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Kanban at the Dutch National Archive

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Bianca Griffioen gave a talk at the Lean Kanban Benelux 2015 conference about how kanban has been adopted to visualized, prioritize and manage the work at the infrastructure and services department of the Dutch National archive.

InfoQ interviewed Griffioen about the problems that they had and why they decided to go for kanban, how they introduced kanban and are using it to solve problems, how the team and stakeholder feel about kanban and what the team learned from using kanban.

InfoQ: At the Lean Kanban Benelux conference you talked about how the National Archive of the Netherlands adopted Kanban to maintain their IT systems and networks. Can you describe the problems that they had?

Griffioen: The head of the department Infrastructure and Services had her office next to the team with System Engineers. One day people were lining-up in front of her room, in order to get things done from the engineers in the room next to her. Because so many people wanted something from the team, they were not able to actually get things done. When something was done, it was either for the person who screamed the loudest, who were highest in rank or who was the last person they were talking to.

InfoQ: What made them decide to use Kanban, what were their expectations?

Griffioen: As a matter of fact I didn’t even advise Kanban to them in particular. The trouble they were in was so big that it didn’t matter which methodology they used, as long as they introduced one and stuck to it. One of the team members was familiar with Kanban, so that made it the methodology of choice.

They didn’t expect much of Kanban at first. Soon after the introduction, we started to run into problems they were not aware of before. We solved them one by one. That was the point where they really embraced Kanban, they started to see the benefits of it.

InfoQ: Can you explain how Kanban was used by the team?

Griffioen: All the work that had to be done by the team was visualized on the Kanban board. Different processes were defined, depending on how the work was handled in the team and on which priorities were given by the stakeholders. A backlog was created in order to keep track of the work and as a basis for setting the priorities. The cycle time of the tickets was measured. First as a baseline and after that it was used to keep track on improvements.

InfoQ: You mentioned earlier how the team used Kanban to solve problem one by one. Can you give some examples of the problems that they had, and how they solved them?

Griffioen: After we created an oversight of the work that had to be done, the biggest problem was to prioritize this work. People still walked in the room and tried to get their job done first. So we made the head of the department I&S responsible for the priorities. And we referred everyone who walked into the room asking about priorities to her. Soon she also noticed that this was a huge issue and we decided to set a weekly meeting with al her stakeholders in order to set the priorities. As until this day, this process works quite well.

InfoQ: How does the team feel about using Kanban to manage their work?

Griffioen: Relieved. They have a clear oversight what is going on. Which work should go first and where to go to when things tend to go wrong. Everything went back to normal. They are getting things done!

InfoQ: Can you elaborate on the impact that Kanban had on the stakeholders and management at the national archive?

Griffioen: The impact is huge. There is a clear understanding of how the team works. What the stakeholders have to do to get to the top of the backlog. How communication is organized. As the head of the department once said: managing this team costs me the least amount of time of all my teams, and at the same time I have the best overview of what is going on!

InfoQ: What did the team learn from deploying Kanban?

Griffioen: Do not solve problems which are not yours to solve. Inspect and adapt, it doesn’t have to be perfect right from the start. Visualize, measure, visualize, measure and visualize and measure. And last but not least: work can be fun, Kanban is fun!

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