Kanban's Visual Efficiency: An Interview with Derk-Jan de Grood


Derk-Jan de Grood explains how those who have yet to embrace kanban can experience the efficiency and communication-building that the practice brings to development teams of all sizes. After defining what "efficiency" means to him, Derk-Jan explains why he's the fan of kanban that he is.

Noel: Your upcoming STAREAST session is titled "Increase Your Team's Efficiency with Kanban." I've found that "efficiency" is one of those words like "quality" or "success" that can have different meanings to different people or projects. What's "efficiency" to you?

Derk-Jan: I completely agree. In the Netherlands, we call those words “containers”. You can put anything in containers and these words can mean anything. With efficiency for test teams I mean the following: In the eye of the business, testing needs to be done fast, cheap and thorough. An efficient test team has a focus on the those things that have value for the stakeholders. Lose as little time as possible with waste, and have the ability to help other team members.

Noel: With communication being so vital between test teams, business managers, analysts and stakeholders—do you see kanban directly improving communication, and if so, how?

Derk-Jan: I certainly think kanban helps to improve the communication between disciplines and team members. This is for various reasons. First of all, the work is made visible on the kanban board and discussed during daily meetings. This helps people to address their concerns and thus, help each other. Team members are asked to address bottlenecks and dependencies, which triggers communication with disciplines outside the team. Finally, it is not uncommon to invite stakeholders and experts to the board. This involves them in the progress and decision making.

Noel: I recently interviewed Alan Shalloway, who is a big kanban proponent, and he discussed the need to "demystify" kanban, in order for it to be truly understood, and ultimately successful. Do you also see the need for a clearer understanding from some of the teams you've worked with?

Derk-Jan: I think it is good to have a one or more people that understand kanban in the team. They can help the other members in using the framework in the right way. I personally think it is fine to adapt kanban for personal needs, but like Scrum, if you do it the wrong way, you end up with nothing. Some help might be required as well as a good focus on why you are doing kanban.

Noel: I know that one of kanban's main strengths is in "expertise matching." When it comes to assigning testers; how do testers sometimes end up spending too much time on tasks that don't match their expertise? Is it simply from the amount of work that is asked of them, that they may not feel that they can only work on what their expertise is a best fit for?

Derk-Jan: Good expertise matching only works when there are enough available resources. So, yes when resources and deadlines are short, there might be a need to pick up tasks, although other resources might be more efficient. Furthermore, I notice that many of our customers are not yet into ‘free-resourcing’. They still ask for that one expert that they have worked with in the past. So expectation seems to be more dominant than matching skills.

Noel: For those that may attend your session, or even for test teams you're working with who may have never attempted kanban before, what's a good starting point to begin the process?

Derk-Jan: Eh…join my session of course….No just kidding. Get some info on kanban, discuss it with the team in order to find whether the teams believes they can benefit from it. Determine your workflow and create a product backlog for the first week or so. Then get started and stay critical. 

As a senior test consultant at Valori, Derk-Jan de Grood specializes in getting more out of testing by focusing on the value chain, business-IT alignment, and the team’s visibility. Being a passionate speaker, Derk-Jan is at home at major testing conferences where he tries to inspire people and help improve the test profession. He writes for leading test magazines, provides training, lectures, and is the author of TestGoal, Grip on IT, and the Dutch Testers Association’s jubilee book on future trends in testing. Derk-Jan lead the list of the top twenty-five most visible testers in the Netherlands. Learn more at djdegrood.wordpress.com.

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