5 Patterns for the Team Kanban Meeting

Before we get started, let’s align on what we mean by the Team Kanban meeting.

The purpose of the Kanban meeting is to form a collaborative conversation about the work, any issues in the workflow and any general issues that come up. We then aim to define the actions to resolve. Generally this session is facilitated by a team lead, scrum master or delivery manager (Enter what you call them here!) But there is no reason why this session cannot be faciltated by anyone, as long as they are comfortable to do so.

At this level, the 15-20 minute session is something that is held daily at the same time and around a fully updated Kanban board with the team.

Now typically at this point I see teams do various styles of good and bad. There is nothing worse than hearing someone telling us what they did yesterday. Even the Scrum guide has got rid of that question!

It is important to remember one of our principles at this point.

We are interested in the status of the work and not the workload of individual people.

So I wanted to give you 5 patterns to try with your team to help keep it fresh and to solve different problems or challenges you might have.

Pattern 1 – Full Board Walk

You will likely be familiar with this pattern, but the purpose here is to talk about every single ticket on your board. The key things to remember are:

  • We walk the board from right to left. We do this because the work on the right is nearly done and we want to be able to release the value from that.
  • Each ticket is then discussed and the status is given. Note, that we focus on the tickets on the board and not ask each member of the group individually.
  • Team members should raise any issues, worries or potential risks to the work. If this can be discussed in the timebox, then great, if not then we might need to get people together afterwards.
  • Team members might also flag if they are going to be pulling more work soon and this is a great opportunity to discuss whether anyone needs any help first.
  • We will flag during this session any expedited or fixed date tickets that are coming in close proximity, because we might need to take some action upon that.

By the end of the session everyone will have a clear understanding of where we are on the work, what needs our focus or mitigating actions completed.

Pattern 2 – Item Age

One of my favourite reports is the Item Age report. This chart tells you how long work has been in play for, the ones that are about to exceed your service level agreement, and the ones that have well and truly passed it! As we settle into our kanban routine, understanding our lead times and service level agreements with our customers come more into play. We also want a level of predictability for our customers, and so having ageing work is going to impact your forecasts.

Before the Team Kanban meeting, I do some high level analysis of the tickets in play. I would then mark in the system the ones that have breached our service level agreement, and the ones that are in proximity.

I would then use the Daily Kanban meeting to highlight these with the team to understand the root cause and what we need to do to get these back on track. I would also want to discuss these at the retrospective because maybe there is something we can do to stop this from happening again in the future.

I trust the team will raise any other issues they might have that we need to discuss, otherwise, I would just get them to focus on this pattern and the resolutions we need to put in place.

Pattern 3 – Blockers, Waiting and On Hold

If you are a team that has a lot of these, maybe we need to have a regular conversation around about them. Similar to Item age, I could understand how long they have been blocked and starting with the oldest ones work backwards to understand what we need to do to get these out of the system.

You can use a technique called blocker clustering in a retrospective to really understand what you are seeing, how long it is costing you and what area to target first for improvements.

The name of the game is to have as minimal blocked, waiting or on-hold tickets as possible. These blocked tickets hurt us and so we will need to put process improvement in place.

For example

  • If we have lots of tickets missing information. Consider improving your ticket refinement or putting a triage in place.
  • If you are stuck waiting on third parties or other teams. Consider on alignment of priorities, how can we plan better together, how can we keep better informed and whether we need to understand their capability to only send them the work they know they can do. This might mean we change the order of our backlog based on this. There is no point starting work if you know it is going to get stuck.
  • If we are blocked on defects. Consider what we can do to improve our quality.

So, if you have lots of blocked, on hold or waiting pieces of work maybe you need to have this pattern to discuss and also implement some targeted sessions to understand how you can mitigate against them.

Pattern 4 – Third Parties or Other Teams Involved

Often teams have to collaborate with third parties or other teams to be able to complete their work. Ideally, you will make their work visible on your board or maybe you have a coordination-style board to help bring everything together. Ultimately you have to work together to deliver the ‘Thing’.

If you are working with just 1 or 2 extra people, the ideal would be to get them to attend your Daily Kanban Meeting. If this is not possible then you might consider a weekly version of this which focuses on maximising the relationship and the shared work we are doing.

Where multiple teams and many people are collaborating together you might consider implementing the Workflow Kanban Meeting. This session is typically held once a week ( can be every 2 weeks) and all teams are invited along to hear the conversation. So depending on the number of teams, you could have between 4-50 people in attendance. This session is facilitated by one person where they walkthrough a coordination board which brings everyone’s work together. Updates are solicited from the team and only one person will give that update. Everyone else is just listening. Now I know what you are thinking…jeeez this is an expensive meeting! But for me, the pattern of scrum of scrums never got implemented properly and no one ever brought any information back to the teams. So the idea here is, the cost of everyone coming together to hear, is cheaper than the cost of identifying a problem late in the day. This session is still 15-20 mins long and thinking about it, if you swapped out a Team Kanban with one of the Workflow Kanban meetings, the cost is the same. The value here is everyone then leaves this meeting with the same knowledge and understanding.

Pattern 5 – Delivery Planning Cadence

This cadence is actually its own thing, but I often choose to switch out a Daily Team Kanban with this session. I have actually already written a blog about this cadence and so I refer you to that for full details on how to do. You can find it here.

Conclusion

There are five patterns here and there are 5 days of the week. By covering these 5 patterns each day of the week you are hitting several key activities to ensure that your board keeps flowing and are on top of things.

When I started implementing these, I noticed that each day I found out something new about the same problem, but just hadn’t been brought up before. It is crazy and I wonder why my usual Kanban meeting didn’t highlight these things. But putting a different lens on this really helped those conversations. It also kept it fresh and people on their toes. We don’t want people to be robots in these sessions, we need good healthy team debates about how are we going to get work done.

