Monthly Archives: February 2014

Stop the Line


Jidoka is the Japanese term used by LEAN practitioners to stop the production line when workers in the factory floor discover a defect. A retrospective is a delayed demonstration of the Jidoka term which aims at evaluating and bringing up continuous improvement actions. Such actions must be focused on the components that interact together to deliver a software product valuable for your costumers: product (software quality), people and processes.

Sometimes, poor variability reduction policies led by team and management layers (including Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches) source problems such as: poor technical skills, requirements ambiguity, poor requirement specifications or scope. Such problems make teams suffer from stressful situations and excess of pressure that must be treated even before the retrospective takes place.

Explicit rules

One of the Kanban foundations for leading the continuous improvement movement is to design explicit process rules which aim to improve flow and reduce risks. As an Agile Coach I have worked together with the team to design a process for the early detection of bottlenecks and “STOP THE LINE” when required.

User Stories

Despite the fact that it’s hard to split epics into small same size user stories, we try to break user stories into vertical slices of the product.  In order to provide value as quickly as possible, we ask ourselves the following question:

                “What is team going to undertake in only one day?

Bottlenecks, Cycle Time and Traffic Lights

We currently have a visual management metric to measure cycle time and to help us detect bottlenecks.

Cycle time

*Notice that team manually updates the diagram, computing the amount of time it took them to complete the user story. Meanwhile, the agile coach also updates the digital version which automatically collects valuable metrics like the average cycle time, average trend or the standard deviation.

**Horizontal axis depicts the time line and the vertical axis contains the time consumed for each user story.

At the bottom of the diagram, there’s a green area (up to 2 days of cycle time) that indicates that our process is healthy and it’s flowing. No additional action is required.

The yellow area (3rd day of cycle time) is an optional step and we set up a new topic just after the stand-up meeting. Team works together to identify early actions to remove the bottleneck.

At the top of the diagram (more than 4 days of cycle time) we are forced to evaluate the current situation of the bottleneck on a daily basis after stand up meeting. We must focus our attention on the whole process, resources availability and people capacity, work in progress and pending actions.  This topic usually takes 10 to 15 minutes.

*Due to the fact that cycle time is a delayed indicator, we are researching to replace the cycle time report with the cumulative flow diagram. It’s a tool used in queuing theory that depicts the quantity of work in a given state, showing work in progress, queue in time, and departure.

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