In this first of a 2-part series I will share some basic info about the Kanban method. The second part (stay tuned) will show you how the Tier 3 support team at Polarion Software R&D uses Kanban in conjunction with our Polarion ALM system to effectively manage hard-to-predict team workloads.
What is this “Kanban”?
In the words of Wikipedia “Kanban is a method for managing knowledge work with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery while not overloading the team members. In this approach, the process, from definition of a task to its delivery to the customer, is displayed for participants to see and team members pull work from a queue.” There are some great articles about Kanban, I would recommend to read at least Why Kanban for software engineering matters by Charan Atreya.
We know Scrum, why not to use that?
Actually you can use both, as we do here in Polarion's R&D. Scrum is used in the majority of Polarion development teams, but we have chosen to use Kanban in one special team which handles Tier 3 support and customer demands. Our main reasons were that it is hard to predict team velocity when an unknown portion of time is taken by other duties with much higher priority than your normal work. And we fortunately found out that predictability is not taken away, it is just a matter of some number crunching (it should not have been any surprise for us as Kanban is regularly used in environments with service-level agreements).