Using Kanban Boards to Gain Workflow Efficiency with the IBM i

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400px Simple kanban board One of our customers made a comment recently on a blog I wrote on the reasons to be thankful for the AS/400 and its brethren IBM Power Systems. She has programmed for years on the IBM series of servers and said she continually searches for new functionality and ways to stay current. It got me thinking about kanban boards.

Kanban boards provide a process management system to track workflow using notecards or paper. Yes, you heard me. Paper. There are also electronic kanban boards that function in a similar way. Basically it’s a chart that allows for a detailed visual of all work in progress and how it is progressing through each stage. It makes it easy to spot when there are too many projects clogging workflow or a project that has gotten stagnant. You can see where the bottleneck is and whose piece needs to be moved forward.

We talk a lot about workflow and how great software and support can improve efficiency and workflow. But another part of the conversation for IT staff is knowing how all the IT projects fit together and get scheduled, not only for efficiency, but for security. Changes need to be documented so that they don’t interfere with mission critical projects and so the next person behind you can troubleshoot a problem. That’s why I write so passionately about how DIY software for the IBM can cause major issues. There are plenty of talented programmers who could design efficiency software in-house but they usually include a lot of “work-arounds” that can make it difficult to upgrade and to fix if the programmer leaves. 

Kanban boards make intuitive sense to me when you think about all the moving pieces going on in IT at any given time. The kanban method figures prominently as a tool used to assess and unsnarl work-in-progress in The Phoenix Project – a book about productive IT set in a fictional story. I talked about the book in a blog last month about CIOs and what is on their mind. Gene Kim is one of the co-authors of The Phoenix Project. We tracked him down to find out why this low-tech solution works to make IT workflow more efficient for managing IBM Power Systems.

“Life is easy when executing something in IT that only depends on one person.  However, once there are multiple handoffs, say between developers, DBAs, analysts, networking, storage or information security, all those handoffs create risks. The most visible problem is that cycle time goes through the room. Suddenly, what appears to only require 30 minutes of work takes 6 weeks to complete.  

Why is that? The primary reason is the time spent in queue at every handoff.

This jeopardizes fast flow, which is The First Way, as described in the Phoenix Project. One of the best mitigations is the kanban board, which visualizes work across work centers, to make sure that everyone can see who is working on what, limit the work in process, and can ensure that important work is never sitting still, when it needs to be flowing.”

Thank you Gene, for your insights. Gene, by the way, is a big fan of the AS/400. So in addition to being a passionate voice in the IT community for efficient workflow and directly linking technology to business outcomes, he has great taste in equipment.

There are many challenges faced by IT staff as we move deeper and deeper into the digital age. Kanban boards provide a way to keep our eye on the big picture and identify at a glance how many projects are going on and where they are getting stuck. By the way, I’d love to hear feedback from any readers who are currently using kanban boards. 

Interested in getting expertly designed software for your IBM Power System that comes with world-class support? Try out our software with a free trial.



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