How we created the need for an emergency lane

· January 27, 2015

In my last post I told you about some practices and policies around emergency lanes. Today, when I visited my client I realized that we, ourselves, had created the need for them. That’s great news because that means that we can also take that need away.

Let me explain what I mean.

The board that my client, a hospital, have doesn’t really look like your normal kanban board, we saw another need here. It’s also in Indonesian but don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it. Here is how the board looked a couple of weeks ago.

  • The board has 4 lanes
    • The top 2 lanes are for bigger projects that will run for considerable time, up to 6 months
    • The lower 2 lanes are called “Perbaikan” or “Improvements” and is used for smaller things that we want to improve in the hospital. Size is up to 2 weeks
  • For each project we had
    • A short description of the project. Mostly just a name
    • Untuk Besok (Until tomorrow) where we wrote down the list of things that we will do until tomorrow
    • PIC (Person In Charge) who is responsible
    • The current Status of the work
  • For the improvement lanes (the lower 2) we also added
    • the “Kenapa” - WHY are we doing this
    • “Definisi selesai” - the definition of done
  • In the right lower corner there’s a bunch of stickies (under “Nanti” (next)-heading). These are things that we want to do but that we cannot fit on the board right now. Our backlog of work, if you like.

I feel the need… the need for more speed!

However the last couple of days we all of a sudden saw a need for a new lane: urgent. Items popped up that need our attention “right now - this can’t possible wait. It’s an emergency”.

Until now we have had 2 emergencies; the only food trolley in the house broke down and parts of the hospital had a really bad odor.

It turned out that the first item was easily solved by fixing a wheel and the second item really was an emergency… but still; all of a sudden we saw the need for emergency items.

Why did that appear now, all of a sudden? We have been using this board structure for about 3 months now. No need has occurred during that time.

I feel the need … the need for smaller things!

I redrew the board for the team to add the urgent lane and as I did that I realized something.

We had put two things into the “Improvement”-lane that didn’t follow our Work In Process limit of 2 weeks maximum. This blocked the flow of work in those lanes. For a long time nothing would be picked up from the “Nanti”/”Next”-section.

So what is a team to do? Some things will need our attention right away… or at least within a short time. But now we have to wait for those big project to be completed.

But who decided that the projects really needed to be big? We did! And we can change that too.

The “Perbaikan”/”Improvement”-lanes had a limit of maximum 2 weeks. To follow that rule we can break down our work in to chunks that fits within that limit. Instead of saying “This is the entire job - how long will it take?”, we can go: “Let’s break the work down into maximum 2 week chunks”.

For the two project we have in the “Improvement”-lanes right now this could be done like this:

  • “Cat UGD” (repaint the ER)
    • One project of 1 week to plan the project
    • Paint the UGD -> 1 week
    • Replace the door -> 1 week
  • “Perbaikan Parkir” (Improvements for the parking lot):
    • Plan and decide on contractor -> 1 week
    • Part 1 of the parkir -> 1 week
    • Part 2 of the parkir -> 1 week
    • Part 3 of the parkir -> 1 week
    • Part 4 of the parkir -> 1 weeks


By doing this we get a lot of benefits but now we also see that the need for many of the urgent items goes away.

We try to avoid “Urgent” since it not only temporary increase our WIP, thereby slowing down our entire process, but also it’s disruptive and take our focus away from the work that we actually want to do.

Just as a very short example we spent about 25% of the time of the daily stand-up this morning on the urgent matters. Those item only existed as urgent things because our normal work was chunked up in to big chunks.

Of course there will be urgent - but let that be for real emergencies and not just something that we need to “squeeze in there” due to waiting for the too big things we created.

Oh, one thing more: how you chunk the work is up to you. You have the power to decide this. I promise.

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