A Kanban Thinking Pixar Pitch

I’ve been using the Pixar Pitch as a fun way for teams to discuss and explore the problem they are trying to solve by telling a story about what has been happening that led to the need for a kanban system. I thought it might be useful to use the formula to tell a dramatised story of what led me to first try using a kanban approach, and why that led to Kanban Thinking.

The Pixar Pitch

Once upon a time there was a team who were using Scrum to manage their work. They were cross-functional, with a ScrumMaster and Product Owner, developing and supporting a suite of entertainment websites for a global new-media organisation.

Every Sprint they prioritised and planned the next couple of weeks, developed and tested functionality, fixed live issues, released updates when ready, and reviewed and retrospected their work.

And every Sprint the team was unhappy with the way they were working. The Product Owner felt that the developers could be more productive, and the developers felt that the Product Owner could be giving more guidance on what build. Stories were completed, but features took a long time to release as the team thrashed to get the functionality right, meet commitments and increase velocity.

So every Sprint they inspected and adapted. The Spring length was shortened to get quicker feedback. The style of User Stories was adjusted to try and focus more on value. And yet things did’t improve significantly.

One day they decided to stop focussing on doing Scrum, and start using ideas from Kanban, experimenting with some different approaches that they hadn’t previously tried.

Because of that they stopped using Sprints and de-coupled their cadences, reprioritising their ready queue every week, planning only when they had capacity to start new work, releasing and reviewing every fortnight, and retrospecting every month.

And instead of breaking work down into small User Stories that would take less than 2 weeks, they focussed on finishing larger MMFs, which might take months in some cases.

And they paid more attention to their Work in Process, in particular making sure they only worked on one large new feature at a time.

And instead of the Sprint Burndown they tracked their work using a Cumulative Flow Diagram, Parking Lot and Lead Time report.

Because of that the whole team became more focussed on delivering valuable features, were more collaborative in how they figured out what the details of those feature were, and were more reliable in when they delivered them.

Until finally everyone was working well together as a much happier group, delivering much more value, and in a good place to continue to improve.

Kanban Thinking

The point of this story is not to try and make one approach sounds better than another, or to suggest that any approach can be a bad choice in some way. Rather it is that the team learned about what would and wouldn’t work by asking questions about their process and experimenting with all aspects of it. The end result might have ended up being exactly what an expert or consultant might have recommended or coached. That’s OK, because what is important is the understanding that was created about why things are as they are. This capability to solve problems, as opposed to implement solutions, sets a team up to continually evolve and improve as their context changes.

This principle – helping teams to solve problems rather than implement solutions – is what fascinated me about kanban when I first came across it and started exploring how it could be used. Its what ultimately led to the emergence of Kanban Thinking as a model for helping achieve this, and the Kanban Canvas as a practical tool.

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2 comments on “A Kanban Thinking Pixar Pitch

  1. Interesting read. Sad bit is that it’s a clear case of proselytism and preaching to teams that are already well seasoned with agile, whereas I think the original idea for Kanban, was to augment and eventually transform more waterfall-leaning organisations and teams…

    • Hi Martin,
      Thanks for the comment. I’m interested that you think it’s a “clear case of proselytism and preaching” given the emphasis I tried to put on the learning rather than the solution. I wonder what leads you to that conclusion.
      Karl

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