How to Do Kanban for IT Operations

How to Do Kanban for IT Operations

Learning how to do Kanban can completely transform the way your organization manages tasks, especially for IT Operations teams which have to manage a steady stream of planned and unplanned work. That’s because Kanban makes it easier for IT Operations to accurately predict their capacity and manage resources, thanks to Kanban’s ability to break complex workloads down to digestible chunks that are easier to understand.

Now that we’ve stressed the importance of Kanban and how it can be used to add value to your IT Operations team, let’s look at how you can seamlessly integrate it into your workflow.

Understanding the Four Tenets of Kanban

As you may remember, Kanban emerged in the 1940s as a way for Toyota’s engineers to better manage their workflow. Over time, the concept grew in popularity and became a popular solution for IT and software development, where it evolved to become even more sophisticated to meet the needs of teams in a modern tech-driven society. This led to the four tenets of Kanban, a widely agreed-upon approach that sets the framework for every basic Kanban system, based on the developments of industry leaders like David Anderson, Cory Ladas, and Jim Benson.

These four tenets are:

  1. Making the work visible;
  2. Limiting the work in progress;
  3. Measuring the progress of your work; and
  4. Communicating the work state.

In this post, we’re going to dig deeper into tenets one and two and look at how they can be applied to make your IT Operations team work more efficiently.

Tenet 1: Making the Work Visible

Whether you’re working with a digital project management solution that uses Kanban or you’re using a physical Kanban board, index cards and all, the principle remains the same: Kanban brings much-needed visibility to the workflow.

That’s because Kanban makes it possible to visualize the entirety of a workflow from start to finish. It allows you to see which tasks within a project have been completed, which are currently being worked on, and which assignments are in queue waiting to be picked up by the appropriate team members. While advantageous for everyone within an organization, IT Operations members can especially benefit from Kanban thanks to its scalable nature. As soon as an unplanned project arises, they can simply add an additional task card to the board and reprioritize assignments if needed.

And when you consider just how effective the human brain is at processing images, it’s easy to see how a visible workflow transforms the way teams manage ongoing tasks.

Compared to spreadsheets, Kanban offers IT Operations teams a better solution to project management. All the assignments within a project are mapped out visually, providing team members with additional context (the importance of a task, how that assignment relates to other tasks in the workflow, etc.) and the information is presented in a way that’s easier to understand. Just imagine how difficult it would be for IT Operations to track assignments within a large project using spreadsheets, while also addressing all unplanned tasks that arise.

Using Kanban to Visualize Workflow

First and foremost, the trick to making Kanban work is keeping your information up to date. Whenever there’s a new task that enters the workflow, or when a team member completes an assignment, the board needs to be updated accordingly to ensure accurate workflow representation.

If you’re using Kanban for the first time and aren’t participating in a massive project which involves remote collaboration, we recommend starting with a physical board. That’s because physical boards are relatively straightforward and easy to set up and modify, letting you and your team map out a basic visualization of your workflow before jumping onto something more powerful.

All you need for a physical board is index cards or sticky notes as well as a wall to stick them to. We recommend color-coding your Kanban cards based on the type of task. For example, you could use the following legend:

  • Blue for project subtasks
  • Green for internal improvement
  • Yellow for maintenance
  • Orange for unplanned work

Then, you need columns for each stage the task is in. This is where you’ll move the card, as workers complete their portion of the assignment. The columns on our Kanban board typically look like this:

  • Row 1: Ready
  • Row 2: Top 3 Tasks
  • Row 3: Tasks in Progress
  • Row 4: Validation Ready
  • Row 5: Validation Doing
  • Row 6: Completed

The “Top 3” column is completely optional, but it’s helpful for IT Operations teams as it helps prioritize tasks so that the most important assignments are completed first. This can be invaluable when balancing plan and unplanned work.

Once you get comfortable using a physical Kanban board, try a digital board made specifically to meet the needs of IT Operations. This will offer even more flexibility, by pairing Kanban with other functions designed to increase communication and manage resources more effectively, so you’re better equipped to meet deadlines while solving unexpected problems.

Tenet 2: Limiting Your Work in Progress

A wise person once said, “Multitasking is an effective way to get less done.”

The Theory of Constraints states that your workflow is only as strong as its weakest link. Team members who’re constantly struggling to meet productivity goals end up slowing down production for everyone involved in the project. What’s more, teams juggling a number of ongoing projects at once are more likely to run into bottlenecks that impede productivity, slowing down the entire organization as a result.

A common problem associated with IT Operations is tackling projects up until the validation phase. Once the task reaches that phase, team members usually begin a new task rather than finalizing their current one. This creates a backlog of open tasks which can cause even more capacity-related problems, should a task not pass validation.

How do you cut back on the number of tasks in progress so that your team manages their time more efficiently? By setting work-in-progress limits (WIP limits) that regulate the number of tasks a team can undertake at a given time. A good ITSM tool lets you set WIP limits and requires team members to begin assignments within a certain time period (e.g. 60 days) so that tasks aren’t forgotten about and buried within the growing workflow.

As an added bonus, a WIP limit also reduces clutter in your project roadmap. Since there’s only a set number of tasks that can be active at once, it’s easier to identify and correct bottlenecks. As such, limiting work in progress is an essential part of Kanban and good project management.

Kanban and IT Operations: Recap

Kanban is instrumental in helping IT Operations teams manage their tasks more efficiently. When teams map their current workflow and reduce multitasking, they can use Kanban to help them prevent bottlenecks so that they’re working cohesively to reach their goals and objectives.

Look out for our next post to learn more about the third and fourth tenants of Kanban, and download our eBook “Using Kanban for IT Operations” to learn more about how you can empower your IT Operations team using a mixture of Kanban and good project management principles.

Maria Harper

Maria Harper is a demand generation specialist at Planview focusing on PPM solutions and French and German marketing. She is passionate about data-driven marketing and enjoys applying analytical insights to creative messaging in order maximize marketing potential. She graduated from the University of Missouri with bachelor degrees in German and Journalism.