Focus

In this article I’m going to describe how by changing the focus of a team we can improve the way we work.

So how do we get a team to focus on the work that’s important? One way is to prioritize the topics in any conversations a team has so that the most important pieces of work are discussed first.

I coach a team practicing Kanban and every morning we have a stand up. For this we gather round the Kanban board and begin to talk about the items on it.

A typical Kanban board
We like to talk about the most important items first so we usually start off discussing the blocked items and what we can do to unblock them.Once these items have been covered we then moved to the items further down the board. We naturally start off at the left side of the board and work our way across towards the right side.

However we should ask ourselves – are stories in the backlog really the most important items for us to chat about? A phrase often used in the Kanban world is “Stop starting, Start finishing”. This tells us that our focus should be on finishing stories. To enable this I suggested we begin the stand up by talking about the items that are closest to being complete. Simply – we started to read the board from right to left.

As a result, the team became more focused on completing the items closest to being finished. By focusing in on the items closest to being completed we have seen a drastic reduction in our cycle time. This was reduced from several weeks down to 7-8 days.

Changing the way we read the board means that the last thing for the team to talk about in the stand up is the backlog and whether we could bring something in to work on. It makes sense to discuss this last in the stand up once we have a good understanding of our current state.

This change is a major factor in us thinking about Kanban as a pull system rather than the push mentality we had before.

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