CHOW #32– Can you help the Product Owner of a team using Kanban?

Suri has just attended a two-day training on Product Ownership and has been made the Product owner of the Database support team. The team supports various Database products in the enterprise and work in multiple shifts. They have started using Kanban for the past three months but seem to have some problems in meeting customer expectations. Last month several customer complaints were received about delayed service.

Having played the role of a Product Owner for a Scrum team for over six months, Suri is new to Kanban and is trying to figure out what best he can do to help the team to improve customer service. But he is not sure what should be the first thing that he should look into. Team’s throughput seems to be good. They are closing most tickets raised in a day though they are handling multiple types of work. Some are involved in projects spanning over couple of months but most of their time is dedicated to daily support. And despite the throughput which the team is maintaining, cycle team seems to be going up all the time.  What are some of the possibilities that Suri should explore as PO to help the team?

I would like to hear your thoughts to help the Product Owner.

Suggested solution:

As the Product Owner, Suri needs to analyse the situation taking into account the good and the not-so-good aspects:

Good aspects:
Throughput is good
Most of the time of team members dedicated to support
Some team members working on multiple projects at the same time
Customer complaints received about delayed service
Cycle time not under control

We can make couple of important observations from above info:
1. Improved throughput does not necessarily improve cycle time
2. Improved throughput may not result in satisfied customers

So Suri needs to understand what all could impact cycle time and delayed service could be mainly due to increased cycle time. If average cycle time can be brought under control then team can be more predictable in deliveries. So product owner needs to keep track of all tickets that are presently in the backlog. The completed tickets, it looks like, is a mix of recent ones and old ones. Tickets which are pending for a while but get completed in the current week add heavily to cycle time and even if throughput is good (which is number of tickets cleared per day or week let us say), the cycle time would not improve. So it is important for Suri to make sure old tickets are cleared as soon as possible and current tickets are not kept idle for long. Suri needs to prioritize very carefully a mix of current tickets and old ones so as to clear the long pending ones over a period of time and bring down the average age of tickets significantly. Only then cycle time can be improved. And, improved cycle time definitely helps to bring down customer complaints due to delayed service.

Another aspect which Suri needs to observe is also the impact of multiple projects. Some projects being taken up by some team members could directly impact cycle time as normally they are long term activities. It is recommended that Suri separate out the project work from the Kanban board and plan it separately based on certain amount of team time dedicated to it.

In my experience the above approach has helped in many teams and of course there could be other aspects involved as well, such as absenteeism and so on which need to be considered separately. I have discussed here couple of important aspects which need to be addressed by the Product Owner.
I am sure many of you would have noticed several other factors in action in the above scenario and would be happy to learn from your experiences.

What do you think?

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