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Personal Capacity Planning: a practice that boosts Kanban teams productivity

Monday, January 15th, 2024 by

The practice of looking at the typical weekly schedule and making a personal analysis of production capacity with respect to the different activities to be carried out – which I have branded as Personal Capacity Planning – is an exercise that I have been prompting to do for more than a decade now the people I’m coaching in many organizations. And it has always boosted their productivity.

Step one: look for personal weekly patterns

The method applied is very empirical and pragmatic. No estimates or scheduling of activities are made – which would be time-consuming and wasteful; instead, the idea is to recall what has been done on average over the last few weeks, looking for a pattern. An alternative approach is to simply track and record what gets done over two to three weeks.

Personal Capacity Planning on a whiteboard in 2011

What emerges is usually a pattern of how loads are typically distributed in order to maintain the current level of activity, and the thing that has always surprised me is how sensible patterns can be detected even in rather chaotic organisations (maturity level between 0 and 3 of the Kanban Maturity Model). It is as if people in such organisations instinctively tend to compensate for the chaos that surrounds them by giving themselves predictable routines on a personal level. Moreover it also retains its usefulness in organizations at higher maturity level.

Step two: adjust the patterns to evolve the workflow

What is interesting is that such instinctive tendency can be leveraged to evolve and stabilise workflows. Just the fact that people are visualising their typical week and become more aware of it, tends to stabilise their behaviour and thus the system. Furthermore, applying other Kanban practices together with the team such as visualising the work, analysing the workflows, collecting initial metrics and understanding the actions that can improve the workflow, the team can act in a shared way on personal capacity planning patterns, trying to modify them to facilitate the improvement of the workflow in the desired direction. Within the Kanban cadences, primarily the Team Kanban Meeting but also the Service Delivery Review, the team can discuss and share how to run safe-to-fail experiments by adjusting each individual pattern in order to evolve the workflows, so that by subsequent adjustments over time the workflows can be stabilised and optimised.

I have found this practice particularly useful when people are engaged in several teams and several different workflows, and I have always observed empirically a tendency to rebalance performance across flows, for example by slowing down workflows that are outperforming against SLAs (agreed service levels) in favour of speeding up worklows that are underperforming.

Personal Capacity Planning on a spreadsheet in 2024

Step three: reserve capacity as you see fit

Adjusting and re-balancing personal capacity may imply reserving some capacity as necessary. When I implemented such practice for the first time back in 2011, I was the delivery manager in a software company leading a group of project managers. The main problem in those days was that many resources engaged on projects were shared and were also engaged in other operations maintenance activities. It was then that we came up with the idea of reserving capacity ‘slots’ so as to avoid conflict with the projects and make sure that the capacity available to the projects was realistic.

Later I used the same approach whenever I found myself in a similar situation. For example, it helped me apply Scrum: if the same people had to participate in different teams, of which only some applied Scrum, the need arose to reserve shared slots in which to work co-located and apply Scrum ‘rituals’. More recently, I have used it for teams that are involved in support and service desk activities as much as in development projects, balancing workloads and reserving shifts as service desk agents.

How can this practice help you?

The initial reaction to the introduction of this practice has always been one of suspicion, as if I wanted to mind the team’s business and control them by putting them in a bit of a ‘cage’. After some time, however, people have always discovered that it is not a ‘cage’ but a method managed autonomously by the team themselves and aimed at supporting stability and predictability of their working system regardless of external interfering factors. Greater stability and predictability of the system means that people, and the teams they are part of, have effective control over time of the service levels they offer their customers and thus ultimately they become masters of their own fate.

This practice does not limit, does not lock the team in a ‘cage’, instead does the opposite by relieving the team of external pressure. It is a counterintuitive concept that can only be fully understood by experiencing a practice that integrates perfectly with the Kanban Method and is fully in line with its principles.

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