A kaizen board is a simple yet powerful visual tool to add to your Agile tool kit. Based on Agile principles, the tool facilitates effective Agile retrospectives and prevents some of the more common sprint retrospective pathologies.
The retrospective is a critical moment for any Agile team. During the retrospective, the team assesses the current situation and its performance. The assessment is used to change what is not working by adapting the team dynamic to keep the team productive.
Some pathologies or incorrect ways of practicing Agile principles may have an impact on the effectiveness of the retrospective.
Moaning and groaning
In this case, the retrospective is focused on complaints and nagging. Team members assume the role of the victim. The retrospective evolves into a cathartic session or group therapy. There are no concrete actions to solve problems. In some instances, too much time is dedicated to gathering problems, and there is not enough time for discussing actual changes.
Lack of commitment
The retrospective finishes with clear actions. All actions seem promising, but then nothing happens during the next sprint. The team members spend little to zero time on the committed tasks. Sometimes tasks are forgotten after the weekend, or the pressure to focus on the product backlog leaves no priority for other things. In the next retrospective, the same problems are likely to appear. This can frustrate the team and might jeopardize their willingness to keep the retrospective as part of their Agile best practices.
Preventing or fixing the pathologies
Problems exposed during the retrospective can have several root causes. To mitigate the pathologies, follow these simple steps:
- Create a template (as illustrated in the figure). Use standard-size paper. For more durability, use hard cardboard instead.
- Bring the board to your retrospective and explain the goal of finishing the session with one, two, or three (maximum) well-defined actions to solve or to reduce the detected problems.
- Use your preferred method to conduct the retrospective. Team members write the committed actions on index cards, using one card per action or problem. The description should include who, when, and what. If it's not clear, ask how you will know when the committed task is considered complete.
- Prioritize the problems and solutions (with the most important first). If you have many, pick the three most important to refine the team's focus.
- Paste the index card to the board according to the level of priority.
- Use color-coded Post-its to describe the status of each task. You can define the default status as "Not started."
- After the retrospective, make sure the kaizen board is visible to the team and is alongside the task board or where the team holds the Daily Scrum.
- During the Daily Scrum, the team checks the kaizen board to discuss and update progress, if there are user stories on the task board. Following is a suggested color-coding scheme:
- Light blue: Not started
- Yellow: In progress
- Green: Completed
- Red: Blocked/Impediment
- Bring the kaizen board to the next retrospective. Reserve time to check the final status of each task, and assess how the problem was mitigated or resolved.
- Put a system of metrics at the bottom of the kaizen board. For each completed action with a positive result, add a green mark in the Success area. Otherwise, add a red mark in the Fail area. If you're unsure about how to mark the completed action, remember that what matters is the team's perception of the outcome.
- On a small Post-it, update the "effective rate" as the amount of accepted features divided by the amount of total actions.
- Save this board for future reference. It's a good practice to look back at the progress made over time and appraise how the retrospective contributed to resolving those problems.
- Celebrate when you reach a good number of successful actions.
Kaizen board principles
For continuous improvement in quality, apply the following kaizen board principles:
- Follow the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle: Identify the problem and root causes, plan and execute one or more actions, and check the current situation.
- Be action oriented: As an exit criteria for the meeting, require that explicit actions are recorded on the board so that they're completed before the next retrospective.
- Drive commitment: When team members write actions by hand, it creates a sense of commitment to the project.
- Apply prioritization and focus: Limiting the number of actions to three allows the team to focus on what is important, while prioritizing makes the teams identify what is most important to complete first.
- Create visibility: The team problems and committed tasks are exposed to everyone in the team area. Color coding facilitates easy visualization.
- Follow up: By following the prescribed process, the retrospective closes the feedback loop. The Daily Scrum forces the team to follow up on the status of committed actions.
- Low-tech, easy to make, use, and adapt for the team: Make use of the Graphic Facilitation technique.
- Use gamification and metrics: With this technique, we use a metric to determine how are we doing, which helps with motivating the team.
- Use the power of the Post-its: Marking a task as completed with a Post-it creates an instant feeling of accomplishment.
The kaizen board is just a tool. It does not solve problems by itself; however, it facilitates solving retrospective pathologies when used correctly. It helps to embrace the principles and overcome the retrospectives pathologies.