10 ways to crash your Kanban system

As a coach, trainer and consultant, I frequently come across teams that are having challenges getting their Kanban system up and running. However, it becomes especially tragic when teams expend a lot of energy to maintain something that has been ailing for a long time and only causes frustration.

So today, in the spirit of Peter Kruse’s “8 rules for total gridlock in organizations”, I’ve compiled a series of learnings for you that have emerged from my work with Kanban teams. They are composed of a collection of anti-patterns for the application of Kanban and are to be understood as a kind of reminder.

Here are: 10 ways to crash your Kanban system.

1) Make your ToDo list a ToDo Matrix

Put your ToDo list across the Kanban board as column labels and use it additionally as Backlog.

This promotes confusion and opacity on two levels. First, it creates work packages like “Test if ‘finished’ really solves the “; a stumbling block in itself, since value here depends on the processing of multiple work packages. Second, on such a board, column and task cross in due course, for example when the item “Test whether ‘finished’ really solves the ” meets the work step “Test”.

2) Don’t limit, just visualize

Avoid limiting your workload at all costs. Limits only hold you back and make you inflexible. Put as much energy as you can into visualizing and updating the progress of your work, and make sure to always look nice and busy.

Push systems are your best friend. They effectively bring you to a standstill.

3) Always give priority to new ideas and requirements

Focus on quantity of work, not results. Start each work package as soon as you can. New ideas and requirements are a welcome distraction – I mean variety, of course – to anything already in progress or currently blocked.

Best of all, the faster work packages are started, the longer your service’s customers will have to wait for results. The ultimate fertilizer for dissatisfaction and loss of trust. Count on it: This phenomenon sounds as paradoxical as it is empirically verifiable.

4) Preserve status mappings and encourage “hopping”

Ensure extensive ping pong play of your work packages through the Kanban board. Optimize wild back-and-forth movements of your work by using the board’s columns as status mappings. It’s best to regularly reassign the work packages you’re working on, as well as those of others.

Work quickly becomes unmanageable, and chaos is followed by deliciously extensive discussions about details and priorities.

5) Introduce waiting columns

Introduce columns where your work can be parked comfortably. Waiting columns reinforce the principle of “out of sight, out of mind” and suggest that parked work is no longer work until it is actively resumed. While the work molds along like this, of course, the clock keeps ticking. The customer is still waiting for a work result. Every passing moment continues to cost money.

6) Watch out for huge sized work packages

Make sure that the work packages in your system are large enough to move through your team board in the unit C/m (“column per month”). This way you actively prevent bottlenecks from being localized in the system. Progress and improvement become virtually invisible.

From here on, “let things take their course”, because “many roads lead to Rome”. If there is nothing to see, regular synchronization points in the team are quickly used to talk about the details that are just not visible. Detailed and redundant reports are born.

Optionally, people stop looking at the shared board altogether. Control elements such as “making important decisions” are thus postponed all by themselves to the time when problems escalate.

Either way a waste of energy, time and nerves is now assured.

7) Make every effort to micromanage

Make sure that every detail is documented on the Kanban cards of your system. Get daily reports from your team members on every change and movement. Document twice rather than not at all and discuss with your team the perfect wording for each work package. Don’t have a conversation without first creating a Kanban card in the system.

Especially when combined with massive work packages that crawl across the board at a snail’s pace, this can exponentially enrich opacity and waste. Because meaningless, huge work packages are then also unnecessarily often and regularly in focus due to the enormous maintenance and update requirements of micromanagement.

8) Adapt your Kanban system to the Tool, which you use

Articulate yourself with the possibilities that your aircraft carrier-sized tool brings. Try everything the tool has to offer and find a use case for each function. Radically tamp down your needs if any functionality is missing.

This way you successfully eclipse the actual needs you wanted to address with your Kanban.

9) Make it as unattractive as possible to help

Ensure a regular look at the work packages of individual team members and address different expert groups in the team individually. Test activities are directly attributed to testers, designers are addressed for all design activities, and so on.

This strengthens the mental link between the issues of “performance” and the number of work packages that are currently in progress in the expertise of individual team members. This is your form of limiting! Set a limit to productivity.

10) Manage people, not work

Make sure that no one does anything without a clear assignment. Avoid idle time at all costs and maximize the utilization of each worker. Get daily reports on who is working on what and make sure there is always work on hand for each expert to start. Link as many people as possible to everything that is worked on and done, and evaluate who does how much in what time.

Work, let alone the flow of work, thus reliably fades into the background. Properly executed, everyone will concentrate on their own work and annoying “thinking along” of others, which could question your own wisdom, will be minimized.

Is it really like that? Try it out for yourself!

You recognized yourself or your team? You find the scenarios plausible, but would like to experience them yourself in a protected space, and learn how to handle them better?

Contact us for a simulation on the topic of “Experiencing Agility”. Here we can try out together what happens to your work when you set different levers in motion. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, I’m looking forward to it!

By the way: I will go into more detail on selected aspects in upcoming articles.

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