Scrum Gathering London – A Blast From the Past

At the Scrum Gathering in London this October, I had a bit of a flash-back to the last time the Gathering was in London. At that event, during the Open Space, I announced a Kanban session with words along the lines of “My team recently stopped using Scrum and our productivity has improved”. As I recall it, there was an audible intake of breath, although I’m sure my memory has exaggerated the effect!

I was reminiscing about this with Rachel Davies, who facilitated the Open Space at both Gatherings, and she shared the photographs she had taken of the output, which she still had. Here they are for posterity. I expected to find much of my thinking had changed since then, but apart from having less focus on waste and inventory now (preferring to know emphasise value and flow) it still seems relevant.

Here are the photos – thanks to Benjamin Mitchell for being the scribe. I’m hoping to add some of the audience which I know are out there somewhere.

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A Kanban Visualisation TIP

In an earlier article I wrote on Visual Management, I described how kanban boards can be viewed as multi-variant displays, visualising multiple possible dimensions of a kanban system. To visualize all these variants we can use a number of techniques to create multi-functioning graphical elements which can achieve a high data density. The techniques, when categorized and combined, create a visualization TIP, such that each element is made up of the following:

  • Token
  • Inscription
  • Placement

Token

The Token is the element which represents some piece of work, with the attributes material, size, colour and shape all able to represent information.

Material

The material is the base composition of a Token. Common materials are index cards and sticky notes, although anything which can be easily inscribed and placed on a kanban board will do.

Size

To add a further dimension, the material can be used in different sizes to show some relative relationship between similar elements. Index cards, sticky notes and other adhesive shapes all come in a variety of sizes.

Colour

Similarly, the material that is being used for a visualization element can have different colours to show some enumeration. Again, index cards, sticky notes and other adhesive shapes also come in a variety of colours.

Shape

As well as typical rectangular index cards or sticky notes, other shapes, such as stars or circles, can differentiate between various elements. Similarly, a variety of shaped annotations or adornments can convey further information.

Inscription

The Inscription is any detail added to the token about the work. Common types of inscription are annotations, graphics, linkage and formatting.

Annotations

Annotations are any written information added to a token to give basic details about what the token represents.

Graphics

Graphics can also be used to illustrate information related to the work in a more symbolic manner.

Linkage

Linkage can provide references to further information, or related work items, in order to keep the inscription focused on the most relevant information.

Formatting

How information is presented on Tokens can help to make them readable. Clear and consistent layout, using a tabular arrangement or zoned areas, ensures that any inscription is easily consumable.

Placement

The Placement is how the Token is positioned on the kanban board, with the location, alignment and rotation all being relevant.

Location

Where an element is positioned can convey meaning, with horizontal or vertical placement being significant on a relational board design. The importance of location can also extend to elements such as cards themselves, with the position of annotations proving important.

Alignment

When location is significant, then alignment can show a relationship between different elements, usually horizontally or vertically. Alignment is often used to create columns or swim-lanes with which to create an association. Other options include zonal alignment in a map-based format, or proximity alignment in a mind-map format.

Rotation

The rotation of an element can mean different things, particularly with rectangular shapes which can be positioned in either landscape or portrait mode, or at some other angle.

When designing a kanban system’s visualisation, thinking about how the TIPs are used can help come up with solutions which are creative and contextually appropriate, and help avoid falling into the trap of copying known and sometimes simplistic examples, as highlighted by Keith Braithwaite.

In a future blog post, I intend to demonstrate how different dimensions of a kanban system might be visualised with a TIP. In the meantime, I wonder if you think I have missed any other techniques?


Update: I have written a follow up post giving examples of  visualising kanban dimensions with TIPs

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Lean Bag Packing at Agile2011

Once again, I helped out with the volunteer bag packing at the Agile2011 conference, and as usual we had great fun and broke records. This year we completed 1600 bags in just under 4 hours packing time, with an hour preparation/breakfast and an hour for lunch.  Christopher Avery took some video footage and interviews, which I hope to be able to link to here soon.

