Observing Replenishment

Replenishment (or commitment) meeting is an activity concerning the decisions made at the so-called first commitment point of a Kanban system. It is one of the seven Kanban cadences, which are all part of the Kanban method. Cadenced events happen, as the notion of cadence suggests, predictably at deliberately chosen intervals. They connect information flows (predictably) and thus close the feedback loops. The healthy feedback loops enable evolutionary change.

What if you don’t have a Kanban system? You’re still running some business. This involves making regular decisions about what you should be working on now versus what you should defer until later. When you design a Kanban system to model the process (as it’s actually practiced) of delivering a product or a service that is part of your business model, the Kanban system’s first commitment point will mark the point in the workflow where you make such decisions.

Making commitment points explicit is likely to bring some transparency and clarity to your decision-making process and stimulate improvement. This is one of the many benefits of introducing a Kanban system. Implementing a replenishment meeting takes this benefit one step further.

What are we looking for in a replenishment meeting? Some coherence, logical connectedness of the following:

  • Participation: Who are the decision-makers? Were they in the room?
  • Information: What did the decision-makers bring to the meeting?
  • Options: Before the Decisions were made, what options were available? Was the Information relevant to the options?
  • Decisions: Which Options were chosen? How did the Information lead to choosing some Options over others?
  • Timing and Change: When was the previous replenishment meeting? How did the set of available Options and the Information change since then?
  • Procedure: how did the decision-makers actually decide? Were the appearances compatible with their method?
  • Duration: How long was the meeting? Was its duration commensurate with the multitude of choice?

Now let’s go and observe an actual meeting billed as Replenishment. All names and timings are changed to protect privacy.

A coach's notes from  the replenishment meeting. Various problems are highlighted. See the text below.

It’s quite clear that no act of commitment or replenishment took place here. The obvious clues to that are:

  • The set of decisions (features to start) matches the set of options exactly
  • The metrics presented by the Team Lead relate to a different, lower-level work item type. User story-level metrics could be useful for sequencing user stories. Feature-level metrics could be useful for scheduling features. The information presented doesn’t connect to the options or decisions in this case.

We just saw pseudo-replenishment. We also saw several things that let us reasonably infer a number of things about the system. There are at least two work item types. The two form a hierarchy and there is a two-level workflow. Each level has a first commitment point somewhere. And somewhere, sometime, two groups of decision-makers, people with different rank in the organization and different boundaries of autonomy, meet and use some decision-making process to make their respective decisions.

Shortly afterwards, a design meeting is called and it goes on for two hours. People with higher titles are absent, but a group of business analysts and a Senior Architect join. The discussion is largely about some design of the solution, acceptance criteria and such. However, there are several scattered moments totaling maybe 10 minutes, when: the Architect surfaces some technical risks, the Business Analysis Lead does the same for some requirement risks, and people come to the conclusion that several particular work items out of many others should be started before all others based on these risks.

Those ten minutes were the replenishment meeting. Implementing the replenishment meeting, one of the Kanban cadences, means making this decision process transparent, connecting its elements logically, with the intention to improve the decision-making. As the decisions in this example involved sequencing work within committed scope, it would be more appropriate to call this activity proto-replenishment. Read more about proto-replenishment here. Proto-replenishment is to proto-Kanban (e.g. Team Kanban) is what replenishment is to Kanban.

As for the Kanban system replenishment, it is not in the cards yet for this particular service. They are, for the time being, only able to pursue localized, team-level benefits. When they design a Kanban for their multi-team service, implementing the replenishment meeting will come into focus.

Summary

  • Replenishment meeting is not a new ceremony to introduce in your process
  • Somebody, in some time and place, already makes decisions. Replenishment meeting is about making the decision-making method transparent, so that people can improve it. Transparency may even save them time.
  • Implementing replenishment meeting involves both observing how people try to make decisions now as well as designing improvements to the process.
  • It’s very important (to your business) to understand the logical connectedness of decision-makers, information, options, timing, and decisions.
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