Kanban: making progress and delivering value in ITSM

Two ITSM practitioners sat at desk with laptops while a third adds Post-Its to the Kanban board on the wall in front of them

Originally developed by Toyota in Japan, Kanban is a system for scheduling production using a physical board to show work in progress; essentially, it’s a process improvement method.

Within IT departments it’s used to visualize workload by having notes on a board showing changes and projects. This way it enables development teams to break down and discuss deliveries and possible throughput, allowing more control and prioritization.

Diagram showing cycle and links between possible ITSM project hazards such as work taking longer than expected, technical debt and delays

With the speed and scale of technological evolution today – including the increased demand for changes and projects – IT people are under more pressure than ever. And being service-oriented IT teams can say “yes” too often, resulting in starting more things than they finish. Kanban helps to manage these problems.

Kanban in practice

Kanban visualizes what’s going on in the workflow and helps focus on finishing things instead of starting new things. If everybody can see what’s going on you can agree what’s important and make decisions to move something ahead.

The delegation that Kanban enables means the team can take more ownership and move authority from management, which is desirable.

Kanban board outlining backlog, ToDo, Planning, Work in progress, Hnadover and Done tasks with 'Post-Its' under each section

In IT service management (ITSM) – as in development – the purpose is to finish projects and implement changes. However, it’s often difficult to set a timeframe for progress, especially if a project lasts one or two years. But visualizing two weeks ahead creates greater motivation to meet a deadline and deliver. With Kanban, this involves breaking down a project into manageable parts so IT operations can visualize tasks and discuss resources and deliverables. This should increase speed of delivery and reduce stress!

Mirroring existing ways of working

For IT operations, Kanban should not be seen as a new way of working. With change and project methods already in place, Kanban should mirror them while enabling discussions about work in progress, deadlines, resource allocation and celebrating milestones achieved.

Chart outlining work stages and progess with the Project management and Change management tasks that affect each stage of the work

Project managers, meanwhile, can experience some initial resistance to Kanban because they are accustomed to controlling a project and, conversely, the Kanban board is driven by the team. However, project managers should recognize how Kanban equips the team to streamline the delivery of the project.

The potential value in Kanban

Most departments I work with are developing services for customers. While Kanban itself doesn’t have a customer focus, it enables teams to create value. It does this by addressing the backlog of tasks and identifying the most important things for setting the customer focus. Kanban invites a discussion about value and helps prioritize one change over another based on the ultimate level of value to the customer.

The daily stand-up meeting among the team, part of Kanban method, means that everyone has the same picture, management can provide necessary information and the team can celebrate achievements together.

And it’s after the stand-ups that the real “magic” happens: people talk and solve problems together without having to schedule a formal meeting.

A final note for managers: when using Kanban you need to change your leadership style. You too must gather around the board, help solve problems, allocate resources and be more facilitating than perhaps you are accustomed to. Once you do this, the change it brings is significant.

Read more AXELOS Blog Posts by Leif Andersson

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Comments

28 Jan 2019 Leon Carrington
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I can see how Kanban promotes teams to be self organising, and how the project manager can take a more team based approach, as opposed to being in control of things
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