In this first of a 2-part series I will share some basic info about the Kanban method. The second part (stay tuned) will show you how the Tier 3 support team at Polarion Software R&D uses Kanban in conjunction with our Polarion ALM system to effectively manage hard-to-predict team workloads.
What is this “Kanban”?
In the words of Wikipedia “Kanban is a method for managing knowledge work with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery while not overloading the team members. In this approach, the process, from definition of a task to its delivery to the customer, is displayed for participants to see and team members pull work from a queue.” There are some great articles about Kanban, I would recommend to read at least Why Kanban for software engineering matters by Charan Atreya.
We know Scrum, why not to use that?
Actually you can use both, as we do here in Polarion’s R&D. Scrum is used in the majority of Polarion development teams, but we have chosen to use Kanban in one special team which handles Tier 3 support and customer demands. Our main reasons were that it is hard to predict team velocity when an unknown portion of time is taken by other duties with much higher priority than your normal work. And we fortunately found out that predictability is not taken away, it is just a matter of some number crunching (it should not have been any surprise for us as Kanban is regularly used in environments with service-level agreements).
There is a great article We already do Scrum, but what is this thing called Kanban? by Thorbjørn Sigberg which highlights the differences and similarities of both methods.
Principles and practices of Kanban method
David J. Anderson, creator of the Kanban method, formulated four basic principles:
- Start with what you do now
- Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change
- Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities & titles
- Leadership at all levels
Additionally almost every Kanban method implementation follows six core practices:
- Limit WIP
- Manage flow
- Make policies explicit
- Implement feedback loops
- Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally (using models and the scientific method)
in the next article, I will show you how we use Polarion ALM to maintain and follow some of these major Kanban principles and practices.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stepan Roh is a senior software engineer with Polarion Software R&D, and leader of the Tier 3 support team.