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To keep businesses delivering value quickly and effectively, teams must leverage a variety of work methodologies and processes to get work done, such as Lean, Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, and traditional project delivery. That means organizations must support team flexibility and autonomy without giving up visibility and management to broader strategic outcomes. This article outlines how the right Kanban software can enable Agile at Scale leveraging SAFe.
Agile Program Management: Make Work Connected and Visible
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One of the most valuable and strategic tools for today’s business challenges is Kanban software. Kanban is a visual system for managing work as it moves through a process.
Kanban software visualizes both the process (the workflow) and the actual work passing through that process. The goal is to identify potential bottlenecks in the process and fix them so work can flow cost-effectively at an optimal speed or throughput.
The right Kanban tool can improve all aspects of your business, from marketing to legal to finance, Agile, and DevOps teams to provide visibility, continuously improve, and maximize flow and value delivery.
Follow SAFe® 5.0 with Kanban Software
For companies that follow SAFe, look for Kanban software that supports at the portfolio, value stream, program, and team levels to enable adaptive planning and better decision making throughout the delivery process. Such Kanban tools are equipped with templates that help you get started quickly and customize to implement the Scaled Agile Framework successfully – no matter where you are in the process.
At the top of the SAFe 5.0 diagram, you will see the portfolio Kanban. The portfolio Kanban is leveraged to visualize and manage the flow of portfolio epics.
From intake to analysis, all the way to completion, the portfolio Kanban is your organization’s prioritization center for ideas and initiatives. Kanban software for SAFe allows organizations to create portfolio Kanban views and build a hierarchy that follows SAFe and its representation within your business.
By creating a portfolio Kanban, your organization can visualize the strategy and investment intent to enable informed portfolio-level decision making. Use it to define your portfolio vision by:
- Identifying strategic themes
- Intaking ideas into your portfolio funnel
- Analyzing them with Lean Business cases
- Prioritizing the epics that will have the largest impact to your bottom line and your customer’s satisfaction
Kanban software is a game changer for the enterprise when scaling Agile and enabling Agile Program Management. As organizations scale, Agile teams often hit critical mass, increasing work delivery and throughput.
However, delivery can often become disconnected from strategic outcomes. Organizations new to scaling Agile often lack systems to coordinate and connect multiple teams to deliver against larger programs, initiatives, or strategies. This is where a Kanban software supports Agile Program Management.
Organizations that are following or wish to follow the SAFe framework from the portfolio level may choose to incorporate value stream Kanban to highlight the epics that each value stream will work on as an intermediary level prior to the program Kanban. More often than not, epics from the portfolio Kanban are dropped into the program boards for the Agile Release Trains to decompose into features.
Essentially, at the program level, epics are broken down into features and enablers and prioritized for implementation within a program increment (PI). Kanban software makes it easier to synchronize your Agile Release Train (ART) activities by enabling multiple teams to plan, commit, and execute together due to its visual program boards and connected board and card capabilities.
Teams of teams can connect work to ensure work is sequenced and delivered in the appropriate order. Mapping dependencies in this way reduces rework and enables teams to stay focused on the most important deliverables.
Leveraging the right Kanban software, organizations can also facilitate quarterly or PI planning to align on priorities and plan work digitally. Agile teams and ARTs capture their quarterly plans in Kanban boards to create cross-team visibility, coordination, planning, and alignment to common objectives.
Advanced Kanban boards ensure all stakeholders have visibility into work in progress (WIP), while also allowing disparate Agile teams to:
- Synchronize work
- Automate handoffs
- Drive continuous improvement
- Promote collaboration
These are all critical components to maintaining alignment across multiple Agile teams and the business.
Delving further into the SAFe framework, the success of any transformation depends on the ability of Agile teams to develop on cadence and release on demand. SAFe enterprises need a flexible platform for managing the development and delivery of software, without restricting the way teams work.
The ability to interconnect teams, Agile Release Trains, value streams, and portfolios provides organizations with a sound way to visualize and plan their highest priority work from the portfolio down to the Agile teams.
