Troubleshooting Agile Project Challenges (3)–Using a Kanban Board

I am going over the Agile Practice Guide, a publication put out by the Agile Alliance in conjunction with the Project Management Institute.    I am currently reviewing chapter 5 on the implementation of agile projects, and am now on section 5.3, Troubleshooting Agile Project Challenges.

On pages 58 and 59 of the Agile Practice Guide, there are twenty-one challenges or “pain points” described together with the suggested solution(s) to the problem.   However, they are listed in a random, laundry-list fashion without much rhyme or reason to the order.  So what I have done is reviewed all the suggested solutions and grouped those challenges that require the same type of solution.   These five types of solution are:

  1. Production of agile charter
  2. Product backlog/user story definition
  3. Kanban boards
  4. Focus on team roles/responsibilities
  5. Testing implementation

I have covered the first two solutions, production of an agile charter and production and maintenance of a product backlog, in the past two posts.   In the post about a product backlog, these dealt with challenges to creating the product; in this post about kanban boards, we will discuss those challenges that exist within the process itself.   It turns out that kanban boards are especially useful in dealing with these type of process challenges.

Here are the three (out of a total 21) challenges that can be met by using a kanban board.

  1. Unclear work assignments or work progress–Use kanban boards to visualize the flow of work.   Consider using the kanban board during daily stand-ups, where team members walk the board and see what work they are doing is where on the kanban board.   This will clarify both their assignment and what the next step they need to take in order to be able to move the item they are working on to the next column.
  2. Unexpected or unforeseen delays–Ask the team to check the kanban boards more often.   Have them see the flow of work and WIP (work in progress) limits to understand how these impact the demands on the team and on the product itself.  Add a track to the kanban board for listing impediments and monitor impediment removal on a regular basis.
  3. Slow or no improvement in the teamwork process-Capture no more than three items to be improved at each retrospective.   Have the servant leader use the kanban board to track these three items, and then have the servant leader make sure that the improvements integrated into the overall process.

The kanban board takes the dynamic processes of the project and takes a snapshot of where they all stand so that the team members can clarify the nature of the work assignments, the impediments that prevent these work assignments from going forward, and any improvements in the process of getting those work assignments completed.

The process of setting up a kanban board will be discussed in a later post.

Now let’s go on to the next post covering the last five challenges where clarification of team roles and responsibilities, including those of the product owner and servant leader, can help them get resolved.


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