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Can ITSM Projects do the Kanban?

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In these uncertain economic times the watch words of the moment seem to be:

“Do more with (continually) less”

The effects of outsourcing both to clients of service providers and within their own organisations too means that support groups need to be as efficient as they can with (quite frankly) what they have left.

Could the visual scheduling tool LeanKitKanban, a web-based virtual signboard and card system, help Service Management support groups manage their time more efficiently and perhaps help bring about a more proactive approach to certain disciplines?

Lean and IT

Lean has its roots in manufacturing and production.  It is a practice that views the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be waste, and therefore should be eliminated.

Value in this context an action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for.

Stretch this out to IT, and what Lean is trying to achieve is less wasted time by support resources and more efficiency in how they work. 

Kanban

Kanban is a Japanese words that quite literally means “signboard” and is a concept related to lean production, and looking at Just-In-Time production in particular.

In a production perspective, kanban is a scheduling system, used to determine what, when and how much to produce.

So, looking at it from an ITSM perspective, what are you working on, when are you scheduled to finish it, and how much more are you juggling.

At a glance, therefore, you can see where work is being bottlenecked and better utilise the team to reduce the overall workload.

LeanKitKanban

The key aims are:

  • Map out your organisation’s processes onto virtual whiteboards
  • On each board, processes are represented in vertical and horizontal lanes
  • Team members use Cards to represent work items which they can update and move across the board
  • The idea is that managers, customers, project managers can view this board for updates.

Pre-defined Board Templates

When you register, you get a number of pre-defined templates to select from, that best defines your business, so I looked at their IT Operations templates.

Of the two available, only Business Process Maintenance  seemed to come close to mapping processes across an organisation.

Using Cards

Within this template are categories of Cards:

  • Defect, Feature, Improvement, Task

Just looking around the template, you could have cards allocated to team members to look at:

  • Production Problems
  • Planned Business Need (with varying due dates and High/Low impacts)
  • Routine (Tasks)
  • Unplanned (Incidents)
  • Platform Improvements

How ITSM projects could use this

The idea sounds great but the practice needs a little thought.

The boards provided in the evaluation version are probably more geared towards Software Development or wider Business Process Re-engineering.

I like how team members show up against the cards so that you can see at any one time who is working on what, but what immediately struck me was duplication of effort.

Tool vs Kanban - Incident Ticket Lifecycle

I mapped out the key parts of the Incident management process, listing how an Incident Record would move through its lifecycle in a tool, versus how that same progression could be simply mapped in LeanKitKanban.

Process Steps

ITSM

KanBan

Incident Logging Incident Record Defect Card
Incident Categorisation Pre-Defined in Tool Free Text
Incident Prioritisation Pre-Defined in Tool 4 definitions in Template
Investigation and Diagnosis Assign to Team member Assign to tean member
Resolution and Recovery Update tcket as appropriate Update as appropriate but no auditing
Incident Closure Often auto-closure configured after resolution “Done” and archive functionality after a number of days

In order for someone outside the immediate support team or service management team to understand the progress of a ticket, they would normally be expected to have access to the ITSM tool, and to be able to see open Incidents and their progress as part of a steady state.

The idea behind LeanKitKanban is that it allows people maybe outside of that to have “visibility of progress”.

For Business As Usual, people outside the immediate support teams would normally receive Service Management reports with pertinent information.

Kanban and ITSM Solution Development

Moving away from Business As Usual, I thought I would consider its use when an ITSM solution is being developed and implemented.

Some tools do offer the capability to project manage development and testing work within the tool itself, but it does mean that people who may not ordinarily expect to use an ITSM tool would have to spend time working in it to work out progress.

Where software development is being managed using the Agile methodology, there is a useful board for that template.  If the ITSM tool itself does not provide Project/Development tracking modules, then this tool would be ideal for tracking tool development and customisation.

Putting it into practice?

LeanKitKanban have a good repertoire of reference clients on their website, although I think it lends itself more to the Software Development side than more traditional ITSM implementations.

In reality, however, time pressures on an implementation project are such that sometimes even visual summaries such as these may get discarded.

For every ticket that is being worked on, a corresponding ticket would have to be created in Kanban, so who would realistically do this, and maintain it?

It makes sense for it to be a Team Leader or Project Manager, in order to have a view of progressing work, and to keep the working team free from “management noise”.

In reality, most project management calls with teams revolve around a simple status Powerpoint with Tasks achieved, Tasks to do, Issues, so now it is the project managers that are faced with duplication of effort in maintaining reporting.

In order for this to work, this tool would need to be at the heart of project reporting and most likely a more comprehensive version than the initial trial.

To get the best from this tool, you would need:

  • Full buy-in from all levels of Project Management to have it as the tool of choice
  • It would need some customisation effort for anything outside of the templates provided – which are available in the Professional Edition pricing options
  • Some level of buy in from the teams having to provide input for the tool, as there is a danger for duplication of effort from the teams below.
  • It looks most suitable for development and implementation efforts rather than as part of ongoing steady state operations.

I would also recommend using the Personal Kanban board and template as part of the free offering, which offers users a chance to split tasks into 4 project lanes, and provides columns to help users track their to-dos.

For those spread across multiple projects, it provides a little more of a visual, virtual structure than scrawling To-Do lists on paper/sticky notes, and I am finding it helpful for working on distinct areas of work.

Further Information

Image Credit

Ros Satar

Ros Satar is a Blogger and Analyst for The ITSM Review. Her journey in ITIL/ITSM began in 2005 when she jumped into the deep end of Configuration Management. When not knee deep in paper and having a love/hate relationship with her many gadgets, she can be found putting in time at various sporting publications.

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  • http://twitter.com/Simo_Morris Simon Morris

    Great article Ros, you outline the benefits of Agile/Kanban really well and describe the cautions responsibly.

    I wrote a response on my work blog >> http://community.servicenow.com/blog/simonmorris/reaction-can-itsm-projects-do-kanban

    • Ros Satar

      Hi Simon – I was so stoked when LeanKit Kanban actually invited me to come up with better ITSM flavoured boards for them!

      • http://twitter.com/Simo_Morris Simon Morris

        Oh really? That is excellent, good luck with that

      • Roue

        Hi Ros, did that go anywhere? I am a leankit user right now. I am using it to manage WIP from a high level. I took one of their templates and reworked it entirely. I now have a this week/next week view and progression to complete that I use as the center piece for our weekly team meeting. I am not getting all the agile benefits but the visibility it provides to the team is great. I use it to get agreements on work load, deliverables and timeframes from my team.

  • Abhijat

    I like it!