Managing the portfolio of work in any medium to large organisation is challenging. With knowledge work such as software development it becomes even more difficult as the work is invisible. This leads to employing more people into the portfolio and program management roles and having these people struggle to balance the resources that are available with the number of projects running. Numbers are kept in a spreadsheet and provided into reports that are rarely read or considered in any detail. The different business units are all pushing to get their work approved through a stage gate to make sure that their project is a work in progress. This results in more and more work being pushed onto a team that is already running at a high capacity and further slows the delivery of work.
We have all experienced traffic jams and none of us would consider that the time spent sitting in the traffic jam is valuable time. Each car is squeezing itself onto the motorway, causing the whole motorway to become grid-locked. This is similar to most portfolio management situation, as the different business units pushing projects onto the motorway, which results in everything slowing down and nothing being delivered in a timely fashion. This slow delivery results in solutions being delivered that are outdated, that have a high cost and low quality.
What portfolio Kanban can provide is a solution to see and limit the amount of work that is currently in progress and to deliver what is in progress in a quick and efficient way. Below I provide a quick overview of the steps that we go through to help you set up a Portfolio Kanban system.
Visualising the Work
You cannot manage what you cannot see. Here we map the work flow, from the time the request comes in to the time you deliver the work. This is an aspect of value stream mapping, where we break the work down and split it up primarily at handover points. We will then visualise the current state of work that is in progress. This allows everyone to see what is currently in progress and what is slowing down the delivery of work. This visualisation board is now used and updated daily to reflect the current state. We can use a number of tools to visualise the work, electronic and physical boards and are happy to discuss the merits and drawbacks of both.
Limiting WIP (work in progress)
Here we look at your capacity to deliver work and balance that with the amount of work you currently have on. We put limits on the different stages to stop the team members being overloading and to allow them to complete the work they have on. We then only allow new work to be pulled in when capacity allows.
Making Work Flow
Here we look at the flow of work and see what is holding it up. What the cost of stage gates are and where are the bottleneck resources and processes. Once this is clear we can do something about these areas that are holding up work by adding extra staff in the bottleneck areas or providing training so that the current staff become more efficient in their work.
Make Processes Explicit
Ideally we want shared ownership, so we need to make the rules around the processes explicit. These rules are things such as WIP limits that need to be adhered to, having a clear definition of done and rules around how work gets onto the board, moves around the board and leaves the board.
We run retrospectives, show and tell sessions and operational reviews on the project, and gather metrics that are inline with the goals of your company. The metrics may be things such as how quickly we can deliver a requested service, how happy the staff are, what the quality is like and other areas that are you consider important. With this feedback we can move onto the last step which is continuous improvement.
With Portfolio Kanban we always consider the process as a work in progress that can be improved. The clear visualisation will quickly manifest areas of issues and with an engaged workforce they will be willing to bring suggestions and make the improvements. It will also become clear if you are working on the right things, and whether there is a need to change what you are working on to meet business needs.
Portfolio Kanban is a great tool to manage you software delivery needs. It will make visual the previously hidden work, and will give your staff clear guidance on what they should be working on. It is an evolutionary change, where you do not have to make big change immediately, but it allows you to start to visualise and make clear where changes should be made. If you are in New Zealand, particularly in the Northland or Whangarei let us know as we can help unblock your business.