Insight From the DevOps Kanban Game

Kanban boardRecently I attended a workshop hosted by Dominica Degrandis on using Kanban in an organization working in a DevOps-like manner. The workshop was full of practical advice not only on why Kanban can help you but also on how to be successful in your implementation. Attendance was good; people came from the east coast to attend what I thought was a local workshop.

As we discussed things that we had each tried in our organization, it became apparent that some of us had worked in a stealth Kanban-like manner. In my case it was monitoring the throughput of tasks and making sure there was slack in the system so that my team could respond better than if we optimized for efficiency.

I was most looking forward to Dominica’s DevOps game and wondered what insights playing the game would lead to. In the game there is a Kanban board with columns for exploration, dev, QA and ops tasks. There is also a lane for handling tasks that needed to be expedited. Without giving the game away, money was earned for completing tasks. The game wonderfully illustrated how focusing on features and ignoring technical debt was harmful and also showed how optimizing for throughput rather than efficiency yields better results.

Overall, the workshop and the game illustrated the value of thinking holistically rather than as individual units in an organization.  It is a more effective way to work. Doing the opposite can result in decisions that are “locally brilliant and globally stupid.” I can’t take credit for that wonderful phrase.  I got it from Glenn O’Donnell from Forrester, but it is so very fitting for both decisions I have made in the past and ones I have seen others make.

I’m not saying that breaking down silos and thinking in terms of the entire system is easy.  It most certainly isn’t, but the game simulates the benefits in a way that people can relate.

I’m looking forward to hearing Dominica speak at Flowcon on November 1st.


Jonathan Thorpe is Product Marketing Manager for all things DevOps and Continuous Delivery at Serena Software. Previously Jonathan worked as a Systems Analyst at Electric Cloud, specializing in DevOps-related solutions. Jonathan holds a degree in Computing Systems from Nottingham Trent University.



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