Agile Project Management with Kanban: Adapting from Waterfall

  • 3/16/2015

Working in feature teams

Kanban brings feature teams together each day to view the signboard and handle blocking issues. A feature team is a group of individuals, often from multiple disciplines, who work on the same set of product features together.

A typical feature team might have 1–3 analysts, 1–6 developers, and 1–6 testers (a total of 3–15 people), but some can be larger. Feature teams may also have marketers, product planners, designers, user researchers, architects, technical researchers, data scientists, quality assurance personnel, service engineers, service operations staff, and project managers. Often, feature team members are part of multiple feature teams, although developers and testers tend to be dedicated to a single team.

Many people who use traditional Waterfall work on feature teams, all for the same manager or as a virtual team. However, some groups completely separate different disciplines, using formal handoff procedures between disciplines, including associated documentation.

With Kanban, you can maintain separate disciplines and formal handoff procedures if you prefer. The handoff procedures map directly to the done rules for each step. However, Kanban does require each discipline working on the same workflow to share the same signboard and attend standup together. While this is certainly a change, it’s a relatively minor logistical one that is easily incorporated into people’s workday.

The key is to pick a time for the standup when all feature team members can attend. My teams schedule theirs at 10:30 a.m. It’s late enough in the morning that even folks who sleep in arrive on time, and it’s early enough that no one is away at lunch or at an afternoon obligation. Since standup takes only 5–15 minutes, even with large teams, it’s over before 10:45 a.m. For teams with remote members, pick the best time you can and use online meeting tools.

While the focus of the standup meeting is to look over the signboard and handle blocking issues, getting everyone together also opens opportunities for cross-discipline team members to connect. Keep the standup focused properly, but after the standup, people can meet and sync up on a variety of scheduling, process, and design issues, while folks not involved in these issues return to their work. It’s invaluable to have this regular time when everyone working on the same features can align themselves.

To help everyone adjust to the daily standups, tell your team, “We all work together to create great features for our customers. When we work together, it’s helpful to get together daily, see our work progress, and handle any issues that might keep our high-quality work from reaching our customers quickly.”