Kanban Charts Part IV - Block Resolution Time

Fellow Kanbanizers, this time we will venture into somewhat more appealing Lean theory. The topic is about adjacent processes and how to send a signal to the upstream steps when something is wrong. May this sentence does not scare you, young padawans! Hard it is not when the force with you is!

Working with the Block Resolution Time Chart

Before we dive into the infinite oceans of knowledge, let us explore the mechanics of the chart – how you work with it and what it shows. It basically tells you how many times a task has been blocked, for how long and what the reason for the blocker was. If a task has been blocked more than once, the duration of the blocker is stacked so that the height of the bar shows the total time. A sample block resolution time chart looks like this:


The Theory Behind the Chart

Playing with the chart may or may not be amusing, but it is clear that if you don’t know the rationale behind it, you will fail to get the most out of it.

To get to the bottom of it, let’s go to the roots of Kanban – the factories of TOYOTA. These guys realized that it is much more effective to communicate with the help of visuals (Kanban in translation from Japanese means “signboard” or “billboard”). Representing, issues, requests or even emotions visually, makes it is much easier for others to understand you. The visual communication is everywhere:

  • Traffic lights on the overcrowded road;
  • Waving goodbye to people from the departing train;
  • Air kisses between mothers and their children as they falling asleep;
  • Applause in the theater;
  • Silent films.

In the Lean world, we care about productivity. Productivity goes hand in hand with speed (be careful here, though). Would you be faster to hit the button and change the traffic light to red or rather stop all cars by shouting at the drivers or sending them emails? Would you be faster to watch Chaplin’s movies or read a book that describes each gesture, smile or joke? Can you replace the joy on your daughter’s face with a text message?

Well, no. For better or for worse humans perceive most information from the outside world through their eyes and there is absolutely no reason to ignore this fact in your daily work. That is why we block tasks, ladies and gentlemen – to communicate with others VISUALLY, that we are in trouble.

When you look at your Kanban board and there’s a blocked card, your eyes immediately fall onto it. Try with the image below and let us know if it took you more than a few seconds to find the big bad wolf of this process.


What Should We Do with a Blocked Card?

This one is easy. Get it unblocked. Now! How you do that? Well, it depends, but the desired behavior in this situation would be everyone going to the person who’s marked the task blocked and offering to help out.

There’s a cliché that you should even go so far as to serve coffee to others if this helps them get the problem resolved faster. You may choose to serve tea or something a bit stronger, but the point is that everyone (I repeat – everyone) should ask themselves the question:

“Is there anything that I can help with?”

This is what this blocker means in the first place – “Please help me, I’m stuck”. Be good and ask that question. The rest is up to your conscience.

What shall we do after the blocker is resolved?

I bet you’ve heard about the 5 whys? This is an amazingly good (and annoying) technique to use when performing a root-cause analysis. You need to understand why that happened and do your best not to allow it again.

If things are blocked over and over again because of the same reason, something is really wrong. Sometimes, it’s just an unfortunate chain of events, but sometimes there are real gems waiting to be found.

What’s the difference between blocked and waiting?

I would use my favorite answer here – it depends. Yeah, not very helpful, but it really depends. If you are working with customers and you need their feedback, I would say this is waiting.

Though, if you have information from your customers, but your computer is broken, then you’re blocked. In other words, if the ball is in your garden but you cannot proceed then you’re blocked.


To summarize all that’s written above, I’d say that the blocker resolution chart is the display of how good a team is. The fewer items in a blocked state, the better professionals and quality. The shorter the duration of a blocker is, the better the team works together.

Don’t be afraid to block tasks, if something or someone blocks you. This is simply your signal to the world: “Please help me!”

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