Kanban 101 – Mapping flow

After we have examined the core elements of Kanban, it’s time to focus on how to make a board which best represents our workflow, or in other words – to map our flow.

There are many methods and techniques for process mapping and most of them can be really handy when it comes down to this task. Here I will outline a simple plan to walk you through this process and help you build you first custom Kanban board.

1. Define your first and last step.

To give the process a shape we start by outlining the first and the last step of the workflow. The first step is represented by the “requested” state and the last by the “done” state. It is important to shun away from the “almost done” trap.

2. Outline the steps in-between

Make a list of all the steps you go through after you have started to work on a given item and before finishing it. Keep in mind that this is not the final version of your board and you will edit it many times as your experience and process evolve.

3. Determine the level of details

It is important to determine how deep into the details you process will go. Too complex flows could harm your productivity and create confusion in your team. A rule of thumb is to add a step only if it repeats itself in time. If a given step occurs 1 time in 100 cases then it is not a good idea to include it.

4. Leave a buffer column(s)

I personally find this really useful and it’s an important part of my board. The buffer columns are for those cases when the task you work on depends on something or on someone. A good example is when you are waiting for approval from the Upper Management and there isn’t anything you can do much to speed things up. Like this though, you can separate these tasks and measure the time they have been “waiting” in this column. Set a buffer column when there is a transition between functional areas or sub-processes like when the Marketing sends a Purchase request to the Financial department for example. In the best case scenario you won’t need buffer columns but if you stumble upon the kind of challenges outlined above this is a good tip to have in mind.

5. Determine the shape of your process

Is your process linear or vertical?

The columns of the Kanban board represent the horizontal (linear) process of your flow. The swim-lanes on the other side represent the vertical aspects of it. The most common case of verticals is when we have multiple teams, part of the same department. It is important all of the verticals included to the board to have similar or in the best case scenario – same process applied.

6. Continuous improvement

Kanban is an ongoing journey without an end. Kanban’s core is the kaizen culture – the philosophical movement for continuous improvement. Every process can be improved further, there is not an exception to this rule. Nothing illustrates this philosophy better than the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi which I highly recommend.

If you have any questions, comments or recommendations, please feel free to drop me a line in the comments section below.

Stay tuned for more of the Kanban 101 blog series and happy kanbanizing! 🙂

This entry was posted in Kanban, Kanban Resources on by .

About Bisser Ivanov

Keen on innovation, exploration or simply trying new things. Would that be a technology, new methodology or just cool gadgets. Got almost 2 decades of experience working as Software Engineer, Team Lead, QA/Processes Manager and Managing Director in mid-size and large scale Software Companies: Prosyst, SAP, Software AG.

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