For the retrospective, run by Eric Willeke, we asked participants for things that they had learned which were relevant to software development. Here’s the list:

  • Focus on quality
  • Communication is essential
  • Let go
  • People and process
  • Experience is useful
  • Being prepared
  • Its important to know why
  • Improve through collaboration
  • Practice makes perfect
  • People are responsible
  • Ask & listen – don’t assume
  • Redistribute work
  • Power of whole team
  • Lots of communication
  • Simple visual metrics
  • Integration is hard
  • Don’t be attached to your process
  • Knowing good enough
  • Allowing for variance
  • Be engaged
  • Do it – inspect and adapt
  • Variety is motivating
  • Understanding impact of change
  • Change is disruptive
  • Shut up!
  • Dress appropriately
  • Common purpose
  • Relentless improvement
  • Communication without words
  • Reacting to reality
  • Be lean – JIT happens
  • Building relationships
  • Rhythm is fun
  • Visualising progress
  • Visualising WIP
  • Adaptability in context
  • People – not resources
  • Cross functional to eliminate bottlenecks
  • Single point of failure
  • Self organising team
  • Focus on the work
  • Good communication
  • People self-organising

Update: Eric has written his own post of the experience

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Crystallising Kanban with Properties, Strategies and Techniques

On the flight out to the Kanban Leadership retreat in Iceland last month, Katherine Kirk and I were chatting about Kanban failure modes that we’ve seen out in the field (e.g. quirky command and control interpretations by people who had not had experience in Agile first), and played with the idea of combining Kanban with Crystal (kind of in the same way that ScrumBan combines Kanban with Scrum). We jokingly referred to this as CrystalBan.

The reasoning behind our discussion was that Crystal and Kanban are both adaptable, context driven approaches. Crystal concentrates a lot on working with the ‘human’ side of the methodology equation – highlighting good, tried and tested Agile properties, strategies, and techniques – and Kanban is focussed on incremental improvement at a pace which respects people’s ability to absorb change. We discussed how, as an Agile/Lean community, we sometimes take it as given that Kanban for software and systems was pioneered by people from the Agile world, and therefore we often don’t explicitly state what to use from Agile to get the best out of Kanban. Maybe we should?

It was a fairly light-hearted conversation, so we didn’t pursue it in Reykjavik, but the idea didn’t die either as both of us kept coming back to it. We held an Open Space session at the UK Agile Coaches Gathering a few weeks ago which didn’t produce anything really concrete, but did get some murmurs of interest, so Katherine and I sat down this week to thrash it out.

Why Bother?

Kanban failure modes was a topic twice covered in sessions in the Kanban Leadership Retreat and, interestingly, difficulties with ‘humans interacting with humans’ were pinpointed as one of the common causes of Kanban failure modes. Crystal’s main properties, strategies and techniques deal a lot with the people side of the equation from the Agile perspective…. which opens up the idea that it might be a nice possible blend with Kanban.

So, are they compatible? Can they work together?

In his book Crystal Clear,Alistair Cockburn describes Crystal as “a family of methodologies with a common genetic code, one that emphasises frequent delivery, close communication and reflective improvement…” and he points out that, as it is context driven, that “…there is no one Crystal methodology”. As a result he admits that some groups can “have trouble with Crystal because it is too empty to start with.”

In his book Kanban, David Anderson describe Kanban as “an approach that drives change by optimizing your existing process”.  This makes Kanban relatively easy to start with because the “essence of starting with Kanban is to change as little as possible”.

Given that Crystal gives guidance on what a successful process will look like, based on a strong Agile foundation, and that Kanban gives guidance on how to improve an existing process, drawing from Lean, it seems that they are a natural fit to realise the benefits of both while avoiding the risks. A win-win.

Crystal Properties

Crystal describes seven properties of a successful project, the first three of which are core:

  • Frequent Delivery – e.g. “the single most important property of any project, large or small, agile or not, is that of delivering running, tested code to real users every few months”.
  • Reflective Improvement – e.g. “a project can reverse its fortunes from catastrophic failure to success if the team will get together, list what both is and isn’t working, discuss what might work better and make those changes in the next iteration”.
  • Close Communication – e.g. “information flows into the background hearing of member of the team, so that they pick up relevant information as though by osmosis”. (Referring specifically to Osmotic Communication in Crystal Clear)
  • Personal Safety – e.g. “being able to speak when something is bothering you, without fear of reprisal”.
  • Focus – e.g. “first knowing what to work on, and then having time and peace of mind to work on it”.
  • Easy Access to Expert Users – e.g. providing the team with “a place to deploy and test the frequent deliveries”, “rapid feedback on the quality of their finished product”, “rapid feedback on their design decisions”, and “up-to-date requirements”.
  • Technical Environment with Automated Tests, Configuration Management, and Frequent Integration – “such well established core elements that it is embarrassing to have to mention them at all”.

