There is a secret ingredient for the successful implementation of Kanban, and that is setting explicit process policies.
What does the term policy refer to in Kanban?
It is nothing but processes and rules that govern a process and get enforced to make sure the system works efficiently. Defining these rules helps team/new members understand output of the process, and what eventually makes it complete.
The team makes these decisions together and makes them available as process policies as an integrated part of the Kanban board itself. Making these policies explicit helps everyone understand what’s expected, thereby reducing confusion and leading to greater process consistency. As the team evolves and grows, process policies can be revised and improved to reflect the current situation. The maintenance of these policies it makes it easy for others observing the system to understand it, and for those inside it to continually evaluate and improve it.
Some of the examples could include policies such as:
Team will handle only 12 Change Requests/month
Team will work only on 2 Expedite Requests/month
Over time the team can assess whether each policy adequately addresses their operational needs or not, and change it to better fit the current circumstances.
More importantly, the moment someone in the team tries to pull a 13th Change Request to In Progress, the entire team will react because they predefined team rules only allow for 12. After some time, as the team becomes more efficient or new members join the collective, they might all meet to reconsider the parameters of their policies as part of continuous improvement.
Why are policies important in the long run?
Rules prevent us from making snap decisions and make any type of process less chaotic by governing our behaviors. We might not even notice it, but we set up little policies for our own daily process that are generally unwritten but make us feel more in control. A basic example of a daily life type of policy could be not having more than 2 cups of coffee a day. We might have chosen to implement this policy because we’ve noticed adverse effects of caffeine overdose, it might also be a way to help us cut extra sugar and we might consider it a first step towards healthy lifestyle.
Similarly, process policies in Kanban act as reminders. If you break a policy of working on only 12 CRs in month, you might lose points on project quality and succumb to the temptation of having bigger WIP limit. This could end up affecting an entire project negatively by slowing it down and making it more expensive.
Why should they be explicit and visible?
Ensure the policies your team is governed by are not static and meaningless, re-visit your policies as part of feedback meetings for better collaboration. Policies should evolve as the team does and should not be promoted only by the Project Manager but all the members of the team.
Visualize policies as plain text at the bottom of columns or on the sides of swimlanes on a physical Kanban board, if your team is on the smaller side and co-located.
If you are more advanced and using an online Kanban software, there are ways to chronicle policies manually using hover or the same tactic of tagging them onto the bottom or sides of your board corresponding to the sections to which they refer.
In some tools, such as Kanbanize, you have an opportunity to use their Runtime Policies feature in order to automate the policies which your team has agreed upon and make sure the board itself responds to their breach.
If we take the example of no more than 12 CRs/ month from our discussion pertaining to manual policy enforcement and automate it it would go something like this.
In a Kanban board created using Kanbanize, we can set up an automatically enforced policy referred to as a runtime policy for card count in a particular swimlane. This policy will trigger a predefined action (create, move, update, send notification, call web service) whenever the number of cards in a set of columns/lanes/cells satisfies a limiting condition.
For example, when there are 12 cards in the Change Request swimlane, it can send a notification to the project manager responsible.
In other cases, the project manager might want to receive a notification if there are less than 5 cards in the requested column so they can know when to replenish the queue for their team.
Although this is a general team policy, it doesn’t have to be manually enforced but can rather happen automatically on an online board.
Check out all the runtime policies available in Kanbanize. Even if you’re not enforcing them automatically, they should still be visible, enforced and mutually agreed on among the team members.