Skip to main content

Using Kanban to Deliver Large and Complex Projects

Project Management processes are maturing with more and more projects being delivered successfully. According to the Project Management Institute[1], a lack of project sponsorship continues to be the number one reason why projects fail. Scope creep continues to be an issue coming in at number two, with number three being a lack of capability in value delivery.

Increasing Project Success

Organisations embark on large complex transformation journeys to achieve breakthrough performance, support acquisitions or comply with regulatory obligations to name a few. These journeys are time-boxed, budget dependent and face ever-changing risks, including regulatory, competition and resource capability. Ways to increase the likelihood of project success and value delivery include project governance, management and use of better practice delivery frameworks such as PRINCE, PMBoK, Waterfall and Agile. 

Project Delivery Frameworks

Agile continues to be a topic of growing importance in project management, with 71 percent of organizations now reporting they use agile approaches to their projects sometimes or more frequently than in the past[2]. Two out of every five projects use an agile, hybrid or blended agile approach[3] and some of the agile methodologies now in use are Scrum, Lean and Kanban.

No single delivery framework fits every project and agile methodologies need to be adapted to suit project needs. 

Kanban is a popular framework used for software implementation. This point of view captures the use of Kanban to deliver large and complex projects.

"Kanban" is the Japanese word for "visual signal" and was developed as a scheduling system by an industrial engineer at Toyota to improve manufacturing efficiency and just-in-time manufacturing. 

It requires real-time communication of capacity and full transparency of work. Work items or tasks are represented visually on a Kanban board that helps to keep everyone on the same page. This can be tracked on a physical wall or digitally. The simplest Kanban boards are physical boards divided into vertical columns where teams mark up a whiteboard or wall space and place sticky notes/cards on. These move through the workflow of Do, Doing or Done phases and demonstrate progress. Digital boards allow teams that do not share a physical office space to use Kanban boards remotely through tools such as Jira, Slack and Trello.

Problem Statement: 

In 2018, a leading organisation was de-merging from its parent division to create an independent top 30 ASX-listed company, representing Australia’s largest ever-corporate transaction.  Part of the scope included the setup of a new Treasury operating function including operating model, bank accounts, payments, interest rate risk management, hedging, and accounting, recruitment of its key resources and rapid implementation of a new and critical Treasury Management System.

A market leading Software as a Service solution was chosen with 19 weeks for implementation. From a system perspective, this would encompass and support capabilities such as integration with four banks and existing technology platforms, third party financial and market data systems and a supplier finance facility to start with. 

Given the 19-week delivery timeline, principles such as transparency, collaboration, leadership, understanding, and agreement were required between the business and IT teams to achieve successful delivery of the new treasury system. Aside from the development of standard project management components, it was necessary to establish a methodology for effective collaboration, transparency of information and communication of change across the multiple stakeholder groups involved.

The Kanban methodology was chosen for this purpose and physical wall was setup in a dedicated project room with co-location of business, IT resources to deliver the system under the aggressive timeline (see Figure 1 below). 

To commit to these timelines, activities and tasks from the integrated project schedule were developed in to a backlog and then prepared based on delivery priority into columns on the wall moving from left to right in the form of sticky notes highlighting a 3-week view and tracked daily. These sticky notes (see Figure 2 below) were assigned to team members with an end-date and then moved from ‘do-doing-done’ during the plan, design, build, test and deploy phases.

Daily stand-up and iteration reviews were performed to support the body of work underpinning the Kanban methodology and highlight updates to tasks, risks/issues and dependencies making every team member from the project, business or IT co-own the wall. This level of engagement, collaboration and transparency helped to maintain clear channels of communication and continue the delivery momentum. This also assisted in feeding information to the Program Management Office and provided and appropriate layer of first line governance and controls for the project.

The visualization of the work that Kanban established underpinned the interpretation of the to-be world, provided focus on continuous delivery, reduced re-work, quickly resolved risks, issues and dependencies and drove the successful delivery of a Minimum Viable Product in an aggressive timeframe.

Figure 1: Kanban wall developed for project implementation

Figure 2: Sample of Kanban Wall activities developed and tracked

Being agile and embracing structure needs to be driven together. Regardless of the agile methodology selected, it is important to pick one that the team has the capabilities for or can easily understand and that the project environment supports.