Explicit policies help scaling

Lot of traffic signs

The use of explicit policies will help you to scale. In the same way that protocols help technology to scale, such as the way the internet has been designed, explicit policies in Kanban systems will help you scale your services. Using explicit policies will not only help your managers ability to better manage their services, it will also benefit the teams involved by allowing them to further “self organise” to get the work done, guided by the policies.

When I refer to an explicit policy, it means a rule or protocol that determines / describes how the system of work operates. Explicit policies are known by all and consistently followed by those operating within the system. They’re effectively the “rules” of the system of work.

When scaling, I tend to think of the internet – here’s something that has scaled to the extreme with many people around the world now using it as part of their daily lives. So long as you follow the protocols defined by the system, you can become a part of it quite easily and start to interact with the other parts of the system.

Examples of policies are things like definitions of ready and done, WiP limits, the order in which items are pulled through the system and many others that may be customised to your work systems needs. By making the clear and understood by all, it allows teams to “get on with” the work without having to have detailed discussions at various potential touchpoints. The key here is making sure that there actually is that common understanding of those simple rules and practices that are adhered to by all. To assist with that, keep them simple – don’t make them massive “pre-flight” checklists that are too detailed to understand. Put them on the board or in other places where the team will see and refer to during their daily work – allow team members to see them and do a “spot check” when they’re moving a card. Having them hidden away in a large document that is rarely used, or only used for “audit purposes” won’t be sufficient.

Another key part to it is that these rules should never be 100% static – they should be revised. Through the kanban feedback loops, you’ll discover improvements and you may even iterate through STATIK to find new or updated policies that need to be applied. As these mature, you’ll more of them apply to situations involving scaling.

When scaling kanban you’ll start to move to different levels of abstraction for services across the organisation. At these different levels, you might discover new and different policies and making them explicit helps flow at that level. Furthermore, you might start to scale out – understanding how teams interact by coming up with “rules of engagement” (policies) that describe how teams collaborate to achieve a collective service goal.

Managers no longer need to direct teams in how they work, but they work to make the policies and interactions within the system explicit and understood so that the teams can self organise around the work. Being explicit on your policies when scaling up, across and down the organisation will help make it easier for all of the groups to interact together.

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