Quite a few months ago now I went to one of the London .Net User Group meetups and saw a presentation by Benjamin Mitchell (@benjaminm) on evolving Scrum to Kanban, and was instantly sold.
I've never worked in a shop that has seriously practiced any kind of agile development, and so the concept of the kanban board, or any kind of board for that matter, was new to me. Projects I've worked on in the past have been very traditional in that there has been one master Microsoft Project plan, with 'n' weeks of analysis, followed by 'n' weeks of development, followed by 'n' weeks of testing. You get the idea I'm sure. The individual tasks that made up the 'n' weeks of development rarely, if ever, made it on to the plan, and for the most part have been left up the teams to manage them selves.
What I loved about Ben's presentation was the break down of each task and its total visibility throughout the life cycle. And I also loved his attention to the meta data. I loved his passion for the measuring of the cycle times, and the pages of charts and figures he had collated. Really good stuff.
Of course, with one big fat line on a plan that is labeled 'development', you lose the ability to easily capture those metrics. How are you ever going to be able to make small changes to your development practices and be able to show the improvement if you don't have the data?
You also lose the visibility to the team when things are going wrong. When issues are just notes in a project managers note book, when blockages are just emails and missed calls, they can be forgotten. With the board, it's totally visible, right out there in the open, for everyone to see.
I remember thinking whilst watching Ben's LDNUG talk, that even if this wasn't implemented on a project wide sacle (I'd have to persuade the PM's for that), I can easily see the benefits of using this myself, to organise, schedule and track my day to day tasks at work.
So I did.
I'm currently working on three projects, all different, all with different PM's, analysts and testers, and all are at different stages of completion. I've got various tasks, all due at various times for these projects, most of which involve having to coordinate with other teams, which means being blocked a lot, all the while faring questions about dev things, specifications, environment configuration, etc. Believe it or not, I get lost in the overload from time to time, and things get missed.
A few weeks ago now, just before Christmas, I decided, months after seeing Ben's talk, and since attending many more talks about lean and kanban, including the very excellent Lean and Kanban Exchange put on by (the one and only!) Skills Matter, that I should, instead of just thinking about how great having a kanban board for each of the projects I'm working on would be and getting sad at how none of the PM's would join me in my excitement for improvement, that I would make my own.
I ripped the cardboard back of off an A4 pad, stuck an A4 piece of paper to it, and divided it up into 3 vertical sections:
And put in some horizontal swim lanes for each of the projects I'm involved in.
I got some of the tiny post-its and wrote down all the things I'm working on, for each of the projects, and chucking them on my new shiny board.
So I've been personally tracking each of my tasks for the past few weeks, and it's fantastic, no longer do I need to rack my brain each morning, trying to remember what it was I was working on for what project, I can just glance next to my monitor and bingo.
But what happened today was really amazing.
I took my board along to a project meeting we had. It's what I'm working off now, so it's just easier for me to talk about what I'm doing if I've got my board with me than it is if I have to translate the PM's notebook scribbles back into something that I can understand. Well, very soon into the meeting, my board started to become the main focus, and instead of us all just sitting back in our chairs waiting for the next set of scribbles to be frantically found in the notebook, we all had something to focus on and something to structure our conversations around, amazing!
Doing this had a zero barrier for entry, zip, zilch, nout, and has made a marked improvement on not only how I track the things i'm doing, but is also structuring higher level conversations with in the project teams I'm working in. And all over some tiny post-its and a piece of A4 paper!
I got given a very nice pat on the back after the meeting and was asked to make sure my board was very visible, so that others can see what I'm doing, and hopefully it will start people asking questions about it, and about how they work, alone and collaboratively, and start off some more conversations, and maybe, just maybe, things will move that little bit closer to being better.