Do your cards on the Kanban board reflect customer requests?

This is something that I always consider when I first look at a kanban board – if a customer walked up to it would they understand what the cards represent? This question often brings up many other questions and helps you look deeper into your Kanban implementation. There is oftentimes a disconnect between the customer request and the work being performed – the request being fairly course grained and the work being more fine grained. Both are important, but if you want to provide a real “Fit for purpose” customer outcome, you should reconsider the kanban board from the perspective of the customer

Who is the customer?

This is often the first question I use to start to dig into who the real customer (originator of the request) of the Kanban system is. In some cases it will be your organisations actual paying customers – they need you to do something. In other cases, it might be that it’s a regulatory agency requesting that you implement a new regulatory change / update. In other cases, it might be the product group wanting to create a new feature to do something such as probe a new market segment / generate additional revenue. In such a case, although actual paying customers are the target / recipient of the request, they are not necessarily the originator of the request.

What do they request?

Sometimes the same customer can request different types of things. They may have a different workflow and / or the customer may have different expectations for the different types. Do you know what these types are and what the customer expectations are? Are these explicit in your kanban system? If not, perhaps you need to have some conversations with your customer to get a deeper understanding of what is expected from the services you’re providing. For each of the work item types, there will be a specific workflow – does this make sense to the customer / can they at least follow where their part in the flow is? For example, do they know where the commitment point is and how work is committed? Do they know where in the process they get involved and where they receive the final output / outcome?

Where does the request go?

One other aspect of understanding a customer’s request is where does it go. Sometimes the person who places the request is not necessarily the person who will receive the final output. Oftentimes, there are potentially more than one group receiving the output / outcome of the request – for example you may have an operations team that will be dealing with the day to day workings of the new capability / feature / regulatory requirement. Make sure that you take into consideration the needs of the people at the receiving end of the process to make sure you get a smooth flow through the system without backflow and waste (for more information on backflow, see our Okaloa Advanced simulation on Workflow.. )

How do I change my board to be more customer focused?

There are two main patterns that teams can use for doing this kind of thing. However, if you have another solution that works for you please go ahead and use it- these are just examples.

Customer Flow Board / Operational Boards

The first option have a separate board representing the customer work items and flow and link to your team / operational boards. The customer board has tickets that represent their requests and the other board(s) represent the work items that the teams are working on. It’s often more than one team / service that comes into play for an overall customer request, so you may have multiple boards at this operational level. Make sure the work items on the operational boards are linked to the customer requests so you can see how these operate together and how things are progressing. The image that we use for our Kanban Systems Improvement course contains two tiers where you can see a customer level item and two team / service level boards and how a customer request links to both:

You can also see examples of this kind of things in Flight levels – check out one of the recent meetup videos for more information.

Two Tiered board

These have been around since the early days of kanban and work particularly well with physical boards (some of the virtual providers don’t have this capability). Essentially you have something similar to the above but they are put together in a single board. Usually it starts with the customer request on the left hand side, the operational / team part in the middle and on the right hand side you have the second part of the customer request. The following is an example of such a board:

For more examples of the two tiered board, you can see the example from Tupalo in both the video presentation from LeanKanban Spain 2017 as well as the Tupalo case study.

I hope this blog posts helps you create a deeper customer focus and alignment in your work to really make what you do “fit for purpose”. Making sure that you visualise customer requests will help you get closer to the customer and create a greater awareness of how you produce value for them.