. As a result most teams and stakeholders don’t have visibility to the pre-development and post-development steps. Without this visibility, it is not easy to avoid the batch and queue that is happening outside the team.

Whats the solution? This is where Enterprise Kanban helps. By looking at the whole workflow, and visualizing it end-to-end, it becomes clear that there are two big queues sitting on either side of the development process. You can start applying techniques like reducing the batch size, and setting work in progress limits. On the pre-development side, you would start with smaller stakeholder initiatives that define the minimum viable product (MVP). You can then flow this minimum viable product through the end to end workflow. On the post-development side, you would release much sooner. At the extreme case, continuous deployment allows release of individual stories, but that may not always be practical.

You can use the five Kanban steps to manage the flow:

  1. Visualize the workflow
  2. Limit work in progress
  3. Measure and manage flow
  4. Make process policies explicit
  5. Use models to improve

Webinar on Leveraging Enterprise Kanban

I’ll be expanding on these ideas in a free, one hour webinar on Leveraging Enterprise Kanban. The webinar will happen on the 19th of January, 9:30 PM IST (see time in other timezones). Sign up for the webinar to join the discussion.

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3 Responses to “The need for Enterprise Kanban”

  1. toolsforagile Says:

    [New Post] The need for Enterprise Kanban –… #agile

  2. toolsforagile Says:

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  3. diego_pacheco Says:

    RT @toolsforagile: The need for enterprise kanban –… #agile #kanban

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