Kanban as a Dashboard for Stakeholders

Kanban is often maligned as a simplified approach or the default thing to do when all other ideas and approaches fail, or cannot be agreed upon

What do Stakeholders Want to See?

A simplified view is often exactly what Stakeholders want to see.

It means Project & Program Managers have to summarise and articulate complexity into a simple, digestible form. This is in itself very useful for PM’s because the process of summarising and articulating into a clear form helps all team members clarify in their own minds what has been achieved, whats happening right now, and what’s coming next.

It also means Stakeholders can make better targeted decisions when presented with clear and summarised information.

If the status of a project cannot be simply articulated, something is wrong (which is also useful information for Stakeholders).

Kanban Prioritisations

To enable Stakeholders to update prioritisation’s (not that projects need that too often) it’s useful to add the most recent prioritisation’s to the To Do and Backlog items.

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Use Cynefin to help bring clarity to your projects

In which domain is your project or problem?

Cynefin was created in 1999 by Dave Snowden (IBM Global Services) – and can help make sense of any project / situation you are in (note: Cynefin isn’t a contrived acronym, it is Welsh for “Habitat”).

In which domain is your project or problem?

There are five domains in Cynefin:





Disorder (black hole)

Complex Cynefin

Most projects are complex, which means there are unknown, unknowns – i.e. you don’t have a 100% clear path from where you are to where you need to get to. Along the way problems will arise (you don’t know what they are yet) which you will have to solve.

Complicated Cynefin

Complicated projects are typically in the domain of SME’s – such as Surgeons and Lawyers – where the work is complicated but based on underlying truths and processes. For example, heart surgery is complicated, but generally well understood in terms of what has to happen in an ygiven operation.

Obvious Cynefin

This is the domain of “best-practice” where it is well known and understood what has to happen. That said, it should be noted that if everyone always takes the obvious path, new solutions may be overlooked. This dovetails nicely into Edwards de Bono’s “Challenge for Change” which I’ll cover in a future article.

Chaotic Cynefin

This is a domain where there is no cause and effect correlation. A domain where it is very difficult to predict outcomes. The way to attack a chaotic project is to try to find even the most simple pattern or truth in the chaos.

Disorder Cynefin

Finally, in the middle of all this is the black hole of disorder. Your project is in this domain if no other domain fits.

Snowden says “”The way out of this realm is to break down the situation into constituent parts and assign each to one of the other four realms. Leaders can then make decisions and intervene in contextually appropriate ways.”

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Ask the Right Questions

A few great questions to ask anyone who has a problem or is blocked …

1) What do you want?
2) In the bigger scheme of things, how important is this?
3) What do you think is the main obstacle to progress?
4) What options exist, or can you create?
5) What are your next steps?

I’ve tried this approach with my children – e.g. if they’re struggling over GCSE subject choices, choosing sports vs. music or not knowing where to start with a long project.

The approach enables you to name & quantify the issue, deal with it objectively and work out a plan ahead. Even if all it provides is a catalyst for change – that’s still very useful.

Amazingly this also works in business – especially when thinking has become cloudy with a chance of meatballs.

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The Key Tenets of Agile

Agile starts with Mind-Set, from that tenet everything else can flow

Tenet 1: Mind Set

The most important tenet in the Agile Framework is that of mind set – from Stakeholders to junior team members.

This includes believing in the Agile Framework being able to deliver results, in the people in your team to deliver the required outcomes, and to be proactive – e.g. using Retrospectives to help improve the underlying system.

Tenet 2: Framework

For an Agile environment to exist there must be a Framework sponsored by the relevant Stakeholders with the right empowerment and belief to make it happen. This includes being able to fund, resource and engage the right teams.

Tenet 3: Values

Values includes one of the essentials for al Agile team members which is Psychological Safety. This means each team member feels safe in discussing their own ideas and those of others without fear of being ignored or ridiculed. Sometimes the best ideas sound crazy at first.

Values also includes team members being able to depend on each other whilst remaining flexible and adaptable as new issues and challenges arise.

Tenet 4: Principles

Principles are higher-level drivers such as “We will deliver useful software every two weeks”, or “All ideas will be considered when refining the backlog including the introduction and deletion of previously prioritised items”.

Tenet 5: Practices

Practices include the actual agreement on how User Stories and Acceptance Criteria should be written and linked for example to Epics.

Practices also includes clarification of Epics and User Stories etc as well as escalation to Stakeholders and the Agile Coach e.g. to help improve the Agile Environment.

Tenet 6: Processes

Core processes and meetings necessary to support the Agile framework include:

Epic Definitions – with sizing and Acceptance Criteria

User Stories – with sizing and Acceptance Criteria

Backlog Prioritisation & Refinement – i.e. working out what’s most important to be done next

Sprint Planning – with the Agile team members

The Daily Scrum – with the Agile team members

Post-Sprint Retrospective – to review what went well or otherwise, and how the Agile environment itself can be improved

Tenet 7: Tools

To support the Agile environment and processes you need the right tools. There are many available in the marketplace, the most often used being JIRA (to manage User Stories, Acceptance Criteria etc) and Confluence (to manage and communicate materials).

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What is the Agile Methodology?

agile – adjective

  1. quick and well-coordinated in movement; lithe: an agile leap.
  2. active; lively: an agile person.
  3. marked by an ability to think quickly; mentally acute or aware: She’s 95 and still very agile.

Agile in Project Management

“Agile” is an approach and set of processes which focuses on flexible, efficient and continuous project delivery.

It is a fallacy to think that Agile throws away everything useful from other methodologies. Agile projects have milestones and deadlines but retain the ability to flex scope and delivery if/when requirements or external factors change along the way.

The Key Agile Processes & Artefacts

The key tenets of Agile describe how a team can define outcomes of projects and how success is defined and measured.

Epic – high level outcomes

User Story – lower level outcomes / user experiences

User Story Backlog – Prioritisation & refinement

Scrum – morning daily team meeting to review progress, challenges etc

Sprint – normally a bi-weekly period of development / progress

Retrospective – post Sprint assessment of progress and to identify what when well and why, and what requires improving

Continuous Delivery – sprints should result in continuous progress & delivery

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