Jan 23, 2012

Kanban for customer portfolio management

My business focuses on lean-agile coaching, consulting and training, not on software development services, and I successfully use Kanban to manage my customer portfolio.

It is untrue that Kanban is only good for software change management work. Many people new to Kanban have this misconception mainly for two reasons. One is because Kanban started in a change management team at Microsoft. The other one is because David J Anderson declared that Kanban is a method for change management in the organization and that statement can be misinterpreted. What David meant with that is Kanban helps you bring positive change to your organization. Although the original Kanban description is around software it is actually context free. There is a very popular book entitled Personal Kanban by Jim Benson that I invite you to consult.

Getting back to the main subject of this blog. I have been using Kanban for years to manage customer-facing and business-facing activities. The customer facing activities Kanban board has one swim lane per customer for easy visualization of the activities with each customer and to avoid making mistakes on which customer a given activity is for.  Each customer has its own backlog, which we make visual as the first column on the board. The other columns are Ready, Execute (doing/done), Customer verification, and Completed columns. The WIPs for each customer are different and in agreement with the customer needs and my resources. The figure shows the electronic board we use. We actually have several boards, one for each country. Advantages of the electronic board are not only the fact that they make remote communication easier but also that it allows us to resort the lanes, which we do as a means to indicate level of priority and activity. That is, a lane (a customer) bubbles up if the activity and priority increases and bubbles down if the activity decreases. That way if we will not be doing any work with a customer for a while its lane is "out of the way" and is still easily available to reuse at a moment's notice. We also count with a swim lane called "other" and we use this for general work that has to do with potential customers when relationship hasn't matured yet to the point of earning a dedicated lane.

Our classes of service are
  • Business task
  • Business appointment
  • Business partner / associate task
  • Fixed delivery date
  • Immediate
Intangible tasks are business-facing and are, therefore, on a separate board.

Masa K Maeda