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Agile Kanban Journal Day 30: Show the Flow!

By Jon Miller Updated on May 19th, 2017

When agile kanban meets kaizen, only good things can happen. Yesterday was day 30 of my agile kanban board usage. Having been on the road much of the last month I haven’t had a lot of time to think about appropriate metrics, targets, etc. but I did take a few moments to reflect on what is working and what is not:


Limited WIP. If it wasn’t doing this, the board would be a complete waste of time, so this is a relief. The fixed number of tiles, though arbitrary, has been a good way of forcing the completion of tasks before the introduction of new items. In one case I had to force myself to complete a mid-sized tasks so that I could make room for a rather urgent customer request to be added to the board!

Planning the work. Although it’s hard to recall how much time was spent each day prioritizing tasks in the past, having the board seems to have mostly eliminated this, so long as I keep myself honest about the priorities of what is on the board.

Following up. The items in the “Delegated to” column are receiving more regular attention. Small, frequent checks have identified glitches in communication, the limitations of technology, as well as enabled me to teach people what they needed to know to complete the tasks. This has also identified areas where further resources were needed either due to capacity or capability. The best part is that I am learning about what is not working and what needs improvement in the overall process through this agile kanban board.

Not working

The Work in Process column. Who am I fooling? It’s ALL work in process! In knowledge work, every new notion that distracts you for even 5 minutes is a piece of work in process. You have spent time working on it, adding some small measure of value, and then put it down, so it is WIP. It has a cost. It is taking up some small amount of mental space. So in fact all 20 items on this board are Work in Process whether or not they are actively being “worked” by me or not. Work in process has a way of sitting around after being touched, and that’s exactly what we see on this board.

What’s job #1? How can you have 3 top priorities? This is a rhetorical question. The WIP column needs to be changed. I need a fast lane or some way of showing what should be the most important item on the board, or at least the one that requires most of my sustained attention at this moment.

Show the flow! As a visual management tool, this agile kanban tool doesn’t do a great job of showing abnormalities. The flow is not visible. This may be due to a lack of flow. It’s hard to say, and until the flow or lack thereof is clearly visible it cannot be addressed in any case.The standard, though not clearly set, is that work should flow rapidly from start to completion. The board needs to show the flow (or lack thereof) of the top priority project.


Based on these failings, I’ve sketched out my next generation agile kanban board. As it’s the third major iteration, let’s call it AKBIII.This new design is intended to do several things, from top to bottom and left to right:

The arrow that directed me to work from right to left as a single line is now a series of “pull” arrows, indicating that I should not “push” my way from right to left if things are moving along but instead solve problems and pull the next task only if there are no show-stoppers downstream that need to be addressed.

“Work Items” column renamed “Plan“. This is where the next “top two” (rather than 6 which was a total face palm..) items in Plan column are queued. I will actually Plan the next 2 items in that column so they are ready for the pull.

“Work in Process” renamed “Do“. These are the major tasks that require my input. There are 3 since delays and external checks are inevitable and in knowledge work the optimal batch size is not always one piece. The top row of the Do column has been split horizontally into a “flow lane” so that the highest priority task can be properly broken down and flowed quickly to completion. If this item stays under the “Do” column every day or week, it is not flowing and clearly a problem. It will also be possible to mark down target dates across the horizontal axis of this row.

“Waiting for” renamed “Check“. This was also obvious upon reflection. The WIP unit may be waiting but my work is to check each day on the status, or have others check my completed work.

“Delegated to” renamed “Act“. Since the work in the Check column includes work that is being done by others, this fourth column is no longer needed. Instead, when a task is completed, I can take what was learned from this works team in order to make process changes, revise standards or share the learning with my team. For incomplete work or items that fail at Check, I will make adjustments to the Plan if necessary, or send back to Check for correction.

The next step is peel the blue tape and rearrange the physical board, which is not a task currently on my agile kanban board so AKBIII will need to wait until I am caught up on some other things.

  1. Thomas B.

    July 23, 2009 - 1:34 pm

    We will see…
    I think I would have kept your “Fast lane”, “Middle lane”, and I would have added a third lane for “Delegated”.
    Then I would follow up regularly, if the people I delegated the job to are in the P, D, C or A step.

  2. Jon Miller

    July 26, 2009 - 1:43 pm

    That’s a good idea also Thomas. Let me try the new approach for a while before making further adjustments.

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