Regardless of whether teams practice Scrum, Scrumban, or Kanban, Kanban software can help measure iteration progress and identify opportunities to increase flow and throughput, as well as offer a great foundation for SAFe framework adoption.
Kanban software that provides flexibility lends itself to technical and non-technical Agile teams alike to plan, coordinate, and execute their work in tandem, while providing leadership visibility into the value delivered. Inclusive of any methodology or process, business teams can map their workflow, continuously improve their processes, and align their work to the organization’s strategic initiatives with ease.
Lean metrics often include burndown, efficiency, flow, and speed (or velocity). To make sure your organization is looking at the right indicators, it is important to think about the answer you want from your metrics. The question below can help you determine which Lean metrics are appropriate to monitor.
What do I want to improve?
Identify improvements based on the value you deliver. Some real-world examples include:
- A marketing team wants to analyze their cycle time on creating sales collateral so they can deliver value more quickly
- A product development team wants to improve their quality to prevent rework
- An operations team wants to track lead time so they can resolve issues more quickly
Keep your answers to the above question in mind as you consider the following groupings of metrics.
- Portfolio metrics: Refer to metrics you need to measure and assess progress at the portfolio level. Visualize your budget allocation using the distribution chart, measure the cycle time of your epics and assess your organization’s ability to sustainably deliver value.
- Agile Release Trains (ART) metrics: Measure how well the ART is meeting its Program Increment (PI) commitments using charts such as Cumulative Flow, Cycle Time, Planned Percent Complete, and more.
- Team metrics: See how an individual team is performing by reviewing team board specifics like card and board health. Health indicators show how long particular features or stories are taking to get through the team. Speed reports, planned percent complete, burndown and flow charts are also valuable at this level. Identify bottlenecks, blockages, high priority work items, and areas for process improvement with the burndown chart, the flow chart, and the exceptions report.
Kanban Software Use Cases
Virtual or Remote Work Management
As companies shift to virtual workforces, Kanban software is becoming an increasingly valuable tool. Wherever team members work, Kanban can provide a dynamic way for everyone to visualize work and processes. The ability to optimize workflow and communicate status, progress, and roadblocks can help Agile software development teams, business teams pursuing Lean and Agile methods, or more traditional project teams complete their work.
Each Kanban board reflects a team’s unique process for delivering value, as well as its current work and capacity. This level of visibility is what initially made Kanban so popular for Agile development teams and has caused Kanban to spread beyond its Agile development use case. All types of teams and their managers, stakeholders, and leadership can instantly visualize their progress against team and cross-team initiatives or organization-wide initiatives / epics.
This eliminates the effort spent on curating spreadsheets or waiting for the next status meeting to surface issues. Leaders can pinpoint capacity, manage work distribution, and resolve blockers for their team(s) from anywhere in the world. In rapidly evolving markets, this quick access to data and delivery details ensures focus, and associated funds are tied to work that will deliver the highest returns in the current market conditions.
Program Increment (PI) or Quarterly Planning Facilitation
As mentioned above, enterprise Kanban is an excellent way for teams and teams of teams to manage PI Planning. Create a single Program Backlog and prioritize features and enablers for implementation in the Program Increment. Capture Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) calculations using custom fields to help you sequence work based on economic value.
Look for a tool that has templates for some of the most common SAFe development boards. These can be accessible during planning sessions to allow teams to work digitally in real time for all remote team members to share.
Enterprise Kanban for Accurate Agile Costs
As organizations implement and scale Agile teams more broadly, understanding the cost of the Agile work takes center stage and becomes paramount to overall Agile transformation success.
Progressive Kanban software can capture cost (and capitalization) in real time, translating WIP at the story, feature, and epic level into the cost of creating a product or enhancement. The simple act of moving a Kanban card is used to obtain, calculate, and roll up information systematically, allowing an organization to easily capture Agile software development costs and provide auditable reporting to Finance.
Depending on the implementation and parameters set, Kanban card movement can also apply varying levels of time-tracking governance. Organizations can determine the level of governance required to manage Agile team time tracking and begin appropriately moving from manual time sheet entry to automated costing and actuals.