In order to achieve these properties, different strategies and techniques can be employed. This is where we see that Kanban comes into play.

Kanban Strategies and Techniques

One source of Kanban strategies is David Anderson’s Recipe for Success:

  • Focus on Quality
  • Reduce Work In Progress
  • Deliver Often
  • Balance Demand against Throughput
  • Prioritise
  • Attack Sources of Variability to Improve Predictability

What David calls “five core properties to create an emergent set of Lean behaviours” could also be thought of as techniques in Crystal ‘dialect’. David’s five core properties are:

  • Visualise Workflow
  • Limit Work-In-Progress
  • Measure and Manage Flow
  • Make Process Policies Explicit
  • Use Models to Recognise Improvement Opportunities

I have a different model I use which maps onto strategies and techniques. The strategies are:

  • Study the System
  • Envisage the System
  • Limit the System
  • Sense the System
  • Learn about the System

with the associated techniques:

  • Value Stream Mapping
  • Visual Management Board
  • Work In Progress Limits
  • Cadence and Measures
  • Quantitative Experiments

So What?

Katherine and I both observed that the Kanban strategies and techniques do achieve the top three Crystal properties of Frequent Delivery, Reflective Improvement and Close Communication, as well as help towards some of the others. However, because Kanban for software and systems in the most part has its origins in the Agile world, perhaps its time, as a community, to start to examine whether we should be a bit more explicit about all the good Agile resources that already exists – as Kanban starts to expand further into ‘non Agile’ territory.

People new to Kanban, and without Agile experience and knowledge, may easily miss the benefits from some of the other properties, as listed in Crystal Clear, which have been tried and tested by the Agile community for many years. In the same way that Alistair made the Technical Environment property explicit, despite it being so well established, we shouldn’t forget all the existing established strategies and techniques which can enable the other properties.

Further, this approach helps us understand how other strategies and techniques from outside of Agile can help towards successful implementations. For example the work of Chris Argyris, as promoted by Benjamin Mitchell, can help towards Personal Safety.

 


 

I’d like to thank Katherine for her time, energy and passion in helping form this and collaborate on writing it up.

 

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Presenting at Agile2011

I’ll be at Agile2011 again this year presenting a couple of sessions. Here are the details if you’d like to come along and take part.

Flow Games

Designing a Kanban System for the Enterprise

Note that while the program page for “Flow Games” suggests that we will play a selection of games, the final time constraint of 1 hour means that Eric and I will probably only be able to play one game, which will be the Ball Flow Game. Fortunately, there is another similar session (Lean Fundamentals with Michael Sahota) which will run the other games we had in mind, so we encourage you to go along to that if you want more!

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Running the Ball Flow Game

I previously wrote about the Ball Flow Game I ran at the Scrum Gathering in Amsterdam. I’ve updated the game quite a bit since then and its stabilised into something I’m finding very useful when I work with Kanban teams to help them understand some of the concepts behind Kanban Thinking. I hope this write-up enables others to use and run the game.

To recap, the Ball Flow Game is based on the Ball Point Game, with the following rules:

  • Participants play as a whole team
  • Balls must have air time between people
  • No passing to a direct neighbour
  • The start person must be the end person

The aim is to complete 20 balls (as opposed to complete as many in 2 minutes). Thanks to Rally colleague Eric Willeke I now add some fun context as well. I tell the team that they are producing magic balls. Magic is added to a ball only when everyone has touched it. If two people touch a ball at the same time, the magic is dispersed. Further, magnetic fields mean that passing a ball to a direct neighbour also stops magic being added. The start/end person is the customer wanting magic to be added to the balls. Its silly, but it adds an extra element of fun, and reinforces that the rules are constraints in the context that can’t be changed.

I use a spreadsheet to help automatically capture data about the performance of the team. (Download the template). It works using four macros, which are assigned to buttons and hot-keys:

  • Begin (Ctl-B). Begins a round by starting a timer.
  • In (Ctl-I). Captures the time a ball is added into the system.
  • Out (Ctl-O). Captures the time a ball come out of the system.
  • End (Ctl-E). Ends a round by calculating the metrics.

