Struggling to Deliver: The delicate balance between demand and capability

This article is also featured on LinkedIn by Kyle Chandler

Your team is in the middle of delivering a time-sensitive feature. You are worried…

Are we going to make the deadline this time? Will we have to resort to overtime again? How sure are we that quality is okay? Will customers complain again? How large will the new pile of issues be that we’ll have to fix? Will customers stick with us? Are we running out of funding?

When your business is struggling to deliver reliably, what do you do? Do you hire more people? Work harder? Do you provide more training? Do you fire underperformers? Do you hire more experts? Do you change the team completely?

Unfortunately, while it’s common to use the above strategies, they don’t address the root cause. Just like taking Tylenol for a back injury, in time, the symptoms will return. Over time the problem will get worse if not treated properly.

Unbalanced Demand and Capability is the Cause

Balance demand and capability

When there is more demand than capability, businesses tend to experience missed deadlines, quality issues causing even more delay, overworked and unproductive workers and generally rampant dissatisfaction amongst their workforce and their customers.

When there is less demand than capability, businesses tend to start burning cash. They tend to have a workforce that is starving, disengaged and worried about their jobs. It is much more common to find that demand is higher than capability.

With Kanban, we focus on shaping demand and improving capability with tools that are proven to work.

So how do we bring demand and capability into balance for our clients? We use The Kanban Method. With Kanban, we focus on shaping demand and improving capability with tools that are proven to work. Shaping demand starts with influencing customer and stakeholder decisions with evidence of existing capabilities. Improving capability is all about paying attention to how work is flowing and where it gets stuck.

Improving capability is all about paying attention to how work is flowing and where it gets stuck.

So how does the Kanban Method help our clients do this?

A Menu of Strategies That Balance Demand and Capability

Man looking at a menu

Think of Kanban as a menu of proven strategies to increase delivery effectiveness by bringing demand and capability into balance. When you first start, you’ll be able to select strategies that make the most sense for your context and business’ maturity. With more experience, businesses pull from more advanced options. Starting with all of them at once is stressful for your workforce and is more likely to fail. For this reason, I would never recommend that you try them all at once.

Steps We Use With Clients Starting for the First Time

When we’re implementing Kanban in a business that has never used it before we generally go through these steps:

1 – Understand the sources of dissatisfaction. Get a sense of what frustrations exist for the internal workforce and external customers. Typically, we’ll find a clear link between internal and external dissatisfaction, and an excellent focal point for the implementation because you’ll start relieving some of the symptoms for both the internal workforce and external customers.

2 – Understand the characteristics of demand and capability. Get a sense of what the expectations currently are for features or other types of work and the workforce’s actual ability to deliver to expectations. We are looking to understand if some of the expectations aren’t being met and can link back to the sources of dissatisfaction we discovered in the previous step. For each type of work ask the following questions: how often are new features requested? Is the demand seasonal, regular, or random in nature? What is the expectation for turn around? How long does it usually take us?

3 – Create a model of the workflow. Get a sense of the stages that each feature or other types of work go through before being completed. We are careful to avoid ‘roles’ or ‘departments.’ Instead, we focus on what needs to be learned about the feature, regardless of who is doing the work. This approach helps to simplify the workflow for non-linear activities that may go back and forth between departments when they are just trying to figure out the same thing together. For example, one stage might be a benefit analysis. It may need a customer representative, a business analyst, and technical teams working on it at different times. We tend to focus on the dominant activity, business analysis as a stage in the workflow.

4 – Design the Kanban System. We’ll create a visual model of the workflow based on the previous step, and determine what types of work we’ll track on a visual board. The board will help clients see how their work is flowing and understand where it is getting stuck. We’ll also ensure that clients know what to measure and determine how often they’ll inspect the improvement of their capability. Typically, measuring lead time and age of work is a good place to start. For the board itself, we recommend starting physically, but in current times it may not be possible. The most important thing to consider when selecting a digital tool is how flexible it is and how easy it is to change the visual board you create. For this reason we use SwiftKanban by Digite. A sure sign that you aren’t improving capability is if your visual model isn’t changing.

In more mature implementations, there are additional steps we would include, but these are good enough for you to get started on your own. If your business is genuinely committed to improving delivery effectiveness, it will very quickly begin to realize profound business results by layering on more tools from the Kanban Method.

I hope this article has given you some insight into what Kanban is and how you can use it. Want to learn more? Check our ultimate guide or read Essential Kanban Condensed by David J. Anderson and Andy Carmichael.

Essential Kanban Condensed Book Cover

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