Think “executable process visualization” instead of “task-board”

A lot of the boards I see in offices nowadays are called Kanban-boards, even though they are actually more task-boards. And while often that is okay there are some advantages that we’re missing out on when we settle for task-boards.

Why exactly do we do Kanban boards?

There is a multitude of reasons to introduce Kanban boards, but one of the main goals might still be to visualize the workflow. On the other hand visualizing the workflow can hardly be a means in itself. One of the ends the visualization can help to achieve is clarity. Clarity about what we’re really doing. Clarity about the state we’re in. Clarity about the state the work is in. The ‘last workflow you’ll ever need’ (todo-doing-done) doesn’t really provide much help towards this end.

Accept reality

Modeling the real workflow does help. While preparing a talk, a friend and colleague of mine, came up with what I think is a great metaphor. He called the Kanban board an ”executable process visualisation.”

And once we start to think about the board as an “executable process visualisation” this metaphor turns out to be quite helpful in detecting differences between our model and reality. Let’s assume we have some kind of daily standup and talk about the work items on the board. Now, as soon as we find we have to explain that the ticket (the work item’s representation) is still in the same place, but work has progressed to a different state, this is a strong indication that our model does not quite reflect reality. On the other hand, if we move our ticket, but the work item actually still is in the same state, this might indicate an overly complex model that needs to be simplified to reflect reality.

Talk about the way you work

The great thing about having an “executable process visualization” is that talking about the model becomes much closer to talking about the work and vice versa. “But I thought that would be the first thing to do” becomes a question of “In which column does it happen? Can we make that explicit?”

This way the visualization becomes a powerful tool to enable substantial discussions and continue evolving the way you work from there.

till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

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