Guide to Developing Timelines and Roadmaps While Doing Kanban

Vidas Vasiliauskas ·

2019 - Present Co-founder and CEO @ Teamhood. 2015-2019 Head of software engineering department at Danske Bank. 2017-2018 Partner Associate Professor at Vilnius University. Lecturer of Software Architecture course 2011 - 2015 Managed numerous smaller IT teams at Prewise. Co-founder of RaveIT, Eylean, No Brakes Games Certified Agile product owner and practitioner. Managed large scale enterprise projects as well as launch of small startup products. MSc of Software Engineering at Vilnius University. Hobbies: Racing, MTB cycling, Windsurfing

developing timelines in kanban

So what’s the problem?

More or less, every time I get into a discussion about why timeboxing is not a necessary practice and go down the Kanban path of doing things, I get the most common counterargument – but you cannot do timelines, and what about predictable roadmaps? Well, sometimes it’s a differently structured question, but it is about the same point:

  • But how do I develop project plans if I cannot have a calendar-based project breakdown in Kanban?
  • How do we estimate the roadmap and share deadlines with our customers?
  • How do we keep sales and engineering teams aligned on timeframes?

The good news is that Kanban has all you need to take care of such concerns. Let me introduce you to “7 Steps to epiphany”.

7 Step guide to predictable timelines in Kanban

This guide is based on best practices from Kanban practitioners as well as my personal experience. Disclaimer: it can take time to get everything done, so do not expect fast (<3 months) results.

You can also download a .PDF version of this guide for sharing internally with the team.

1. Structure your workflow

My rule of thumb is to structure your workflows so that there are at least two Kanban boards: pre-work (figuring stuff out) and actual work, where you commit to delivering something once you start.

kanban board workflow

2. Implement queueing

Implement work item queues to prevent items from jumping ahead of each other while in the process. This is the essential safeguard against “shiny object syndrome“. Right-most and top-most items are the most important ones and should be finished first.

kanban queueing

3. Use swimlanes for grouping similar types of work

In case you still see work items jumping each other in the queue or your work item flow varies based on the type of work – implement swimlanes. Group items into swimlanes based on their type of work. I.e. “Expedite”, “Fixed deadline”, “Regular work”. This will reduce jumping inside the queues. Each queue will also have a priority – top-most = most important.

kanban swimlanes by work type

4. Ensure quality of pre-work

This is essential for reduced waste for work in the process stage. Make sure you pull in/commit only well-refined items for the actual work stage. This means that those items have a very high chance of being finished (reducing waste and preventing blockers).

kanban card data

5. Start measuring how much time it takes to complete work

Measure cycle time from the entry point to the departure point. Measure different cycle times for other process steps. Also, you can measure total lead time. This will give you an understanding of how much time it takes on average (or percentile-based) to finish work. Next, measure throughput to understand how many items you complete over time—for example items per month.

⚠️ If you are using swimlanes, you should capture these metrics per swimlane.

lead and cycle time for Kanban board

6. Start forecasting

Remember the queues? By knowing how many items you complete in each queue over time, you will be able to provide forecasts for upcoming work. You do not need to worry about precision, these are forecasts, and they are aimed at batches of work, not standalone work items. For standalone items, you can do a Monte Carlo simulation.

kanban throughput

7. Inspect and improve the flow

By tracking metrics of throughput over time, how many items are in progress, and what the cycle time is on average, you will be able to set a baseline. Once you have a baseline, you can start improving your flow and see if those improvements have a positive effect on your tracked metrics.

measuring kanban flow

That’s it. Easy, right?

One last time – it will take time, so be patient, keep everyone involved, and you will get there. Last point of advice, it should be a collective initiative, do not push without telling about the benefits and why it is important to change the way your team works.

Continue learning – How to improve accuracy in Project Planning Timeline

In case you need a Kanban tool

I not only spread the word about Kanban but I also pasionately build Teamhood as the modern Kanban project management system.

It is free to use and has a uniquely flexible Kanban structure. Daily work is constrained enough, use a tool that is not.

teamhood hero kanban
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