Kanban, Agile Mindset, & Service Delivery

My coaching team engaged with the infrastructure teams within a regulated energy and utilities industry. The company goal and vision were to become more agile in the sense of business agility aligned with Agile practices. The company understands that it must quickly adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace and increase responsiveness for their customer base. The infrastructure area was the area of focus for my coaching colleague and myself. Kanban was the tool or method of choice.

A few of the many, non-IT products and services delivered by the infrastructure teams were process improvements, help desk support, telecommunications, routers, servers, switches, etc. Not your typical software delivery. Initially we provided Agile foundational training to provide the ‘why Agile’ and the cultural shift required to achieve the Agile mindset. Additional specific Kanban training included kanban history, values, principles, and continuous improvement amongst other kanban tactical implementation strategies. After the education and workshops, we proceeded to ‘get the service delivery teams going’.

The teams were siloed which is not uncommon and a lot of heads-down, keep it coming and doing work all the time. Limited attentiveness to work flow, work in progress, visibility, cross-functional teams, etc. Work visibility, transparency, customer focus and several other principles needed to be addressed for continuous improvement of service delivery for internal and external customers.

Each team was unique in team personality and in the type of work or service delivered. I observed some teams that embraced an Agile approach and others not so much. I think it had to do with the makeup of the team and open mindedness along with their immediate management structure. The teams that embraced had multiple agile leaders, team chemistry, and a growth mindset. Yes, they struggled, but they believed in making the difficult changes and continued to adapt. Other teams that were not quite as successful had legacy persons and/or more so fixed mindsets. I observed that some of the immediate managers were “going with the flow’ (lack of vested or real support) and not “flowing with the flow” further hindering embracement for the Agile mindset. Multiple variables are involved in the Agile enablement – individuals of the team, middle management engagement, and Agile leadership support. The variables must align and demonstrate a growth mindset to make success possible for Kanban or any other approach.

Kanban made a difference for many of the teams as observed in the cultural change to an Agile mindset, productivity improvement, and service delivery. Cost savings were realized as a result of continuous improvement through realized individual and team empowerment. Kanban made the knowledge work more visible. True visibility into the work unveiled continuous improvement opportunities that were implemented to improve workflow. Flow issues were identified and better understood through the visibility of the work on the kanban board. The teams were able to better understand the value of work in progress (WiP) limits to improve getting things done (not a bunch of stuff being worked on). On a more personal note, I observed team chemistry, team happiness, and team morale grow on the more successful teams.