May 05, 2012

What is a homemade Agile (Kanban&Scrum) system?

Agile@Home :

It’s probably time I gave a brief explanation about Kanban mainly, and how it  translates to an effective family communication system that helps us get things done .

I’ll keep it short, OK?

Kanban is a Lean manufacturing tool, aiming to lower costs in high production environments. "Kan-Ban" is Japanese for signal card, that had all the product information written on it, and what is needed to be done after production. A Kanban system contains a set of cards allocated to each station in the manufacturing line.

The Kanban System was developed few decades ago by Mr. Taiichi Ohno, a vice president in  Toyota, to achieve his goals of reducing costs, while retaining high quality in the manufacturing line. The system is still used today by industrial factories all over the world, and has been widely adopted by the software development industry. Today, more and more uses are being found for Kanban - self management , time management, and GTD (Getting Things Done).

See? I promised it would be short.

Kanban principles (And a bit of Scrum) and how they translate to the Agile Kids system:


Visualize your Needs.

Think about all the things you want to do, or things that you are trying to do, but just don’t get to them. For example: The morning routine with the kids is full of tasks. Are we doing it well? Are they getting to school on time?
What about my office, am I managing my tasks well?

Just write it down, preferably on sticky notes, so you can see them. Visualization is valuable, and it helps get things done.
Imagine you are a work manager of a chair factory. If you were making a chair, you would write down the materials and tasks you need - measure, saw, glue, and so on. You want chairs of different sizes, and different colors... These are all tasks.

Some tasks consist of smaller tasks, while other tasks depend on tasks that come before them. So you need to list them all. Of course, you can list down all the tasks you want to complete for your family or your office.

This is our wish list, or ‘backlog’.

Some of the tasks we list are urgent, some are wishful thinking, and others are tasks we’ve put off for a long time.
We can create wish list for our tasks in the office or for our home chores. Whatever.

Now all we need to do, is visualize. Your basic work flow has three simple steps. ‘To do’, In progress’ and ‘Done’.

As a work manager in our chair factory, If you were making a chair, then your workflow would look like this:
Measure → Saw → Assemble → Paint → Ship.

In your case, tasks look a little bit different, but you still have a workflow. Of course, you mustn’t forget to prioritize your tasks!

Visualizing our tasks this way helps us see what we need to do, and when to start working on the stuff we want to do.

 Limit your WIP (Work In Progress)
 Start working. But remember, trying to bite off more than you can chew is  the best way to fail.

Do one thing at a time. Pull one tasks , complete it , and then pull the next task in line.  In time, you’ll see how many tasks you can perform at the same time, but to start off with, it’s better to complete one task at a time, then start five, and not complete any of them.

Take the chairs factory for example. After you set up your tasks, you try to build 100 chairs at once. You need to assemble them, paint them and ship them. You might be able to assemble them all, but that’s about it. All those unpainted chairs will just sit there, a large bottleneck you’ll have to deal with later, and of course, not one is shipped out.

But what if you would have tried to build and ship FIVE chairs?

In the industry, when a factory starts a cycle of work but does not finish, it is called inventory. Factories can’t sell inventory, and it takes up room (which needs to be paid for) and kept at a specific temperature (which needs to be paid for). In our personal life, we pay for that wasted inventory with delays, stress and overtime, just because we try to keep up with too many tasks. Context switching (jumping from one task to another without completing either) is another way to get little or no value from our tasks.

Visualization helps you identify your limits and control your workload. 


Say you have a goal in mind, and a list of tasks. Just completing each task in turn and moving on to the next one won’t necessarily get you anywhere, and you won’t be able to improve on what you did. You need to review your performance and avoid making the same mistake over and over again.

Lets go back to our chair making. Remember that you need to measure the wood, then saw it? If your saw isn’t sharp enough, then you’ll be working twice as hard just to cut the pieces. Then you’ll work at sanding them down, joining them, and so on. You need to stop every so often, and sharpen your saw, before you get back to work. Or in other words, review your tasks. identify the areas of improvement and keep on the work. then stop again , review your performance , change , and continue with your changed flow.

It isn’t hard to find examples from our Family life, either. Every morning, the whole family waits by the door while my son hunts for his shoes. Isn’t it obvious that we need to put his shoes next to the door the night before? Of course it is. It can be about tasks as simple as putting on shoes in the morning, and as complicated as managing your meeting schedule in the office.

Stop, and think about your work flow. Otherwise you’ll find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again.

Kanban is not enough ,This is the point where scrum comes into the picture. when we use Kanban with our family , scrum and agile mindset are also part of our success. 

Run your tasks in small iterations of time (optional), it allows kids and us to scope better. Meet once a day ,as a family , review your progress and needs. Retrospect over what you did and plan the next step accordingly. Talk things over with your kids; get ideas about how to improve on your tasks. In the industry, this form of improvement may be ‘let’s meet once a day, review the project and learn how to do it better’ or identify the area of improvement, talk it over and perform the change. Then, try the news setup. This is exactly the same thing at home…meet , talk it over.  We then improve and free some valuable time to talk over the really important stuff.

Make Process Policies Explicit.

Policies are created based on experience to allow us fast and smooth flow performance. Meaning, getting things done.  One rule in our chair factory is ‘don’t paint the chair before the glue dries’. This rule, or policy, is simple of course, and we have lots of them. But even the simple (and obvious) ones must be stated, so that everyone knows them

The same goes for our house. Bedtime and meal times are known and understood by all. They are known policies. Of course, policies can change - for instance, our policy is to complete homework when the kids get back from school. But after a week, we find out that they do a much better job when they do their homework after supper. So the policy changes, and our kids can get their homework done faster and better - but the policy is still stated explicitly, so that everyone knows what it is.

You can apply the same system of policy rules to your office day - ‘leave 5 min at the end of every meeting’, ‘don’t have consecutive meetings as you won’t get there on time’ and so on.

Improving is also about being able to set new policies, follow them and see if they work for us better.

Measure And Manage Flow.

In our chair factory, we put a lot of effort into our task flow, as we care about the time it takes from when the customer’s order comes in to the point when they get their chair. We want to know exactly where the bottlenecks are, and make sure we are working as efficiently as possible.

Around the house we aren’t so ruthless in our pursuit of efficiency, but we do expect to know what we are doing, and see how we can improve, and free up quality time to be with our family. For example, once you learn to put the kids’ shoes by the door each night, you can actually relax with your kids a few more minutes at the breakfast table each morning. Isn’t that better than waiting for them by the door while they hunt for their shoes?

In the office I also want to be more efficient, so I can free up time to pay attention to my customers. Just as an example, say I use the printer a lot - but it is located two floors up. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to change the printer’s place, or buy a new one for me, instead of running up and down two flights of stairs each time I printed something out? Once you free up that valuable time, you can use it for more productive things. and at the same time speed up your flow of delivery to your customers. 

To Sum Up:
Just follow some simple rules:
1.    Visualize
a.    Your tasks: Know what you need to do and make a list
b.    Visualize your workflow: Place it on a board
2.    Do one thing at a time. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
3.    Follow and inspect your progress and outcome to improve. Talk it over, every day.
4.    Remember Scrum. Meet once a day for a family gathering, retrospect and plan your week.
5.    Understand your limits and set your relevant policies and rules.
6.    Measure and manage your flow

Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-scale Production, Taiichi Ohno


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