In my previous post, I had initially started by explaining why we should implement Agile practices and then talked about the benefits of implementing Agile practices for Infrastructure Operations Support Teams.
Now when we know that by implementing Kanban, these teams can become more Agile and deliver more value to the customer, the next question that we need to focus on is – How do we implement Kanban for infrastructure operations support and service teams.
In the upcoming series of posts, I will be highlighting step by step the complete Kanban journey for Infrastructure Operations Support and Service teams and explain how to implement Kanban for these teams.
However, before we start on our Kanban journey, we need to initially understand clearly what is Kanban, Kanban is basically a method for organizing, managing and delivering work and in this case – infrastructure-related operations and services support work. Kanban can also be used for a lot of other types of work including software product development but in these series of posts, my focus will be primarily on how to implement Kanban for infrastructure operations support services.
The word “Kanban” can be broken down as “Kan” meaning visual and “ban” meaning card, thus Kanban meaning visual card (in Japanese). Hence, Kanban is a visual indicator that is used to trigger an action or activity. Toyota Corporation introduced Kanban in the automobile sector in relay systems to standardize the flow of auto parts in their just in time (JIT) production lines in the 1950s and subsequently, the method was adopted by other organizations and across other industries. Kanban is basically a Pull System where the customer demand pulls the work item from the upstream processes.
It is a method that is used to help teams work together more effectively. It is a visual system for managing the workflow as it moves through a process and the focus is both on the process (workflow) and the work product passing through that process. The emphasis is on identifying the bottlenecks in the process and address them so that the work can flow through the process in an effective manner thereby optimizing time to market (speed), cost and quality (ensure that the work item is having minimal defects). The Kanban method thus helps to visualize the work and control the workload.
Any method, framework or system has key tenets or pillars that identify and characterize the method. Similarly, in order for Kanban to be implemented effectively, we need to understand the key tenets behind Kanban.
The Kanban method consists of a set of principles and practices that have been proven to be effective for managing the workload and deliver professional services to the customers (external and internal) appropriately. These key tenets have proven to be effective in successful Kanban implementations worldwide. These tenets initially derived from Lean principles were further developed by David J Anderson and the worldwide community of coaches, trainers and practitioners and they were published in 2010.
The Key Principles are (also derived from the Lean principles) –
- Start with what you do NOW – The focus here is on the present. The main aim is not to disturb the current state of the process and identify, focus and study the existing process and bring in incremental changes to the process to manage evolutionary change. Hence, while implementing Kanban for the service teams, many of the team members initially felt they were not doing any change in their current process and everything appeared to be the same. They felt the changes occurring over a period of time in an evolutionary manner as incremental change is introduced in the process.
- Encourage acts of LEADERSHIP at every level – Leadership is a very important concept that needs to be encouraged at every level, right from the team member to the Head of the department. Kanban focuses on building leadership skills at every level of the hierarchy so that decisions can be taken by empowered individuals. This is very important as team members cannot take appropriate decisions even if they are empowered if they are not having strong leadership skills.
- Agree to pursue improvement through EVOLUTIONARY CHANGE– Improvements are undertaken in small, incremental steps which lead to the changes being implemented in an evolutionary manner. This leads to very less pain on account of changes and team members embrace these changes as they occur in an evolutionary manner. Evolutionary changes give team members a feeling that everything is the same and there is not much change that they feel in the new process as the change is gradual and it is implemented over a period of time.
- Policies control SERVICE DELIVERY – Service delivery to the customer requires strong discipline to maintain a steady cadence of work delivery and it also improves predictability of the service delivered. As there are multiple service level agreements to be met for undertaking different types of service support (e.g. L1, L2, L3, L4) and priority of service (e.g. P1, P2, P3, P4), it is important that key policies are defined very clearly by the team and it is understood by all the team members and the customer. This ensures that the expectations related to service delivery are mentioned clearly before the start of work and the customer and the team members are very clear about the service delivery guidelines and rules. This improves trust and transparency and the team members are able to meet the expectations of the customer in a planned and managed fashion.
