There’s a lot written about how Kanban is less disruptive and demanding than Scrum in most contexts, and I think some of that might be true. There’s probably as much being written about how Scrum may be more merciless at uncovering dysfunctions in a system, throwing all of the bad stuff in your face every two weeks.
Flipping the Coin
Listening and observing to some interesting conversations today at a client, I came to realise a more crucial difference between Kanban and Scrum, that I haven’t read anything about so far:
Kanban makes it much harder to notice improvement.
This morning, when I approached the client’s office, I met one of the organisation’s Kanban and Agile early adopters, who recently had not been very happy as his team lost interest and motivation in Kanban, or any improvement. The common frustration of the organisation had basically killed their enthusiasm (which for some team members hadn’t been too great to begin with). Now he approached me with a broad smile, and as I asked him, “How’s your team doing?” he laughed and said, “Great!”, and generally emanated happiness.
I hadn’t seen him doing that in months, so I asked, “Wow! What did happen that improved your mood so much?” Thinking, his face fell, and he said, “Nothing. They still hate Kanban.” Puzzled, I went on, “So, what made you so happy?” and he said, “Well, our customer recently had another important project going on, so they didn’t really have time to give us many requirements, and we had time to clean up some stuff. Generally, we didn’t have much stress any more.” Wow. Didn’t notice the improvement although they were happy.
Later today, another team, retrospective. “I don’t have anything. We can’t change anything anyway.” Nodding all around the table. This was the most frustrated of all our teams. We talked through possible improvements, we asked how we could be of help, which wishes we might take to management… In vain. They didn’t want a standup anymore (no opportunities to collaborate, all specialists, no slack to learn), they seemed to think their board was useless and just additional effort to update… Then I asked if they wanted to stop using the board. Silence.
They started looking afraid, not frustrated and complaining anymore. They looked at each other and one (who had been relentlessly complaining the whole Kanban idea was useless from the start) said, “There’s something in the back of my head, I don’t really know what it is… And I think I want to keep it.” Relief all around. Action item: keep the board, keep updating it, standup once per week (had been two before). Wow.
What unobserved improvements have your teams or organisations surprised you with?
What happened? These teams work in a rigid, frustrated organisation—it’s persona would be clinically depressed. Both teams have not yet managed to cut their work into pieces of a size where it would be reasonable to measure the lead time. They have no way to see their improvements, and for an outside influencer it’s still hard. Scrum would “force” them to cut their work into measurable pieces. Is that really a bad thing?
Containers add visibility. Not only to challenges, also to improvements.
How do you mitigate that in your influencer’s work, using Kanban?