Measuring Progress and Kanban


Scrum Master
How Do I Estimate?
Measuring Progress and Kanban

Module 5 – Useful Agile Tools   

Now that the core Scrum concepts have been covered, this module looks at some other concepts that exist in agile and scrum, including Value, Kanban, estimation and others.  This module is made up of Videos, followed by a quiz to help support your understanding.   

  • Agile concepts of Value  
  • Kanban  
  • Estimation & Relative Estimation 

So, now you're looking to work in an agile way, but how do you actually monitor the progress you're making in an agile environment? Well, there are two really common ways to monitor progress and in this video we're going to discuss both. 

The first one I'd like to mention quite briefly is the burn down chart. This is simply a chart that plots the estimation of effort to get work done against the number of days in a sprint to help us visualise our progress. On the horizontal axis you have time, or the number of days in the sprint, and on the vertical axis you have the number of effort points you have pulled into the sprint. In a perfect world there would be a straight line down from the total estimation to the last moment of the sprint. Of course this isn't how things actually work. Sometimes requirements take a couple of days to complete and other times work gets done in a flurry. This means that the burn down chart line you created will have horizontal and vertical lines; horizontal while work is ongoing and vertical when it's completed, creating a graph that looks more like this. 

A second way that we can monitor and visualise our progress is by using a Kanban board. So Kanban comes from the Toyota Production System, TPS, and translates to signal card. It's a just-in-time flow-based system to help deal with the buildup of inventory, but ultimately it works well in an agile environment too. So Kanban boards are quite simple actually. You can think of them as a system of flow. So imagine we've got a few headings, something like to do, in progress, in test and done. Now all we have to do is create our requirements and pull them across the Kanban board as we go. 

While this is a really easy way to monitor progress, using Kanban properly also means that we need to embrace the four principles and five practices of Kanban. Let's go through each of these quickly. The first principle is start with what you do now. Don't try to change anything at first. Start with where you are and map your tasks into the Kanban board. Next up, agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change. Make small changes over time and monitor them. Don't look to make sweeping changes as soon as you start using Kanban. Our third principle is respect the current process, roles, responsibilities and titles. Current business process, roles, responsibilities and titles exist for a reason. Respect them and use them going into Kanban. Look to make incremental changes to these over time instead of sweeping up front changes. The final principle is encourage acts of leadership at all levels. Simply put, everyone in the team can show leadership through their day-to-day work. Everyone should look to take the lead when they're best placed to do it and feel empowered to do so. Doing this is really a part of continued improvement mindset and helps individuals and teams get the most out of Kanban. 

Great, now that we've covered the Kanban principles, let's take a look at the Kanban practices. The first is that you have to visualise the workflow. You can do this in a Kanban board and by using the requirements to populate it. These could be accounts payable, recruitment, expenses, anything really. The next is limit work in progress. They key thing here then is that you should only be working on whatever you can achieve at any one point. Don't look to have lots of work in progress, instead have less work in progress and get that done as quickly as possible. This allows us to limit context switching or task switching, helping us to keep focused and limiting any wasted effort. Kanban is a flow-based system, so as a team you need to manage the flow of requirements through it to make sure that no value stream is being blocked. To do this constantly measure and manage the flow through the system, make incremental changes to see if you can get more value and iterate. Make process policies explicit. It's very important that everyone understands exactly how things are going to be done, why they're done that way and to keep this at the forefront of everyone's minds. These could be in the form of working agreements, which must be visible to everyone. Lastly, improve collaboratively. It doesn't help to improve only yourself. As a team you need to be looking to improve. 

So those are two really fantastic ways you can measure progress in agile environments. Burn down charts are a quick graphical representation of the progress that has or hasn't been made. Kanban boards are a visual representation of all the work that is being done and represents a workflow.



About the Author
Learning Paths

Paul Williams is a Senior Learning Consultant for QA, based in Manchester, UK. He is a member of the Agile, Lean & DevOps Trainer Team.