I've poked around the subject of visual process management in my previous articles, accentuating the complexity and non-linearity of software production process, and how a traditional Kanban board fails to visualize the diversity of organizational contexts and workflows. With that in mind, I've introduced a concept for a universal visual process management system that is capable to embrace this diversity and linearity on one screen, with flexible zoom-ins and switches, and called it Multiban.
The Limitations of Kanban Board
Many software development teams suffer the limitations of Kanban board, at one point of their evolution or another. When a company grows, the scope of work grows as well, the structure of the company and of the teams, that it is comprised of, are changing, and what if one Kanban board is not capable to accommodate those changes? What if a large company is working on a suite of products, and a 1 team-only Kanban board cannot show the bottlenecks that are out-of-the scope for this team, but still influence its work? Or, what if the 1 team-only WIP's are not relevant, because a suite of products is a sum of components, where each team's work is a component of the whole product, and WIP's and value streams have to be balanced on a wider scale, beyond the scope of one team-one project board?
We had to find answers to such questions. In 2012, Michael Dubakov published the Our Development Process: 50 Months of Evolution article. The changes that have occurred over 2012-14 are not covered there, but it still shows how our needs in visual process management were addressed in parallel with the changes in our company setup. Keep in mind that we are a very special company. We develop Targetprocess, agile project management software, since 2004, and we have an advantage because we are free to choose how to shape our product to make it respond to the changing needs and structure of our organization better. Over the last 5 years, we've been consistently working to make our tool more visual and more powerful. I will single out the major landmarks.
2009: Switch from Scrum to Kanban
In 2009, we switched from Scrum to Kanban. By 2009, we'd been doing iterations for 3 years, and iteration development worked great when Targetprocess was a young product that needed to gain the critical mass and stay alive. Then, we realized — and that coincided in time with the uprise of Kanban — that we'd be better off reaching our goals as an organization if we practice development with Kanban. If you're interested, here's an in-depth story of the reasons and the production context that we had back in 2009. With our hands-on attitude, we didn't linger with it, and implemented Kanban support in our project management tool. That's how our Kanban board looked back in 2009 (one team-one project):
We implemented this Kanban board to cater both to our own needs, and to the needs of our customers.
2010-11: Kanban is not enough. How about TeamsBoard?
While the major reason for our move to Kanban in 2009 was the change in the product development dynamics (the product matured, and we needed to switch to the "add features" mode), the major change in 2010-11 was the switch from one team to many teams, as we realized that this setup works better for the "add features" mode. The count of feature teams is not fixed, it changes depending on which features we're doing at the moment. So, we felt the need to visualize the work of many teams on one board. Hmm. That's not what a simple Kanban board was able to offer us. That's why, as hands-on as we are, we poked around and came up with what we can now call the forefather of Targetprocess 3. Take a look at TeamsBoard, edition 2010:
This board doesn't look too fancy now, in 2014, but back then it was surely a step ahead compared to a simple Kanban board. One can see backlog, and work in progress for many teams. If some states had their WIP limit exceeded, the TeamsBoard would show it. In the screen above one can see that WS team had the bottleneck with 3 bugs and 1 user story resting in the Coded state. Then this work of testing could be shared with the other two teams. The TeamsBoard also allowed zooming in on each team, and what they do, by person.
2012-14: Targetprocess 3 and Fine-Tuning Process Visualization
Then, as we realized that sky is the limit, and visualization has enormous potential for project management, and for our own needs, we moved forward with the concept of the tool where anything can be visualized, depending on the changing dynamics and goals of a company. The fundamental idea is to offer a flexible tool that adapts to any process and follows any organizational changes. The other fundamental principle is the switchability of visualizations. We do not have stakeholders who tell us what to do and what to implement next. Our feature teams and our customers are the stakeholders. They tell us where else they need flexibility, and our backlog is formed based on those needs. We run recurring UX Process Visualization sessions, to see where else do we have yet to make room for more visual flexibility. We stepped aside from the traditional Kanban as the visual process management system long ago, and what we are now having is Multiban a visual process management system that supports any development process, for any number of teams and any number of projects, with cross-team and cross-project planning, using timelines for roadmapping, views as reports, etc. This screen from Targetprocess 3 is related to the good old Kanban of 2009 only by its board-ish looks, while in reality it is a switchable slate of views, zooms and perspectives.
Why Multiban makes sense?
It's time to say a few words about Multiban now. Perhaps, the fastest way to explain how Multiban differs from Kanban is to use a metaphor. Multiban can be compared to the 17-inch interactive screen as in Tesla luxury electric cars. This awesome screen is a one-spot customizable dashboard for media, navigation, communications, cabin controls and vehicle data. Multiple Kanban boards for one suite of products (or a related suite of features, as in our case) can be compared to putting many touchscreens in the car, or even to using plastic controls for each of those functions. Would a driver feel more comfortable using one smart touchscreen? Or many simple screens? Or many knobs? It depends. For one thing, no doubt, the super-fancy touchscreen would require a learning curve. If a driver is OK with various controls, and if they do not depend on each other, then probably the car and the driving will be OK. Switching back to knowledge work: too many things are interrelated in software development, and losing track of those connections can have a bad impact on the way the work is done . It's hard to keep everything in mind, and use visual board as a polished parade version of a development process. Multiban, as the visual process management system, is presented by a set of views, reports, controls and boards that comply with any diversity, and any complexity of workflow, or organizational structure. Targetprocess 3 is the only digital tool that supports Multiban at the moment. The concept of Multiban is the by-product of our organizational evolution, which dictated the need for evolutionary changes in our visual process management. Now we are ready to share what we've learned and implemented with other organizations that have been evolving, or will be evolving, in a similar fashion.