Kanbans, where is the pressure ?

X — I’ve had a glance at the way you work, with digital kanbans and the lot. But there’s one thing that bothered me for a while afterwards : finishing a kanban a day is real constraint for the developers. Surely they must feel a constant pressure from this machine?

Me — You mean the list of tasks they have to complete for the following day, and the one after, and on and on?

X — Precisely : where I work, we pushed back on setting deadlines long ago. It was too much stress upon the team. Ever heard of the Death March? It’s the one thing I want to avoid now.

Me — There are actually two countermeasures built into our kanbans implementation. The first one is the « time boxed » part : if it takes more than one day, it means there should be two kanbans (and not one). Usually developers are quite good at estimating on such small scale… That’s the leveling part.

X — And the second bit?

Me — The automatic andon. If a task does take more than a day, the andon cord is pulled automagically by the system and the responsibility is now on the manager to do something about it.

A supervisor responding to an andon call

X — But I’m the only manager in my team of 12 developers. It will likely be hell for me, having to switch from on guy to the other just because they can’t finish on time every other task.

Me — That’s the point. The pressure is on the manager to make everything work, not on the developers. They’re the ones producing value added work for the customers or the end users.