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Whittling our Wall to reduce cycle time

On the Mingle team we believe continuous improvement is paramount to consistently delivering real value to our customers. We invest in it heavily to minimize waste and always look for opportunities--both large and small--to improve how we work. A recent example of how we’ve improved our process has been whittling and “WIP-ing” our wall. And it all began with a call to action by what had become our “weighted” wall.

A couple of months ago, a few members on the Mingle team had an impromptu conversation about our card wall. Our QAs noticed a bit of a bottleneck around two lanes: ”Ready for Sign-Off” and “Sign-off in Progress.” Devs would move stories to “Ready for Sign-off,” where they would sit until BAs pulled them into “Sign-off in Progress” to make sure they were reviewed and in good shape for testing. This was one way we tried to reduce churn around development and testing, and to limit the number of sign-off issues. 

However, our QAs noticed that the sign-off lanes were increasing our cycle time. Since the BAs were responsible for signing off stories, but were often busy with analysis, the QAs had to wait to test stories until the BAs pushed them through. To remove this blocker, the QAs suggested removing the “formal” sign-off lanes. After talking about the change, we decided to couple sign-off with desk checks, which we were already doing, but were now held more accountable for.

Spurred by this whittling, we removed other unnecessary lanes and later increased our parking lot space to create a “poor man’s” WIP limit. Together, these trimmings helped us reduce cycle time by removing bottlenecks and focusing our efforts on active work items only. They also allowed us to consolidate our wall from two boards to one, which effectively reduced the noise in our workspace. Our previously “weighted” wall had successfully signaled us to re-evaluate our process. It prompted a conversation that narrowed our focus to more effectively--and efficiently--deliver value.

We continue to review our process during bi-weekly retrospectives, but believe that spontaneous self-assessments are equally important and impactful in our efforts in continuous improvement. It helps us build trust among our team and with our customers and are always looking to how we can bolster our process and our product.

Why is improvement important to you? How do you try to improve your process? We’d love to hear your story :)

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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