The Values-based delivery assessment vs problems of flow

Earlier this month and twice in the same week, I found myself debriefing games of GetScrumban (for the purposes of this post we could have used getKanban or even Featureban). Both times I ditched the deck and moved to the flipchart. Much of the ensuing discussion revolved around a classification (below) of the kinds of flow problems we experienced:

  • Item-related:
    • Blocked: work is unable to proceed until some issue or dependency specific to that item is resolved
    • Stalled: work is not proceeding because attention lies elsewhere
  • People-related:
    • Starved: people have unused capacity and are left waiting for work
    • Overburdened: there is too much work relative to capacity; people feel overwhelmed and may be wasting time on context switching

Reflecting on this afterwards, I thought I ought to check what the Values-based delivery assessment template (which you can try via the Depth of Kanbanland 2015 survey) had to say about these.

Blocked

There is plenty here in categories 1 (Transparency) and 3 (Collaboration). These three prompts are directly relevant:

  • 1.3 We can see which work items are blocked and for what reason
  • 1.5 We identify dependencies between work items in good time and sequence them accordingly
  • 3.4 Throughout the delivery process we cooperate to ensure the smooth transition of completed work into live use

As identified in the last two of those, the key is preempt blockers, not just to manage them when they arise. Don’t start what you can’t finish! A further three prompts speak to how we organise ourselves in order to achieve this:

  • 1.6 We identify and manage dependencies on external teams or services
  • 3.2 Our delivery process encourages collaboration across roles and specialties
  • 3.3 We work with business stakeholders to understand, shape and size potential work ahead of it entering the delivery process

Prompt 3.2 doesn’t quite spell it out, but swarming collaboratively over a blocked item is an important tactic for dealing with blockers.

Overburden, Stalled

These problems are two sides of the same coin. We see them when supply cannot meet demand; no surprise then that the category 2 (Balance) applies here. I’ve picked out these two prompts in particular:

  • 2.3 We take care not to overburden the system with more work-in-progress than it can accommodate effectively
  • 2.4 We pull work into and across the delivery process only as capacity allows, preferring to finish work items already in progress than to start new work items

The Kanban Method’s second core practice is “Limit work-in-progress (WIP)”. Neither underestimate its power or think that it applies only to columns on kanban boards! Note also that high levels of WIP are often the result of other flow-related problems, so don’t stop there either.

Starvation

Starvation is often a side effect of blockages and other flow problems happening upstream — the problems we’ve seen already plus those induced by inattention to the size and quality of items in the pipeline. Again, prevention is better than cure:

  • 3.3 We work with business stakeholders to understand, shape and size potential work ahead of it entering the delivery process
  • 5.1 We proactively prepare work items ahead of the delivery process to maintain a strong and reliable flow of value

We’ve seen category 3 (Collaboration) before; the new one here is 5 (Flow). One of my favourite techniques though comes under 2 (Balance):

  • 2.6 We maintain a healthy mix of work items based on type, source, and urgency

Complaints of starvation will be rare if there is a supply of non-urgent but still valuable work available. Keep some in the mix!

3 thoughts on “The Values-based delivery assessment vs problems of flow

  1. Good to see the assessment standing up to scrutiny Mike. It’s had some bashing this week my end too – including teams delivering software using pretty much pure SCRUM….. maps well to values based survey and has a neat trick of highlighting where SCRUM is weak.

    BTW the ‘GetScrumban’ link in your post returns a ‘not found’ response.

    Kenny

    Like

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