Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Down Time! Don't Panic!

In my company we've moved away from Scrum style Sprints in favor of  a Kanban system and a continuous flow of work.

One thing that seems to happen with the introduction of Kanban is people encounter a lot more slack or dowtime due to being blocked.  One of the reasons it happens more often is due to the limiting of work in progress that a Kanban system brings.  When this starts to happen people immediately see it as bad thing and a sort of panic sets in.  "I've got nothing to do, help!" or "I need to to busy all the time".  This usually leads to people breaking work in progress limits or trying to "cheat" the system by starting to work on an item when its not ready or is still being worked on upstream.

One of challenges of adopting a Kanban system is to try and get people to to relax when this happens and to look at how we can use this time.  Aside from the obvious task of looking at the rest of the board to see if you can help out somewhere else, there are other things we can be doing.

I've seen this summed up in a few nice ways:

"Too busy chopping wood to sharpen the axe."
or more bluntly (yep)
"How can we make things better if we never have time to do it."

If you're adopting a Kanban system (or any other way of working for that matter) I think its safe to say your doing it because you want to improve how you work and there are probably lots of areas you want to improve outside of your new Kanban board.  These periods of slack are great opportunity to work on these areas.

  • Improve your build process.
  • Set up a continuous integration server.
  • Write some unit tests for that area of code that keeps causing problems.
  • Refactor code.
  • Review some of your collegues code or look at bringing in code reviews.
  • Clear that junk out of the office that you've been meaning to move for a while now.
  • Tidy up the product backlog.
  • Look in to some new tools and methodologies.

The list can go on and on.

So next time you find yourself blocked by Kanban work in progress limits, don't panic!  I'm sure there's plenty you could be doing!

Here are some more links on this subject if you are interested (or find yourself with some slack!)

A Myth of 100% Utilization
Slack and a Managers Role is Scrum