- Manage the WORK, let people self-organize around it – A key principle which focuses on managing the work and allowing the people to self-organize around the work. Historically, the Managers used to manage the people and ensure that the work is undertaken accordingly. However, in this case, the principle focuses on highlighting that the work needs to be managed appropriately. The people who do the work have the maximum amount of information available about the work and this information is always kept current. Hence, they are in the best position to take a decision regarding the work to be undertaken. This can be possible only if they are given autonomy and they self-organize themselves around the work. This principle is derived from the Lean principle which also focuses on the work and allows people to self-organize around the work.
- Understand and focus on CUSTOMER needs and expectations – The focus here is on identifying, building, designing and delivering the right service to the customer. The customer needs and expectations are identified and studied and the service delivery is then designed to match the work capacity and the customer need so that appropriate services can be delivered to the customer.
The Key Practices are –
- Visualize – The service/process workflow is visualized on a board and also electronically using tools. The human brain has a capacity to understand visual items better as compared to non visual items. Hence, visualizing the work brings a big change in the minds of the team members and they are able to identify bottlenecks quickly and suggest steps to resolve them. Blind spots which were present earlier when the workflow was not visual are now addressed easily in the visual management tool/board.
- Limit WIP (work in progress) – Work in Progress (WIP) is an important practice in the Kanban method. WIP Limits are identified for each step and managed appropriately to deliver work in the shortest time possible. When WIP is more, work output gets delayed and queuing of the work items increases. By working out the suitable WIP limits, the work is balanced with the team capacity and the bottlenecks are removed or reduced substantially. This leads to improved cycle time and lead time for the customer.
- Manage Flow – Flow is defined as the complete path in the value stream starting from the customer requirement to the work item being delivered to the customer – i.e. from concept to cash as in Lean methodology. By implementing the above practices, the flow in the process can be maintained as a single piece flow, i.e. only one or more work items (considered as a single piece) moving forward at a particular point in time as per the capacity of the process. This ensures that there are no bottlenecks and the work item moves ceaselessly from concept to cash (till it is delivered to the customer). This reduces delays and improves the lead time to market. Hence, the team is able to service the tickets for the customer in the shortest time possible. Theory of constraints is one of the techniques that is used to manage flow in a process.
- Make the Policies Explicit – In order to implement the process changes in an evolutionary manner, the team will need to create the policies governing the process (service level agreement, classes of service, cost of delay, WIP Limits, swim lanes and other factors) explicitly and share it with all the stakeholders so that trust and transparency are built into the process. Making the policies explicit ensures discipline and the team members need to manage the process as per the policies and the governance meetings are also set up to ensure that the policies are adhered as per the requirements. However, the setting of the policies is a dynamic exercise as the market conditions, team maturity, customer expectations, and the work environment keep changing and the policies need to be updated as per these variables so that they are always current and all the changes made to the policies as per the requirement also needs to be communicated to all the stakeholders periodically.
- Manage the feedback loops – All Agile methods including Kanban focus heavily on feedback loops to measure and validate the work undertaken and the Kanban method builds in a lot of feedback loop mechanisms which need to be managed appropriately. Examples of feedback loops in Kanban are the policies, WIP limits, Kanban events like daily Kanban meeting and other meetings which validate the work undertaken through feedback. The validation confirms the confidence that the work undertaken so far is verified and is correct.
- Improve and Evolve – Continuous Improvement is a part of all the process models/frameworks and methods. In the case of Kanban, the focus is on continuous improvement of the processes over a period of time to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the process. The emphasis is on constantly improving and evolving the process over a period of time to ensure that the time to market or time to delivery is constantly reduced for the customer.
By understanding the principles and key practices underlying Kanban, we are now better prepared to implement Kanban effectively for the Infrastructure Operations Support teams. In the upcoming posts, I will continue to highlight and explain each step in the Kanban journey as we learn how to implement Kanban for the Infrastructure Operations Support and Service teams – both at the team level and at the scale level (when we integrate multiple teams at scale to deliver support services to the customer).