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Work Management for Teams

3 Questions to Ask During Standup to Keep Speed a Priority

Published By Julia Wester

How Kanban Enables Speed

A common theme in workplaces today seems to be “crazy is the new normal.” Unfortunately, most teams and organizations don’t thrive in chaos — they need help to create a rapid, sustainable pace of delivering quality products and services. Lean principles and tools, like Kanban, help organizations realize this goal through a continual focus on optimizing the flow of value from ideation all the way through delivery to the customer. One way to keep this focus top of mind is through your daily Kanban standup. Try asking these three questions in your next Kanban standup to keep speed a priority on your team.

3 Questions to Ask During Standup to Keep Speed a Priority

What work hasn’t moved or updated as expected?

Our first tendency when work gets “stuck” is to put it aside and grab something else to do. We do this in order to feel productive.

But by adding more work into the system without completing any work, we stretch our focus, energy, and time thin, further inhibiting our ability to get work across the finish line. More unfinished work in the system means more context switching, more loose ends, more status meetings, and ultimately, more waste, all of which slows down our speed of delivery.

This is why it’s important to habitually identify stale work on our boards and work to get it moving again. You can use board filters in Planview AgilePlace to highlight cards that haven’t been moved and/or updated for a period of time. Identifying these stale work items allows you to resolve issues blocking their progress so they can move onwards towards completion, instead of allowing them to accumulate.

What is keeping you from finishing your work?

It’s important for team members to explain why their progress is blocked so that the team can work together to get it moving again.

Some problems are simple and require just a bit of communication. For instance, subject matter experts (SMEs) can often unblock work in a matter of seconds by sharing a key piece of knowledge. Other situations call for a little bit of coordination. For instance, cards commonly get stuck in feedback states. In this case, team members can use the standup meeting as a time to ask for volunteers that can commit to providing the feedback needed to keep the work moving.

Since every team regularly faces blockers and other impediments to flow, it makes sense to plan for post-standup discussion or problem solving. Some teams will set 30 minutes for their standup meeting: 15 minutes for standup and 15 minutes for follow-on discussions with just those that need to be there.

Capture recurring issues as cards on your Kanban board so that team members and leadership can make them a priority to solve them once and for all – one of the goals of a Kanban system!

Are you doing any work that is not reflected on the board?

The more we start, the less we finish. It’s that simple. It’s why we need WIP limits — so we can stay focused on delivering — not juggling — work.  However, if we don’t visualize everything we’re working on, we can’t effectively control our WIP. Kanban and WIP limits are only as effective as we let them be. In order to manage our work, we have to visualize it — all of it.

For many, Kanban can provide the structure and visibility they need to stay on track and deliver faster than ever before — so they’re motivated to visualize everything and can’t understand why anyone else wouldn’t want to do the same.

For others, adjusting to a system with so much transparency can be challenging, if they’re used to doing things “their way.” They might be uncomfortable exposing inefficiencies in their processes, discussing problems, or reviewing performance metrics as a team and, so, they hide work from the board.

Remember: Optimize the Whole

It’s important to note that a key concept in Kanban is that the team owns the work, the process, and any issues that arise. Process inefficiencies or struggling performance metrics should be viewed as opportunities for continuous improvement that can enable the entire team to deliver more value faster. Managers should carefully consider how teams and individuals are measured to make sure they’re incentivizing the right behaviors. Read more about metric-driven coaching in this article.

When a team member is assigned to a particular card, it’s easy for the rest of the team to think that it is no longer their concern but we have to remember that teams are created so the members can work together to accomplish common goals — ideally sustainably and quickly. A daily Kanban standup serves as a frequent reminder to all team members that they still have collective ownership of all team commitments and that it is important for them to understand the what has been committed to, what is in process and what has hit roadblocks.

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Written by Julia Wester

Julia Wester is a Web Developer turned Manager turned Lean Consultant and Kanbanista. Passions include helping people visualize and manage their work, showing that management doesn't have to be a dirty word, and helping people remove unnecessary drama at work. Julia is co-founder of Lagom Solutions.