So what patterns can you start using in your team tomorrow? Not currently a Kanban team? No worries, these patterns can be used in Scrum as well.

If you have anymore patterns, let me know!

Want to learn more about Kanban? Join me in one of my upcoming classes


The Daily Stand Up

Did you know that in original Scrum books by Ken Schwaber he talks about one of the roles of a ScrumMaster was to get enough chairs for the Daily stand up?  The first pilot company also used to take significantly longer than 15 minutes also. Oh how we have evolved Smile

If I said to you ‘The Daily Stand Up’ what words immediately pop up in your mind?

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The words or phrase that pop into my mind are:

  • Synchronization
  • Swarming to release value

It is so easy to forget what the key outcomes of a Daily Stand Up meeting is and get caught up in the mechanics of it.

In a nutshell we want:

  • Team members to talk to each other and collaborate on the work that has been committed to.
  • To understand what problems are impacting us and what any potential upcoming risks are.
  • What value we need to unlock from the board.
  • Whether we can complete everything still we set out too. If not, there are expectations to be managed.

Did you know your most valuable pieces of work are actually the items that are waiting to be tested and deployed?  This is because we are only potentially a short stop away from benefits realisation or important feedback.  As teams we need to be focusing on ‘Finishing’ things, rather than starting new work. This might even mean that developers have to test!.  So a key outcome for me as an ScrumMaster is about teams swarming on getting whole items across the board and releasing the value early. 

There are a number of different ways to run them.  If you are in the early stages of Scrum you are quite possibly using the three questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What are you doing today ?
  • What stands in your way?

Over time I expect teams will alter this for their needs rather than slavishly following rules.

I vary the technique depending what traits I see the team exhibiting.

  1. I alter the three questions to just be.
    – What is everyone working on today?
    – What impediments or risks have we?
    – Can we still meet our commitment?  Handy to have your burn down on the board to aid this conversation.

    I tend to drop the ‘What did you do yesterday?’ questions as I trust that people come to work to do their best and that they are talking as a team where dependencies arise.  They do not need to justify to me what they did.  People shouldn’t feel as if they have to account for every minute of the day.

  2. Walking the board is also a great technique and useful when you have non-technical people wanting to know when their stuff is going to be done.  This technique really helps with swarming.  This is the practice that Kanban teaches. Typically we work from right to left looking at what it is going to take to complete this work. It is an opportunity for the team to pair together to get items over the line.
  3. If I have a team with lots of blockers, then I might just get the team to talk about these key items to see what we can do as a team to keep things moving.

I might vary running these meetings in different styles on a daily basis to get different information shared. You don’t have to do the same style every day. 

In whatever technique you run a key thing I see happening time and time again is ScrumMasters being reported to or ‘Running the meeting’

We need to think about how we can stop this from happening, They are not there to report to you!

Top Tips

  • Did you know that the ScrumMaster doesn’t even need to be at the Daily Stand ups?  The team should be able to facilitate this for themselves and manage their impediments.  Pop off for a cuppa and see if you team springs into action!
  • Don’t stand in front of the board.  We should be as standard facilitating from the back of the room and so the focus is not on us.  If you have not heard of facilitating from the back of the room….find out!
  • Don’t call out the name of the person who you want to speak.  Use ‘Who’s next?’
  • Use a prop such as a ball to get the teams to throw around and speak.  This helps them to decide who they want next to speak.  No one is looking at you either, because they are focusing on the person with the ball, and then not dropping it.
  • Rotate the role of facilitator around the team, let them all have a go.  I used to play ‘Spin the pen’ and if it lands on you, then you are facilitating for the day.  If some people are nervous of this, then it’s a perfect coaching opportunity for you.  Always ensure that you give the facilitator positive and improvement feedback.

The meetings should be in a regular heartbeat and so teams know the time and the place of the meeting as standard.  The time to update the board is NOT during the meeting.  People should be doing this on a regular basis throughout the day and not just saving it up.  This will help you to keep it to the recommended 15 minutes per day.

Did you know you don’t have to run these in the morning?  Teams can actually choose whatever time is best for them.  You can even have more than one a day if you are working on critical tasks. Some teams even have them last thing in the evening so that they are set up for the day to come in and get cracking. The key is whatever ever you do the team is getting value from these sessions.

A technique that I adopt to validate this, is to ask the team members to raise their hand of they feel they are not getting value, because maybe the conversation has diverged into problem solving.  This is a sure fire way to make sure that you keep things on track.

We keep the sessions to 15 minutes to promote valuable synchronization. The chances are if they are taking longer, it’s because you are problem solving or not talking about relevant items.  One team I had used to take 20 minutes to complete their stand up.  This was fine, because the value they got was worth the time they spent together.  Try and avoid extending it out much further Smile

If you do have lots of problem solving, then maybe your need to book 15 minutes after the Daily Stand up so the team can then brainstorm what they need to, but have a clean finish to the previous meeting.

The most powerful tools we have as ScrumMasters is observation and facilitation.  Observe what you are seeing and always challenge whether we can improve the way that we work.  Use your facilitation to guide the team and to help them decide and achieve for themselves what needs to be.

We are there as ScrumMasters to grease the wheels of the teams, reduce lead times, protect the values, principles and practices and to ensure that we continuously improve ways of working.  Quality is also at the heart of everything we do.

So reflecting on your daily stand up meeting today, what could  you do differently.

 

 

I want to thank: Nigel Baker, Geoff Watts, Bazil Arden and Alex Gooding.   I asked them all what their lesser known top tips or facts were in preparation of this article and they provided their input.