Those who have played the GetKanban board game (one of Kanban training tools and a regular occurrence at Kanban community meetups) are likely to remember two dramatic moments.
On Day… — actually, let’s keep it a surprise for those who haven’t played the game yet — Carlos, the game’s most infamous character, enters the building. Carlos really shakes things up. First, he disallows any people outside his functional silo to do the silo’s work. Second, he forbids his direct reports from helping in other departments. Third, he eliminates one of the WIP limits and thus breaks the Kanban system into two. Finally, Carlos ignores the variation natural in the work he manages and insists his staff’s output must be 6 units per day even though they’re only set up to produce 3.5 on average (with some variation).
One of the reactions I get often from my training class participants: “Can we fire Carlos?”
Several days later — let’s keep it a secret how many exactly — there is this happy, cathartic moment: the CEO fires Carlos. The players rejoice. They gradually restore the broken flow of value as the game continues. Their organization recovers eventually and achieves some goal by the end of the game.
During the debrief after the game, some people talk about how they want to do better than Carlos in the real life. Some managers in the room realize they’re Carlos. Some realize they used to be Carlos, but changed their ways. They’re validated.
But if all we’ve talked about is, good riddance Carlos and how the software developers can now hug the testers, then that’s a relatively shallow learning outcome from the game.
Let’s Listen To Deeper Reflections
My job is to prioritize this backlog. And it only keeps growing! Now I understand why I feel so discouraged and why what I do seems so disconnected from our customers.
Senior Software Developer
I’ve worked in this industry for fifteen years. I’m used to getting called into these “why not six” closed-door conversations from time to time. Something is different in recent years though.
It used to be that the person questioning me, who had an office with a door, did the same job before their promotion. They understood me. Now, I find myself explaining myself to more people and none of them have written a line of code in their life.
On my last job, I was constantly forced to make excuses why my team’s release burndown wasn’t trending at six points per sprint. It was humiliating. I felt, even if I could solve this problem somehow, it wouldn’t have mattered to our customers. I quit because I couldn’t take it anymore.
On my last gig, I was responsible for coaching one of Carlos’ teams to hyper-performance. Six points per sprint is a crude way to put it, but I get that this is a game.
We’ve got a whole system that educates, promotes and rewards people like Carlos. We still have this system.