Once the metrics are calculated, three charts on the worksheet will populate themselves.

  • Lead Time. The time each ball took to work its way through the team (assuming balls enter and exit in the same order). The dotted line is the average.
  • Throughput. The number of balls the team completes every 10 seconds
  • Cumulative Flow Diagram. The number of balls either not started, in progress or done every 10 seconds

Upper and Lower Control Limits can also be calculated and displayed for Lead Time. They are currently commented out in the macro code because I found that they weren’t necessary for the core learning objectives. You may also need to tweak some of the macro functions for different versions of Excel (I use Windows Excel 2010). The template has worksheets for 5 rounds. For additional sheets, simply one of the existing rounds.

One of the things I’ve noticed is how the dynamics of the conversations are different from when I run the traditional Ball Point Game with teams. In particular, the team I was working with today really understood the idea of scientific management and made very small, quick and focussed changes each round as experiments, hypothesising on how the metrics would change. With the Ball Point Game I find teams want to debate in depth all the options in their attempts to get an improvement.

Note that as I said in a post of Balanced Software Development, “scientific management is still relevant for knowledge work, when the workers are the scientists.”

Here are the results. (Apparently we started with only 19 balls due to a facilitator error!)

Round 1

In this round, the customer ‘pushed’ balls into the system when he could. You can see the lead time increase as the WIP increases in the CFD, up to a point when a natural system limit is reached. Towards the end the customer stops adding more balls to let the system flush itself out a bit, which shows as the step in the CFD at about 60 seconds, the drop in lead time, and the spike in throughput. The final two balls went through when the system was virtually empty. Notice the short lead times again!

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Round 2

In this round the team decided to limit the WIP to 6 – one per person. However, interestingly (to me at least) they decided to batch them, by getting all 6 through before they started the next 6. Lead time is much more stable this time. The spike is because the customer forgot to receive the last ball of the 1st batch before starting the 2nd batch, so it got stuck! Throughput is wildly variable though because nothing comes out for a while, and then all 6 come at once. You can see the batching in the ‘steps’ in the CFD.

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Round 3

In this round the team wanted to experiment with an low extreme WIP limit of 1. Lead time is significantly better, but throughput is low because there is too much slack in the system now. Notice the smooth flow in the CDF. The patches where WIP drops to zero are because the customer’s process between receiving a ball out, and adding a ball in, added a noticeable delay.

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Round 4

In this round the team increased the limit to 3, but continued to process those 3 in batches. Lead time remains the same, but with improved throughput. The CFD still shows signs of the batching with the customer delay between batches, but is much steeper due to the improved throughput.

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Round 5

Finally, the team decided to remove the batches and solve the customer’s delay issue by re-organising themselves. This time the customer added 3 balls into the system, and then only added another when one came out. Lead time is slightly increased, probably due to the fact that there were always 3 balls in process which added some complexity. Throughput is improved again though, and the CFD is looking very smooth.

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As you can see, the team made significant improvements over the five rounds by making small changes informed by the data they had about their flow and capability.

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Kanban and Quad Biking

I’ve recently been using a newer language to describe the model I apply when introducing Kanban to teams, which has been generally working well. I now talk about:

  • Studying – understanding the current system structure
  • Envisioning – creating a common mental model of the system
  • Limiting – bringing the system under control
  • Sensing – having an awareness of the system’s performance
  • Learning – improving the system’s capability

imageAt the Kanban Leadership Retreat in Reykjavik this week, I talked about sensing and was teased by Daniel Vacanti about how fluffy it sounded. (To be fair, I was giving as good as I got). Later that evening in the bar, I was chatting with Katherine Kirk, and I realised why it sounds fluffy. It’s because sensing is not just about the mechanics of measuring the process the capability of a system. Its also about the human aspects of a system, which are too easily forgotten. So for now I’m going to stick with it.

And that brings me to quad biking.

The day after the Leadership Retreat, a small group of us went quad biking over the Icelandic landscape. Its an amazing way to see the country and highly recommended. While I was driving over the rocky ground, I realised it was a great metaphor for sensing.

