how to track progress in kanban

Tracking progress is the core of the continuous improvement process. Without regular monitoring and tracking one cannot either recognize whether any changes should be applied nor realize if everything is going on well. An old management cliché states that you “can’t manage what you don’t measure” and this is exactly the case here.

Monitoring and tracking your progress with Kanban can be both fairly easy and a really complex task as it all depends on your end goal. One of the things that Kanbanize is recognized for is the comprehensive Analytics module which can greatly help you handle this task more easily. The module contains a comprehensive chart tracking system that you can use in order to get a good view and analyze your performance and spot potential bottlenecks.

In the following paragraphs, we will present you with a good overview of the charts and tools you will need to track progress in Kanban, including their easy to follow implementation.

1) Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD)

cumulative flow diagram

Every complex thing consists of multiple simple parts they say. I’ll try to apply this method here by decomposing the diagram into several parts.

  • The first thing to understand here is what we are measuring, hence try to examine what the values plotted on the axes are. In our case with the CFD, this is time against the number of tasks. So, on the vertical line can be found the number of tasks in absolute value and on the horizontal – a timeline. The bottom line is that we are measuring whether tasks are increasing or not over time.
  • Second, there are different flows. Each colored flow represents a column on the board. If we isolate only one flow we will get a look at how many tasks this particular column contains over time.
  • The third part is the accumulated data of all flows representing individual Kanban columns. This is the place where things can get messy. However, when we look at this Kanban chart with our end goal in mind – see how the progress of finished tasks is flowing over time, it gets a little bit clearer. This accumulated look over the data is giving us overall information on how we are performing.

As I mentioned above the CFD, in a nutshell, is giving us overall information on how we and our team is performing. When we isolate the requested and in-progress states we can get instant feedback about our workflow. When the rule of ceteris paribus is applied there are three possible scenarios here:

A) The Bands are Progressing in Parallel

This means your workflow is stable and you are processing exactly the same amount of tasks that you are getting. 

stable-cumulative-flow

B) A Band is Rapidly Narrowing

This means throughput is higher than the entry rate. In other words, you’ve got more capacity than you need.

unused-capacity-cumulative-flow

C) A Band is Rapidly Widening

This is a sign that more tasks are entering the system, than leaving it. It usually means that your team is multitasking a lot or doing other wasteful activities.

cumulative-flow-bottleneck

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These are just a few example scenarios and of course, the situation could be way more complex with many factors involved. Still, these are the three possible ways which you diagram can be leaning towards in order to help you track progress of work items inside your process. 

2) Cycle time

cycle time scatter plot for tracking progress in Kanban

Before we dive deeper into this graphic, let’s first define what “cycle time” and “lead time” is.

Cycle time is the time you need to complete something you have started working on and Lead time is the time between something has been requested until it is delivered. In the context of Kanban, cycle time contains only the “in progress” state and lead time contains all three states (requested, in progress and done).

Sometimes the lead time could contain multiple cycle times within. Although the chart is called “cycle time” it could also represent the whole lead time if you decide to include the backlog, requested, done and archive stages in the work process.

After we have defined the two terms let’s examine the cycle time scatter plot that Kanbanize has to offer,how to read it and how it can help you track progress.

Similar to CFD, we’ll start by explaining what the values on the axes are. In this case, the axes represent accumulated cycle time against the exact completion date of each work item. When you hover over the blue dots, you can see in which workflow stages the given task spent the most time.

cycle time details of cards

This gives you valuable data as you can understand where a given work item significantly slowed its progress, for example. As a result, you will be able to investigate any root causes for that, especially if you notice a trend in a particular work stage. 

The cycle time scatter plot is an extremely useful chart to track progress in Kanban but also understand with what probability a given task will likely exit the workflow. Using the percentage data on the right of the chart above, you can communicate an SLA (Service Level Agreement) with your customers that on average, it will take 3 days for a work item to be completed with an 85% certainty.

Furthermore, the chart allows you to spot a trend (the green line) as well as outliers in your process. This enables you to quickly investigate them and take respective actions, if necessary.

3) Aging WIP Chart

aging wip chart for progress tracking in Kanban

One of the most significant charts for tracking progress in the Kanban world is the Aging WIP Chart. It gives you a great overview of your entire process and unlike the cycle time scatter plot, it provides data for tasks that have not finished yet. 

With the help of this chart, you will be able to analyze how your tasks age and progress through your workflow. You can clearly see stages where work items go through the most and investigate causes in case you notice unusual piling up of Kanban cards in any of the columns.

Something very important for this chart are the pace percentiles (on the right) as well as the age in days (on the left). The data there shows you the pace at which your tasks historically have moved through the workflow. This gives you a quick overview of current outliers in the process, so you can take any necessary measures to stabilize your cycle time before it goes out of hand.  

4) Distribution Chart

chart

The distribution chart is a fairly easy to understand chart to track progress in Kanban. It is a pie chart which visualizes tasks per unit of measure of your choice like size, count, etc. The chart could be additionally configured by including and/or excluding columns, showing data only for specific swimlane, selecting dimensions like assignee, tags, etc.

Task distribution chart is really good for getting an overall look on how many tasks are present in each part of the board. It is an easy way to find out where most of the tasks are accumulated and where to turn your eyes to. A more comprehensive article about this chart can be found in our blog.

5) Block Resolution Chart

kanban-block-resolution-time

The block resolution chart is exactly what its name implies: a chart that shows how much time it takes for a blocked task to be resolved. The data represented by each column is time against the task. The information about why the task has been blocked can be found when hovering over the column.

Like the rest, this chart is absolutely customizable and could be configured by swimlanes, columns, and units of measure like minutes, hours and days. To find more about this chart you can read the following article.

6) Created vs. Finished Tasks

created vs finished tasks charts

This is one of my favorite charts! Is it simple, even minimalistic and tells you almost everything that needs to be told – whether you are able to meet the demand or not. The chart is useful for tracking progress in Kanban because it compares the created tasks for a given period against the finished ones. You can define a custom time range and visualize it by days, weeks, months and even years.

It could also be additionally configured by filtering your data by assignee, priority and other attributes. In its core, the chart compares the throughput you and your team are receiving compared to the output that you are able to provide. This allows you to understand in a glance whether you need additional power for your engine or it is working on a lower capacity than it could. Again there is an article which goes into the details of this chart and explains its concept by examples. For more advanced information on how to track progress in Kanban with this particular chart, read this article.

Bonus: Kanban Timeline

kanban timeline to track progress of team initiatives

Even though this is more of a tool instead of a graph, it is a useful addition to the charts discussed above for tracking progress of bigger pieces of work in Kanban.

In Kanbanize, for example, we use the timeline to monitor the progress of team initiatives (epics) or even entire projects in real-time. When the Kanban cards/tasks move through the workflow and get completed, the status of the team initiative (which the work items are related to) is immediately updated on the timeline. 

This allows us to see at a glance how big pieces of work as well as the smaller parts that constitute them, are progressing over time. As a result, we are able to eliminate the need for constant status reporting and focus on the work that matters.

This post was updated by our editors. It was originally posted on the Kanbanize blog in May 2019.

This entry was posted in Kanban on by .
Bisser Ivanov

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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One thought on “How to Track Progress in Kanban with 6 Easy-to-read Charts

  1. Pingback: Kanban 101 - Tracking progress : Part 2 | Kanbanize Blog

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