Measure Flow Will Increase Trust and Collaboration

I hear more and more stories where Kanban has helped team to develop a continuous improvement culture. During 2012 the Kanban Leadership Retreat in Austria Mayrhofen, Pawel Brodzinski hosted an open space session dedicated to behavioural changes. The picture above was taken during this session. As Pawel explains in his blog post, we shared stories about emerging patterns from our Kanban experiences.

My goal here is not to cover all those patterns again, which mainly are still a work in progress, but to share a specific story about measuring flow.

In 2010-2011, I was in charge of a software development team located in Paris and Mumbai. We had several activities on our hands: business analysis, development, test and functional support. We were using the Kanban method to guide our collective work and our work improvement. We experienced most of the behavioral changes listed above and our cycle time was reducing. But we reached a limit: we were depending on a technical support team. They were not focusing on their lead time, they used a tasks management tool focusing on who is responsible for what and managing queues without limit or flow measurements. We were also not satisfied with the way we all were working and coordinating our clients. Thus one day we decided to automatically measure their Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD) and make it visible. The average lead time was around 10 days for one very simple request.

At the beginning they were ignoring measures, just looking at odd graphs. But one day they had turn-over in their team, and as the new joiners were being trained, and the CFD showed immediately a bottleneck. We raised the point to them, our clients were very dissatisfied and at the end, our clients were also their clients. Without any explanations they immediately understood that the situation was critical, without even taking the time to explain anything, they started to make decisions and take actions. We already had experienced this kind of situation in the past without measuring flow (CFD) and it needed from us hours of negotiations, emails and escalations.

Since that moment the CFD became their own tool and they started to smooth the flow, without having been trained on Kanban and other stuff. We helped them to identify that they had to process 4-5 requests per day to keep the queues under control. It fully changed the way we interacted with them, it was not them against us any more, we all were focusing on flow, and measuring flow, trying to get things done in short lead time.

Lead time and flow were our common focus. Before that we were chasing the team to get things done, after that we were collaborating to better serve the client. Every morning both teams were looking at common metrics, agreeing on the 4-5 tickets to get done. More than that it also developed a serious gaming culture, where the team was playing at trying to reduce the queue as much as they can. Everyone was very confident with the process, and a high trust in the process emerged. We reduced the average lead time to 1 day!


That’s one hack introduced by Kanban: measure flow and you’ll see better decisions in the process, decreased negotiation and high social capital.

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