Blocking it to get free

Product development can greatly benefit from the Kanban-practice of ‘managing flow’.

Let’s look into one aspect that seems counterintuitive, but helps a lot in managing flow – the option to mark ongoing work as blocked.

Even if only the first core property of Kanban – visualize the work – is implemented, the agreement to mark stuck items (items that can’t be worked on right now) in a highly visible manner sends a very recognizable message to anybody looking at the visualization.

Having a blocked Item in the system means that there ‘is a disturbance in the flow’ and thus work downstream – and upstream – of this blockage might be affected. When the disturbance is highlighted and openly visible, all parties involved can act in their own area of influence to handle this disturbance. They might decide to delay some work, swarm to get the blocked item unblocked, or find completely new ways to get rid of this blockage.

Therefore marking a work-item as blocked in a Kanban system is a powerful measure to get the system free again and get the ‘flow’ flowing – leading to less work in progress and thus to shorter lead times and effectively a shorter time to market.

How do you handle tasks you can’t work on right now? How many people can really see that the flow is ‘impaired’?

till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

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