Using Kanban to simplify and save time on complex enterprise integration projects

Stephanie by South is a Lean Agile Coach from Australia who blogs at bysouth.  She is a Third Culture Kid.  Here she is:

Using Kanban to simplify and save time on complex enterprise integration projects

Often the introduction of new methodologies and change programs are overwhelming for important professionals whom have no capacity for “another fandangle change movement” as a wonderful engineer once told me. He is quite right! All too often agile change programs are directed upon people without; compartmentalising time to complete current expectations, time to learn, and time to practice the new introduced methods.

The example is based on an engagement with a very small and extremely important Environment & Configuration Team supporting multiple project teams through releases every 8 weeks across an 8 digit valued delivery program of work. Often these operation teams are the engines that can’t stop; they service multiple managers, teams and departments; and the last thing they (think they) want right now is to give precious time working with (another) Lean Agile coach. Add to that boiling mix of gurgling soup was a built up agile coaching resistance. I was the fourth Coach brought into to assist because previous adoptions hadn’t achieved fluidity; the combination of high demand, complex conditions, and conflicting relations had burnt through the well intentioned previous coaches.

As coaches we know that time invested in Lean and Agile methods is time exponentially returned; however, even after reviewing the evidence, many people are literally too stressed to consider new ways of working.

“I can’t make the old way work after all this time, and they said that was a new better way of working back then too!”

So I decide to go with the flow. If that was there world, then I became in rhythm with it, and rather than interrupt it with new ways of working I decided to add a new beat that was in compliment to the flow of work they had to maintain.

First I sat with them – there home was my home. I observed their world carefully – the patterns and streams of work in flow. I listened, and listened to assure that I truly understood what was happening. I listened to what was truly important to these guys and then in a briefing to the Solution Manager on the approach and why he will get value for endorsing my coaching, it came out almost like a whilted hope that had long ago become impossible. One of the guys said “I’d just love to get home to dinner with my son at least once a week”. There it was, the underlying “why this is valuable to me”. Without that why as a coach you won’t get people buying tickets to your agile journey. That become our commitment we would all work for.

Secondly, with managerial nod and a very human aspiration I negotiated just 15 minutes a day to start adding in all that good healthy agile stuff!

15 minutes a day is initially not a daunting amount of time to give up, to start focus on learning, and it also became the most important time of the day as it set the focus and created opportunity to continuously improve. (As a coach it was excellent as it also trained me to be very succinct and relevant in the teachings during that short time.)  First it was 15 minutes of listening daily (in person, fact was at that time I was 80% listening, watching, learning about them and 20% coaching).

As the days progressed the team were able to expand their ‘learning listening’ to take on doing personal kanban – a wonderfully simple Lean framework to initiate agile principles and a good coaching engagement.  Stage by stage, day by day I guided the team through visualising ALL their work, and to build understanding of the demand tunnels that previously drove their work. Identifying where they create value, and how much they do to fix failures. They practiced flow through concepts, experimenting with their WIPs. They achieved an extraneous amount of work in their first month. Not necessarily a massive chunk greater overall, that wasn’t important. They did it without having to do the normal amount of overtime.  Not only did they surprise themselves, the key reward was being able to sit back and actually see their achievements on the wall, share those achievements, understand their capacity and start to go home proud.  Previous to seeing their accomplishments visualised on the wall they stated “I’d just go home and pass out on the coach wandering if I was ever going to get on top of it all”.

Over the second month the team tested out concepts of focus, noise deflection, prioritisation models, retrospection and request methods to really hone their self organising skills. The 15 minutes would occasionally expand as the team needed. The beautiful thing was that the time extension was their choice based on their needs. They were experiencing a return on their 15min time investment for themselves and as a coach I was accessible, available and pulled the knowledge they needed when they needed it. If I didn’t know the answers on the spot I would research, investigate and find the resources or people that they needed.

In the third month the team felt confident enough to initiate their own program group stand-ups. The team pulled together the key doers from the multiple areas they serviced. The content focus of the stand-up was their shared work area. In essence the team – who three months earlier was too under the pump to learn Lean & Agile methods – was now hosting their own stand-ups, running an improvements backlog and teaching others what they had learnt 15 minutes a day.

This post first appeared as "Using Kanban to simplify and save time on complex enterprise projects" in December 2012.  Thanks, Stephanie, for contributing it!