Kanban-inizing the Avega Group office–setting the stage

· September 16, 2011

I have recently returned from parental leave and got to experience office tempo first-hand. Was not prepared for that, but it also had me look around and I saw two teams at Avega Group that was under a lot of stress (they said) and seemed to handle a lot of task simultaneously.

Being dunked deeply in the Kanban-pool it made the hair on my neck stand up and I shivered to my bones. WIP is bad you know

Being a Avega Coach I have some time to spend at the office, so I teamed up with Morgan, a fellow Lean/Agile coach here at Avega Group – and we decided to see if we could do anything about it.

In doing so we had to sharpen our arguments and think a bit different. They are not creating systems you know. Both Morgan and I have experiences mostly with software development teams, of course. So we saw a great learning opportunity.

This has just started but I thought I’ll try to blog about the experience here.

The teams and some background

The teams we approached were the Support team and the Marketing team. The support team is a small team (3 persons) that handles a lot of the short term activities that makes and office work. But they are also involved in some bigger projects such as an upcoming conference for the whole Avega Group (350 people), and getting activities there to work. Typical task is managing travel arrangements, answering phone and the door, booking events for Elevate and even refurnishing the office.

The marketing group is also small team with 3 persons. Their work is made up of a lot of short marketing project combined with some long term stuff, such as the annual report. They have a higher degree of specialization within the group and the work is creative in character. Typical task range from creating presentations, layouting invitations and programs for Elevate events, creating a visual presence at conferences such as OreDev. Through all their work the Avega Group brand is the most important thing.

Both team deliver with great quality and is very (!) accessible for anyone who need them.

Humble approach

First and foremost we needed to check with them if they also saw that they have problem. I had picked up some indices that they were under a lot of stress and I knew that they (both teams) handled LOADS of simultaneous work. Up to 30 small and large projects are some time in progress. I saw them listing it on the whiteboard, then items are delegate and then removed it from the whiteboard.

Secondly – we don’t know much about the work they’re doing. So we need to communicate to them that we don’t want to change what they do – merely the order and when.

So – we simply went up to the team leaders and asked them if they could spare us a minute or five. In character they both answered Yes! and more or less promptly left what they were doing and followed us.

When we asked if we could help – they both were very happy. Arm-waving took place in one instance Smile.

So we set a date for a workshop – “Monday would be great. All the MD’s are away then – which means that we get a quieter day”. Hmmm – maybe something to talk about?

The goal

Our goal for them was not to increase throughput – they are already answering up to the demands from the organization both in throughput and quality. Amazingly and probably not indefinitely since the stress level will take it’s toll on quality at least.

Instead we focus on a steady pace and a more acceptable stress level. And a way to handle the interruptions that will and probably should occur in their normal work.

A practical exercise – learn to count

We kicked off the workshop with a practical exercise that we hope would give them understanding in that the more projects I focus on at the same time the longer all of them takes.

So we asked them to write down three columns (representing 3 projects they work on) with roman number I – X, A – J and 1 –10. To show how context switching has a bad result on performance we asked them to write each column with a different pen.

The first time around we asked them to write line by line, changing pen and focus constantly. Here is my own result.


The second time (you guess it) we asked them to write column by column finishing the first project before moving on to the next. Here is my result doing that:



This game was real eye-opener for the group (although one pair did the exercises in the reversed order Smile).

  • The first time the complete exercise took (with my numbers) roughly 2.5 time longer time (1.12 versus 0.28)
  • The first column – the most important project – was delivered after 001.10 minutes the first time around and in 8 seconds (!!) the second
  • The quality suffered in many cases (writing the wrong letters, writing uglier and forgetting rows) in the first exercise – while the second time around almost no-one messed up (I did – if you look closely Smile)
  • The general feeling was “calmer and more focused” for the second iteration.

Morgan and I was very happy with the outcome that we thought created an awareness of the problems with the “old way” of doing things.

Lean and Kanban basics

From there it was quite easy to drive the main points of Kanban (Visual workflow, Limit Work-in-process and Help work to flow) and Morgan did a great presentation of it. But we were careful not to mention to much keywords and concepts focusing instead on the task at hand for them and how they could handle different situations.

End of part I

This blog post is getting too long already. I have posted the second part for Monday 0900. So you’ll have to wait until then to get the rest of our work.

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