How Kanban made it possible to increase flexibility, transparency and speed of implementation of key projects in the company

Author of the article: Dmitry Kurdyumov

Participated in Agile transformations in the largest companies in Russia (Alfa Bank, MTS, X5 retail group), with international experience in a startup abroad.

Hi all! My name is Dmitry, I have been transforming companies and building processes in the field of product creation and project management using Agile flexible management approaches for more than 7 years. Recently I was invited to a developing American startup that makes a SAAS B2B product.

The main focus of the business is scaling the number of customers through attraction and retention.

Key business projects are aimed at retaining customers and generating additional revenue. The main problem that the company faced with rapid growth was the slowdown in the speed of development. The key symptoms that I identified during the diagnosis are:

  • High Time to market (about 4-6 months, some projects were in work for up to a year)

  • Lack of forecasting the impact on metrics and the process of understanding whether the predicted effect brings. In fact, they did it blindly, did not predict the result and did not measure it.

Process diagnostics

We started diagnostics of processes with such a practice as Go See. The main value of Go See is its understanding of the reality of processes and how people work. Go See involves attending work meetings and analyzing artifacts and communications in the company. As a result, the context is formed and the issues are defined.

Kanban Implementation Tool – STATIK

We conducted a more in-depth analysis using the STATIK tool – System thinking aproach to introducing Kanban. STATIK allows you to study your current workflow, identify work flows, see problems and relationships. Below you can see the STATIK template, which represents a sequence of steps; they can be filled out sequentially or in parallel. This is not just a template that is filled out once, but it is a working tool and a mirror of your processes, which is a working tool and can be supplemented as new knowledge and changes appear. You can see its template below, and even lower is an example of a completed template along with the participants in the process

Analysis of the current state (Understanding Current System):

An important step was to identify all the requests that we have in the company, from business to internal requests. All this allowed us to see the real picture and understand what requests, where they come from and how often they come.

Along with key requests from businesses for product development, we identified about 9 more requests that competed with key requests for business development.
Next, we described the flow for each type of request to understand how we implement these requests.

The main challenges we saw were how to organize the implementation of each type of request so that it fits optimally and does not compete with other requests.

So, for example, the main business request is product projects that are planned quarterly and upon implementation of which the company must create an additional advantage in the product and retain customers or generate more revenue.

In addition to these requests, there are also Customer requests – these are requests from current customers, errors, suggestions for improvements, and more.

Here the task was to categorize these requests by urgency and organize their optimal solution so that current customers remain happy.
Next, there was the question of reducing the debt that should have been built into the process and, first of all, making sure that it stopped growing, building in quality and the necessary readiness criteria so that when implementing new features the debt would not increase. And secondly, organize the process of reducing existing technical debt.

Then there were bugs, alerts and minor fixes that also needed to be built into the overall process.

The main problem was that requests were managed chaotically and, as a result, plans went wrong, taken work was abandoned, a new one was started, and many projects and tasks ended up being idle for several months.

Number of projects in progress

When we visualized all the key projects, it turned out that 65 projects were started, while for 80% of the projects there was no answer to the question of what would be done in the next week – either there were not enough resources, or they were blocked by something.

We see that despite the large number of projects taken on, we are faced with a lack of delivery of results and low speed. Moreover, some of them are abandoned – and this is a loss.

Such a large number of projects in work was due to the fact that the company tried to utilize resources by giving tasks to free people, instead of focusing them on really urgent tasks and bringing them to readiness. In practice, they did not manage the delivery of potential value, but managed workload and personal tasks.

My task was to change the strategy and, instead of using resources, focus on delivery, and also adjust the number of commitments taken to the real capabilities of the teams.

Implementing Changes with Kanban

When we saw the whole picture, we then had to visualize all requests and their flow on Kanban systems. We implemented Kanban at all levels of management – from TOP management, portfolio level to product tasks performed by teams. At the top level we have two key Kanban systems

  • Project portfolio level

  • Level of product tasks that relate to each project

These Kanban systems were created to structure the project implementation process, provide the necessary level of predictability and speed up time to market

Flow Visualization

These boards display all stages of our projects, from creation to completion. Each task is represented on the board as a card, which moves through stages depending on its state. This creates a clear and visible picture of the process, allowing the entire team to see where tasks are and what delays may occur.

Each taken project went through a Research phase, during which the project was either discarded or it went to the Backlog with a description and justification of the value (we introduced a more systematic justification process later)

At the Preparation stage, the boundaries of the project and MVP were determined. And then the project was selected from the queue in Implementation.

WIP limits

At the Implementation stage, we set a limit of no more than 12 projects, because resource capabilities were limited and, in fact, out of 65 projects, we left 12, and subsequently changed the strategy – until the project was completed and the slot freed up, we could not take the next one

Classes of service

We have classified our projects into different service classes depending on their priority. We got projects with a fixed date, standard and internal. Further, this helped in prioritizing and understanding when to choose a project for work

Readiness criteria

At each stage, we have criteria for stage readiness. At first they were very raw, but then we actively began to enrich them so as not to create debt after the implementation of the projects.

Definition of classes of service

Based on the analysis, we classified projects into various classes of services depending on their priority, complexity and other characteristics. This allowed us to better understand which projects require tighter management and which can move more freely.

Each project was divided into product Epics, each of which potentially brings value to users. We have built a focus on implementing projects with a focus on the client and quickly delivering value to them. Therefore, each project was divided into a number of Epics. We also created Kanban for them and introduced WIP limits on the entire flow.

Next important steps

Implementation and change management

The next step was to implement the Kanban system at the project level. We implemented Kanban boards at all levels of management – from TOP management, portfolio level to product tasks that teams did.

Measurement and control

We also implemented performance metrics that allowed us to track the progress of projects and identify opportunities for improvement. Regular reviews and data analysis have become an integral part of our project management process.

Conclusions:

The introduction of Kanban at the project level and product request management turned out to be a significant breakthrough for the company. This approach significantly improved predictability, increased the speed of project completion, and eliminated chaos in the development process and competition between requests.

The key thing is that we managed to balance and systematize the implementation of all requests, from key ones aimed at the company’s growth to operational ones. We also managed to reduce the time to market (Time to Market) from commitment to delivery.

Here are the key findings on the impact of implementing Kanban:

  • Increased Predictability: With the introduction of Kanban, we began to better understand the current status of each task and the process as a whole. And with the help of statistics – predict execution time. Thanks to visualization and metrics, we can predict possible delays and quickly respond to them.

  • Increased Speed ​​and Efficiency: Kanban allowed us to focus on high-priority tasks and reduce the time spent switching between tasks. WIP limits helped manage a smooth flow of tasks and reduced the time spent waiting. As a result, we have significantly increased the speed of project completion.

  • Eliminating Chaos and Better Risk Management: Kanban gave us a clearer view of the project structure and current tasks. This allowed us to prevent resource conflicts and better manage risks associated with resource shortages or delays.

  • Abbreviation Time to Market: Through faster processes and better planning, we have reduced the time it takes to bring new products and functionality to market. This has allowed us to stay ahead of our competitors and respond more quickly to changes in customer requirements.

Overall, implementing Kanban at the project and product task level has had a significant positive impact on the efficiency and manageability of our development processes. Not only have we become more flexible and adaptable to change, but we have also significantly improved the quality of our work and customer satisfaction.

This experience confirms the importance of using management approaches such as Kanban to achieve successful results in modern business. And I am happy to apply and implement. For consultation and implementation please contactalso if you liked the article, subscribe to my telegram channel.

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