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Kanban for Sysadmin

Our summary and key takeaways

Most software development and administrative companies have begun applying Agile methodologies by now. According to Atalanta Systems, specialized in systems automation, the best thing to choose from the Lean and Agile spread of helpful solutions is Kanban.

Particularly for web based companies (SaaS and Cloud Computing utilizing ones) it is vital that the work they do every day in all areas actually adds value. What this means in practice is the necessity to increase throughput: things need to be happening more ..agile. What comes with it, is the improvement of the company image, as predictability and delivery times get better. Along with these better quality should come naturally. The problem that the systems teams often have when trying an Agile approach is the difficulty with committing to a short term iteration and making room for retrospective and review meetings. So the problem with Agile methods for systems teams is allowing them flexibility.

How Kanban may be the best way to go?

This methodology bases on two rules - only allowing for work to be pulled by the team (when it's ready for it) and on placing a limit onto how many tasks can be progressed at any given time. Because Kanban is all about workflow management, it suits systems administration perfectly, staying in line with changing demand, facilitating quality improvement and optimization of flow.

How does it work?

Kanban asks for visualization of the process. It normally happens on a board with task cards, that symbolize the work items. The board is divided into process stages, and each or some of these stages have a WIP limit applied, therefore making it simple to manage the workflow and keep the team informed about what's going on.

What are the benefits?

Kanban helps systems admins in three distinct ways:

  • it strengthens the trust between the team and the end user, since the team is able to respond quickly and prioritize well.
  • it makes quality improvements easy - thanks to WIP limits, which eliminate multitasking, reduces waste and makes any bottlenecks visible.
  • it improves efficiency, what has been proven over and over again by both the original industrial Kanban users at Toyota, and by software development teams with Microsoft at their head. This simply is the best way to get a lot of work items through a system.
  • it promotes self-management - since the entire process is visible on the board, any of the team members can just pull work when they're ready without any external need for being managed.

How to get Kanban into your organization?

The author of this article suggests some great ways of introducing Kanban to your management and to the team, by which they will see the benefits of its application without your need to talk extensively. You can play some Kanban games, focused around the WIP limits, later make the team decide on their process stages, and set up the board in a place visible and accessible to all.

Once this is done, transfer your current backlog into the board, set up a WIP limit and get to work. It's good to play around with some prioritization settings, explaining to the manager and stake holders how flexible the tool is. Set up your internal policies (who can pull tasks from where and when, how do you communicate a card movement etc.) Make decisions about how will the incoming requests (tickets) be placed on the board. The system needs to be clear and understood by the whole team. It's also beneficial to stick to daily Stand-Up meetings, but rather than discuss who is doing what, talk about what is needed to complete a certain stage, how can the process be improved and made easier. On top of this, a regular review meeting is also of benefit. It gives opportunity to retrospect on what works and doesn't work in the long run.

Always get better

Thanks to system transparency, regular meetings and reviews you will be able to apply the Kanban rule of Kaizen: striving for continuous improvement. Because of this your process will get easier and more effective with time.

Read an article on benefits of using process management tools »