Yes, we kanban!

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We use kanban. I’m not sure if kanban is controversial, but my team often gets questions about it. “What is kanban?” “Why is a TV displaying your task board?” “Why on earth do you have Super Mario World wallpaper on your board?”

Why we have that wallpaper is anybody’s guess, but adopting kanban was a milestone for us. It made task management easier by showing us bottlenecks and forcing us to adopt a new mindset on how to work.

How we work today

My team has a simple workflow: get a task from the backlog, work on it (development, unit tests, end-to-end tests), send it for peer review (requiring two approvals), and deliver it to a continuous delivery pipeline. This simple workflow uses the IBM® Bluemix® platform.

How we used to work

Before my team adopted kanban, we took a scrum-like approach. We held poker-planning meetings where we estimated the number of points for each work item, sprint-planning meetings where we estimated what would be delivered in the current sprint, and so on. We had a good system then, but our requirements changed and we needed to be more agile and to deliver continuously.

How we moved from scrum to kanban

Adopting kanban wasn’t easy, so we started gradually. First, we mapped how we worked on our kanban board, revising the “to do, doing, done” columns to be more granular. Today, we have nine columns. That exercise helped us find and eliminate bottlenecks in our flow. For example, we found that we needed to put greater effort into code reviews. We also limited how many tasks could be in each column.

kanban board snapshot

In adopting kanban, we didn’t completely abandon scrum. Instead, we found that a few kanban and scrum practices were complementary. For example, our stand-up meetings are now more direct and useful because we know what each team member is working on from the board, so we can go straight to any pain points. We also have occasional retrospective meetings to hone our processes and discuss what to improve.

In a nutshell, adopting kanban helped us to better visualize our processes, map our bottlenecks, and make a few existing practices even more efficient.

To read about another team who migrated from scrum to kanban, see this article on the IBM Bluemix Garage Method site.

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