The principle is visualize work flow.

The columns of a Kanban board appear linear because of the 2 dimensions of a typical whiteboard and the virtual tools that mimic physical whiteboards.

However, we also use optional columns. This is our effort to reflect the network flow of work over linear flow. We still need visualization. Skipping columns as needed helps get there as a simpler first step. As always, our continual improvement focus is on optimizing for the flow through the entire process. People on our teams have adjusted to skipping columns as needed pretty well.

Note
For learning simulation projects, we use a network of Kanban boards to reflect the nature of the work flows better. Although that is also possible for all Kanbans, this gets down to a leadership judgment about what teams new to Lean-Agile can handle initially, in our opinion. We suggest that networked Kanbans be delayed until your organization has familiarity with basic Kanban boards first. Judge when or if to introduce it based on the Lean-Agile maturity of your organization. Experiment first, as always. Share what you learn.

The following figure shows the best conceptualization we have found to date on networking Kanban boards.

AppeloNetworkDrawing
Figure 1. Jurgen Appelo’s Sketch of a Possible Network of Kanbans [1]

For example, some teams prefer to use "blocker" indicators on their Kanban cards using some visual signal like a red sticker added to it. Virtual Kanban providers include a variety of ways to accomplish this too. We have found their various ways tedious and too time consuming, so we just added an extra column.

For example, if the process steps were

  1. Step A

  2. Step B

Then we add the column that most often blocks us and put a WIP limit of two on that column. For example:

  1. Step A

  2. Waiting on SMEs

  3. Step B

Team members are not having issues with SMEs like delays, for example, then they move their work item card from step A to step B directly. However if someone is hitting a SME blocker, then their card stops in the Waiting on SMEs column and the team and the project leadership all have a visible signal that something is slowing down the progress.

For other situations that do not come up as frequently, we use the normal red sticky note or the blocker functionality of the virtual Kanban board, and explain the reason for the blocker briefly.

We don’t mean to pick on SMEs, it is just that this often occurs in learning experience development projects, so it is a familiar example to our readers. Many SMEs adjust to the faster pacing and report enjoying Lean-Agile because they don’t get a HUGE batch of work to review all at once, but that instead, we ask them to review smaller batches or bites more often.


1. Reproduced with permission from Jurgen Appelo from http://noop.nl/2011/11/networked-kanban.html.
Image

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