It seems that the idea of a work-network instead of work-flow is catching on and I'd like to throw a bit more fuel in that fire!
Knowledge work is not linear! This we have learned from the experiences with failed Waterfall projects. There are things we do over and over again, and there are things we do only once in a project. None of those can easily be predicted. Scrum and Kanban are examples of our quest to distill what we do to the bare essential. Only then can we understand and manage our work.
Scrum does this by strictly limiting the work in progress through the concept of time boxes. The idea is: do something that fits a (reasonably) short timebox, and nothing else. Get that done and released before you go on to the next thing.
Kanban does this by strictly obeying Work In Progress (WIP) limits and establishing a Pull system (instead of push as much content as you can into an iteration). Both have pros and cons which I will not discuss here. http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
But most interestingly, both tackle the flow of our work in a linear fashion. Both Scrum and Kanban assume that some work can "flow" orderly to completion. However that is not the case! In knowledge work we have many loops and re-loops in the process that are hard to visualize and follow. Without visualizing those loops we cannot effectively manage our work!
Jurgen Appelo and Allan Shalloway had (what looks like was) an interesting discussion on the non-linearity of work and consequently on the non-linearity of Kanban boards. Check out Jurgen's and Allan's posts on the subject.
Since I've been experimenting with Personal Kanban for 3 months now I'd like to share some of my own experiences.
The picture below depicts my process boards as they evolved (click for larger images). The initial one was simple and linear, and it did not disclose enough information for me.
The second one was much better in highlighting some of the bottlenecks in my process (waiting for my action, waiting for others action, waiting for meeting), but was still too linear to reflect the work in a way that was useful to visualize.
The final Kanban board is actually what I use now and is a slight modification of the second one. As you can see it depicts the networked nature of my work and therefore also helps me set my WIP limits appropriately (for example why not have many things waiting for meetings?).
A conclusion of mine from the above boards is that it is not possible to set WIP limits without understanding the work (for example what "wait" states do you have in your process). On the other hand, trying to follow the WIP limits you have set will help you visualize those "wait" states as a consequence of the search for sustainable WIP limits
How about you? What are your experiences in using Kanban boards or other visualization techniques to uncover the networked nature of our work? Leave a comment below with a link to your post!
Photo credit: sjcockell @ flickr