Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Personal Kanban, velocity, and replenishing the ready queue

I was asked this question recently about personal kanban:
"For our project board, we pull stories into (iteration) WIP based on our planned velocity for an iteration, That is, if we plan to deliver 30 points we don’t go crazy and pull 100 points worth of stories into WIP. Of course, if we complete the 30 points we can pull more, but that is not relevant to this question."

"I’m wondering whether velocity is considered when managing a personal Kanban. That is, how can I limit what I pull into WIP, given points are not assigned to personal tasks and there are no planned iterations?"

"Any thoughts on this would be appreciated."
Great question. There seem to be two questions here. The first is "how many cards can I do in time period <x>", and the second "how many cards do I pull into WIP?"

1. How many cards can I do in time period <x>?

One of the benefits of doing personal kanban on a regular basis is that you start to find out that what you thought you might be able to complete in time period <x> usually tends to be unrealistic. Between disruptions and things taking longer than expected, you usually find out pretty quickly that you are completing less than you had hoped. That is also one of the advantages though - finding out how much you can realistically accomplish in a given day.

However, unlike 'traditional' agile, I’m not aware of a lot of people using points or velocity on their personal kanban board. In fact, even agile teams are starting to move away from points - especially those using kanban. There is no concept of points in kanban, but rather things like cycle time (how long a card takes to go from ‘ready’ to ‘done’) and throughput (how many cards you can complete in time period <x>).  Kanban assumes you are breaking things down into small-ish cards, and then based on the laws of averages (and the laws of bad estimating) that the number of cards you complete in a given time period (throughput) will even out over time so you don't need to estimate the number of points, but rather count the number of cards.

If you use personal kanban for a while, you can start to track how many cards you can do in a day and use that for your planning. Personally, I don't accurately know my personal  daily throughput because I'm too lazy to track it myself. But with trial and error, I've been getting better at understanding how many cards I can do in a day. I'm also using a 'Reflect' column (thanks Jabe Bloom for the tip) that gets filled daily with everything that I complete on that day. At the end of the day I take a look at everything I've done, the type of work, the value of the work, etc, and then move it to Done.

2. How many cards do I pull into WIP?

On my personal kanban board, I try to have only one card in my WIP. Less than 5% of the time I have to break that rule because I'm waiting on something and I don’t have the ability to unblock it. About 0.5% of the time I'll have 3 cards in my WIP because I'm waiting for 2 things. But generally, I only have one card in my WIP.

On a related note, I generally have 5-10 cards in my 'ready' queue and I spend time at the beginning of each day replenishing that column. If something comes up during the day I'll definitely add it in at that moment, but I find it helpful to organize and prioritize when I arrive at work, and before I dive in to the day. It helps give me some cognitive ease which allows me to focus more effectively when I start to go through my cards.

Hope this helps. If not, ask away!

P.S. For more on personal kanban, you can find the experts here: or read Matt Heusser’s recent article “Yesterday’s weather”

Subscribe to Winnipeg Agilist by Email