To begin with, it takes a bit of time to get used to driving the bike. More control is needed while learning the basics. When driving at speeds up to 70kph, however, you’re never actually in full control. The more firmly you try to gain control, the more likely you are to lose control. I soon realised that by gripping and steering too tightly, I was getting thrown about too much when I hit a large hole or rock. By holding more loosely, relaxing, leaning back and going with the flow, I could sense how the bike was behaving and move accordingly. By doing so, I learned that when going round tight corners, pushing the steering to force the bike round was hard work and ineffective, but leaning back and pulling the steering was a lot easier and more effective.

This is why I like sensing as a word to describe the way I work with kanban systems. While establishing a cadence and measuring are key ways that we can understand capability, sensing describes a more instinctive awareness of how a kanban system is performing, and conveys the way teams are able to adapt, anticipate and experiment as they explore the limits of the system.

Katherine Kirk has also taught me about equanimity, “a state of mental or emotional stability or composure arising from a deep awareness and acceptance of the present moment.” Sensing a kanban system involves having equanimity when  dancing with the system.

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The LeanSSC European Conference Series 2011

This year the LeanSSC are running a series of conferences which have been created to give local audiences more convenient access to similar and related content without the need to travel extensively. While each event will have its own unique flavour and presenters, the similarity in timing allows for some overlap, and we are encouraging people to choose the event most convenient for them. The LeanSSC is not differentiating between the events in priority or preference and does not view one as superior to another.

Here are the details of the conferences. If you are in Europe, or fancy a trip, please consider submitting or registering. I hope to see you there.

Lean & Kanban 2011 Benelux

Call for Papers

  • Closed

Speakers

  • Including Don Reinersten, David Anderson, Alan Shalloway, John Seddon, Dave Snowden, Michael Kennedy

Registration

Prices exclusive of VAT

  • 2 Day Conference Pass: 700 Eur until Aug 15 (then 800 Eur)
  • 2 Day Conference Pass + Dinner: 750 Eur until Aug 15 (then 850 Eur)
  • 2 Day Conference Pass + Dinner + Hotel (3 nights): 1150 Eur (then 1250 Eur)

Lean & Kanban 2011 Central Europe

Call for Papers

  • Currently open. Closes June 28th.

Speakers

  • Including David Anderson, Kent Beck, Jim Benson, David Joyce and John Seddon

Registration

Prices exclusive of VAT

Individuals:

  • One day, Regular 520 EUR until Aug 17 (then 580 EUR)
  • Both days, Regular 985 EUR until Aug 17 (then 1095 EUR)

Two or more colleagues from the same company:

  • One day, Regular 465 EUR until Aug 17 (then 520 EUR)
  • Both days, Regular 885 EUR until Aug 17 (then 985 EUR)

LESS2011

Call for Papers

  • Currently open. Closes July 18th.

Tracks

  • Lean & Agile Product Development, Complexity & Systems Thinking, Beyond Budgeting, Transforming Organisations

Keynotes

  • Peter Middleton, Jim Sutton, Steve Denning, Bjarte Bogsnes

Tutorials

  • Alan Shalloway, Jean Tabaka, Benjamin Mitchell

Registration

Prices exclusive of VAT

  • Early registration EUR 595 until July 31
  • Regular registration EUR 695 until October 29
  • On-site registration EUR 795
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Kanban and Tragedy of the Commons

After Limits to Success and Shifting the Burden, we now come to Tragedy of the Commons.

I live in the seaside town of Brighton in the UK. On the rare weekends when we have hot weather it is popular to go down to the beach. Everyone gets in their cars and drives into Brighton expecting a quiet, relaxing day on the coast. What they actually get is a noisy, crowded area full of lots of other people who have had the same idea. This is an example of the “Tragedy of the Commons” archetype. The beach (and the roads to it), are the commons – a shared resource. Individually, each person expects to gain some pleasure from the beach. However, when too many people visit, nobody gets any pleasure from the beach, because it has limited capacity and quickly becomes over-crowded.

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Individually, A and B’s activity give themselves separate net gains so that they each benefit through a reinforcing loop. However, their activities combine to create a total activity which, after some delay, eventually consumes a common resource beyond its limit. At that point, A and B’s activity begins to reduce those separate net gains through a balancing loop.

