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Tom discovered Agile Development in 2003 and spent the next 8 years, together with his team at, improving their process and blogging about his discoveries. He has a particular interest in the psychology of keeping Agile agile and not letting it slip back into the evil old ways! He believes a Scrummaster should also be a developer and codes ASP.NET and C# most of the time. Tom is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 44 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Kanban Questioning

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Moving beyond the Visual part of the Kanban Method and beginning the process of collaboratively improving the system with policies that enable you to work more effectively can be challenging. When you begin with your existing value stream you also begin with existing assumptions. Challenging deep-rooted assumptions about the way we work may be met with a violent defensive reaction.

For us to see things differently, beyond what is obvious from the visualization, we need to help stimulate moments of insight that start to change the mindset from one of stability to a more inquiring one. Using questions that challenge those existing assumptions is a powerful way to trigger that insight.

I’m firm believer in the people doing the work being in the best position to discover the changes needed. Since most waste comes from the interactions and relationships between people, we need to bring all people working as part of the value stream together to discover what each of them can provide for each other that will make the system more effective. For this collaboration to be worthwhile it must focus on becoming more effective at fulfilling the common purpose. If we are to achieve this we must provide a conducive environment and opportunity for the dialogue that generates these insights.

So as a facilitator of these conversations what questions can we ask? These are some of my ideas, I’d really love to hear yours in the comments.

What is the purpose of the system? This should already be clear but it’s always important to ensure that all share a common purpose.

What limits your ability to effectively contribute to the common purpose? What can you do to remove those limitations? What are you assuming that is stopping you remove those limitations?

What causes delays in the system? What effects do the delays have on your common purpose? How can you remove those delays? What are you assuming that is stopping you remove those delays?

What are the sources of variability in the system? What effect does the variability have on the system? Should we reduce variability, if so how?

What restricts our creativity in the system? How important is creativity to achieving our common purpose? What are you assuming that is stopping you removing these restrictions?

What happens when we limit WIP? What effect does limiting WIP have on the system? What would be the effect of reducing WIP more?

What are the needs of the people who are constraining the system? How can we help meet the needs of those people?

What are the boundaries of your system? What effect do these boundaries have on the common purpose? Is it possible to change those boundaries in a way that would make your organisation more effective? What are you assuming that is stopping you changing the boundaries of your system or collaborating more with those outside the boundaries?

What questions do you ask to help inspire change?

Note: I learnt about the “What are you assuming that” question from More Time to Think by Nancy Kline whose ideas inspired this post.

Published at DZone with permission of Tom Howlett, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Lund Wolfe replied on Sun, 2013/03/31 - 4:37am

The most limiting factor is something you don't know that you don't know.  I know X, but my knowledge is false.  I create my own boundary.  "We have met the enemy, and it is us".  It takes a very rare zen moment to move beyond that point.

Sometimes, just looking at something from different perspectives, using different senses, explaining our logic to someone else, exposes our false assumption and makes the problem solvable.

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