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November 10, 2017

My Experience with Kanban Outside IT

3 mins read

Kanban for Human Resources: What I Learned During My First KMP I Class

I recently had the pleasure of co-training Excella’s first Kanban System Design (KMP I) class with our Accredited Kanban Trainer (AKT), Trent Hone. I was particularly excited to learn that five individuals were coming from one organization’s Human Resources (HR) department. I was curious: what type of work would they be interested in modeling with Kanban? Since most of my work as an Agile Coach is in the field of software development, I was hoping this group wanted to model something very different. I was happy they did as it gave me an opportunity to experiment and learn how Kanban can be used for knowledge work outside of software.

Kanban for Anyone

It’s important to remember that you can model your workflow regardless of the domain in which you work. Sometimes we get caught up in thinking that Kanban is best for software development (or IT Operations) and we miss the larger picture. Kanban can be used with any kind of knowledge work to make it transparent, reduce work in progress (WIP), identify bottlenecks, and, ultimately, obtain a better understanding of anticipated delivery.

In the KMP I class, students learn about the STATIK process. STATIK stands for System Thinking Approach for Introducing Kanban and it provides an iterative process for thinking through the steps of your workflow, what we call the “value stream.” During the class, students consider several factors that help them identify the key aspects of their work process so they can improve it. These factors include identifying sources of dissatisfaction, analyzing demand and capability, modeling the current workflow, discovering classes of service, and designing their Kanban system. Throughout the day students discuss these factors and how they relate to the items they want to track on their soon-to-be-created Kanban board.

Kanban for HR

The goal of the attendees who worked in HR was to devise a physical Kanban board that provided better visibility into the different types of work performed by each of the HR divisions overseen by their director (e.g. recruiting, benefits, etc.). They wanted more visibility so they could better forecast anticipated completion dates and allocate people between multiple projects more effectively. Another goal was to give greater visibility into impending “fires” or emergency issues that would disrupt their normal flow.

The different HR divisions became rows on the board; each got its own swimlane. The attendees also identified five specific steps in their workflow that were common across divisions. These became their columns; work moved through them from conception to completion. They agreed to classify work (represented by stickies) by demand type (e.g. technical requests, trainings, etc.), and by class of service (emergencies, standard requests, etc.). We used different color stickies and visual symbols to help identify these differences. What I found particularly interesting was the team’s desire to set work in progress (WIP) limits for both rows (HR divisions) and columns (steps in the workflow).

It was a thrill to help this non-software development team work through the design of a Kanban system. I hope I have the opportunity again to explore how Kanban can help teams outside the field of information technology manage their work more effectively and improve their capability.

Read More

This blog post is part of our “Scrum vs. Kanban” series, triggered by a working session at one of Excella’s Agile Coaching Circle’s offsite meetings. We explored our experiences with and thoughts about the Scrum Framework and Kanban Method, identifying a series of themes that would enhance the knowledge and understanding of our colleagues. We are pleased to share those lessons with you.

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