The “Tragedy of the Commons” archetype often manifests itself through “Shared Services”, when a small number of people with specific skills, work across different teams. Each team in isolation gets benefit from the Shared Service, but when demand for the service exceeds its capacity, then nobody benefits. At a smaller scale, a team with a low “bus factor”, or a hero, can also suffer from a tragedy of the commons, when too much work is dependent on a single person.

Often, a Tragedy of the Commons occurs as a result of Shifting the Burden to the commons. By setting up the system to deal with the Shifting of the Burden, the likelihood of the Tragedy of the Commons can be reduced.

Similarly, the commons becoming overloaded is a specific case of Limits to Success, and setting explicit limits for the commons will avoid this. Further, creating a buffer before the commons will ensure that there is always work when the capacity is available. In Theory of Constraints terms, this is exploiting the constraint.

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A kanban system also helps with a Tragedy of the Commons by helping visualize the total activity, so that everyone is aware of the demand on the limited resource. Further, each party can limit their own activity to avoid the total activity becoming too great. Swim-lanes are one approach to visualising this.

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Finally, Classes of Service can then ensure that the limited resource is being used effectively for the most appropriate work. Swim-lanes, or colour-coding, can create clarity of which work is more important, based on its Cost of Delay. This clarity can also help keep an appropriate balance of different types of work in order to manage the risk of the commons unnecessarily delaying urgent work.

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What other examples of Tragedy of the Commons have you experienced, and what other techniques have you used to visualise them?

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Kanban and Shifting the Burden

Following on from a look at the Limits to Success system archetype, lets now look at the Shifting the Burden archetype.

I like my coffee in the morning. In fact I usually need a good cup of coffee before I start to feel human. Some days I like a coffee to start the afternoon as well, and occasionally I’ll have a few more in-between to keep me going. This is an example of ‘Shifting the Burden’ archetype. I feel low, so drink coffee to pick me up. However this is just a short term fix and I eventually need more caffeine to maintain my energy. The real problem is why I have low energy; late nights, a poor diet and little exercise. Rather than getting more sleep, eating a healthier diet, and exercising, I am shifting the burden to the caffeine. If I were to shift the burden to a stronger (and less legal) drug, then it is likely that my need for the drug itself would become the problem, rather than my lack of energy. At this point, the archetype has moved from Shifting the Burden to Addiction.

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Shifting The Burden begins with a Problem Symptom. The quick or easy answer to this problem is the Symptomatic Solution which creates a balancing loop. However, there is also another answer – the Fundamental Solution – which can create an alternative balancing loop. The Symptomatic Solution only eases the symptom though, and doesn’t resolve the underlying problem, so the symptom consistently returns. The Fundamental Solution does address the root cause, but has a delay though, which means that it is more of a long term answer than a quick fix. The more the Symptomatic Solution is applied, the more a Side Effect takes place, which over time with delays reinforces the need for the Fundamental Solution, while at the same time making it less feasible. When the Side Effect becomes more of a problem than the initial Problem Symptom, is when the Shifting the Burden archetype becomes one of Addiction.

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Recognizing the archetype leads us to examine our solutions to problems and to question whether they are Symptomatic or Fundamental. When problems re-occur over time, then using Root Cause Analysis techniques may lead to finding alternative Fundamental Solutions. Continually depending on technical specialists or coaches may be a Symptomatic Solution, whereas investing in training on knowledge sharing may be a better Fundamental Solution. As the well-known Chines proverb says, “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”

A Kanban System can help cope with Shifting the Burden, once a problem symptom has been identified, in the following ways:

  • Signalling occurrences of the identified problem symptoms so that they are transparent and appropriate focus can be made on the fundamental rather than symptomatic solution. A brightly coloured tag or shape can achieve this.

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  • Visualizing what problems symptoms are being addressed by various symptomatic or fundamental solutions. The Concern, Containment, Countermeasure pattern can be useful here where problem symptom is defined and stated as a Concern. The Containment action is the symptomatic solution taken to resolve the problem quickly. Then, after root cause analysis, the Countermeasure action is the fundamental solution to prevent repeated recurrence. (Thanks to Jason Yip for pointing me to this pattern)

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  • Allocating capacity and limiting work in process for work related to fundamental solutions using a dedicated swim-lane and WIP limits. This treats the improvement efforts as first class work types, with equal visibility to the rest of the work.

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What other examples of Shifting the Burden have you experienced, and what other techniques have you used to visualise them?

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