Home Of The Kanban Jedi
Beyond Agile Software Development

Priority Tokens

I met up with Karl Scotland just before Easter for a chat about our experiences with Kanban systems and whilst reviewing his information radiator we talked about the idea of having numbered priority tokens for each of the WIP limit slots as a way of keeping teams focussed on priority, even for the work actually in progress.

Basically cut out some circles and number them from 1 to X…1 being the highest priority. The number of tokens should be equal to your WIP limit. Then place each token next to the MMF (minimum marketable feature) or work item based on the relative priority of the work. The team should be asking themselves are we doing all we can to get the highest priority item of work completed?

The idea being it can help the team work out how to most efficiently self organise to get the highest priority stuff done quicker. It also means if the priority of work changes the tokens can be moved about to make it immediately visible where the focus should be.

Too often I find teams that have 1 work item per person on the go when it would be more effective to have several people working on a higher priority item to get it done earlier (or on time). Unfortunately having several people working on one thing makes managers scream “…but that’s inefficient because X, Y, Z” (replace X, Y, Z with a set of excuses) or developers scream “…but it’s impossible for more than 1 person to work on that”.

However helping managers understanding that getting things completed rather than lots of things being worked on in parallel is part of my job and I’ve yet to find a situation where this didn’t turn out to work much better for the team. From a development point of view there are instances where it isn’t practical to have multiple people work on something but that’s generally down to poorly designed software and bad configuration management practices – fixing these underlying issues solves a ton of other issues as well and means you can be more effective as a team.

I need to add that this isn’t something that I’ve tried yet but I’m hoping when Karl gets his new boards up on the wall we might be able to give it a go and see how it works out.


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