Kanban Metrics | How to Track Metrics for a Kanban Team

A stable workflow is crucial for the successful and efficient work of Agile development teams. It can help your company get its product to market faster and bring more value to clients. The project manager needs to understand the team’s productivity, identify and resolve problems, and steer the project in the right direction. All these tasks use metrics and tools to assess the success rate of existing workflows and improve team performance. Applying Kanban metrics allows PMs to visualize the whole project on a digital board easily accessible to all team members and use tracking tools to get valuable analytics.

In this article, we analyze the best Kanban reporting metrics used to track progress and the ways you can implement them.

How to Start with the Kanban Approach

Before you begin to use the Agile Kanban methodology for collaborating with other team members, you need to configure a digital Kanban board. After that, you should share access with your colleagues. And finally, you can invite and assign different participants to particular projects.

With handy Kanban boards, your company will obtain some critical advantages, including:

  • Visualization of the progress on projects in a convenient format
  • Creating and assigning subtasks within a project
  • Using a board as a forum to discuss projects, solve problems and brainstorm

Online Kanban boards are becoming increasingly popular among project managers who deal with multiple projects, especially large-scale ones. These boards bring valuable data about projects and provide companies with simple and powerful metrics that can be correlated to business benefits. The best metrics for Kanban focus on measuring time to value or time to market (i.e., your team performance and process efficiency) and use these measures for continuous improvement by generating direct business value.

What are Kanban Metrics?

A fundamental component of the Kanban method is monitoring progress and measuring performance. It is essential for tracking your project and making your process more efficient over time. If you want to know where to go, you have to know where you are, and Kanban metrics are your best navigation on the way to success. They give you data on the productivity, efficiency, and reliability of your production process.

If you are thinking about investing in Kanban board software, you should choose one that can provide Kanban metrics tracking and Kanban reporting. Fortunately, the majority of Kanban tools for enterprise-level project management include this functionality. Plus, the data-driven approach to Kanban boards ensures the scalability necessary for managing large tasks.

So what are the best metrics that IT Kanban can offer you to measure progress and optimize productivity?

Good and Bad Metrics

Metrics provide data, but the value of a metric depends on whether it helps you to improve a system. Metrics can be valuable if they allow for improvements and progress, and metrics can be bad if they punish individual employees.

Good metrics:

  • Are actionable if they enhance decision-making
  • Show the way to better results
  • Display the current state of affairs
  • Improve behavior

Bad metrics:

  • Focus on the past and have nothing to do with the future
  • Mostly lead to negative results
  • Are used as targets

Below we describe the good metrics for Kanban to monitor team performance and process efficiency and delivery times, as well as the ones that can warn you about trouble ahead.

Core Kanban Metrics

Among the top metrics on Kanban are:

1. Lead Time

The total amount of time it takes for a single work item or task to pass through the system from the commitment point to completion. Low lead time indicates high process efficiency; high lead time shows that your team has problems.

2. Cycle Time

Refers to how much time is spent working to deliver a task (i.e., this metric is measured from when your team starts working on the task). Low cycle time means your team is working efficiently, while high cycle time indicates your process is not as perfect as it can be. Keeping your cycle times down keeps your lead times down, and leads to high customer satisfaction.

Lead time and Cycle time are two of the most important and useful Kanban metrics. These metrics are essential because they can show you how long it takes for work to flow through a value stream. Using these Kanban metrics, you can understand how long work items are in the workflow until they are completed. You should not confuse these two workflow metrics. The lead time starts from the moment a new task is requested and ends when it is done. The cycle begins from the commitment point when someone actually starts working on a given assignment.

How do you calculate cycle time and lead time in Kanban? To measure the average cycle and lead time, you can use a Cumulative Flow Diagram. It can show you the average cycle time, lead time, and the number of work-in-progress items. The chart allows you to instantly see how well the team performs, how stable your workflow is and where you need to improve. Also, this metric can help you to predict future work delivery times.

3. Throughput

Also called delivery rate, it is the number of completed work items or tasks per unit of time like per week. Throughput only measures completed work items. Work still in progress does not get counted. This metric can be referred to as a team metric that represents productivity. Throughput also helps you determine the frequency of achieving a relevant throughput by your in-house or remote team to see how its productivity can change. When combined with cycle time and lead time, throughput is a handy metric that can increase the forecasting accuracy of how much work your team can deliver. Ideally, the results will be the same or even increase.

How do you calculate throughput in Kanban? If you want to know the average throughput per day or calculate what percentage of all days provided a particular throughput, you should use a throughput histogram. This tool brings a better understanding of the team’s capacity. It can help you get a better understanding of the impact that your workflow has on business performance. By knowing the number of tasks you complete over some time, you can decide whether you need to expand the team’s work capacity, speed up delivery or do something else to complete the project on time.

4. Work in Progress (WIP)

The amount of work items in the system (or a defined part of it) at a certain point in time. You can use these metrics in graphics to understand system behavior and identify opportunities for improvement. Limiting work in progress (WIP limits) is an essential element in the Kanban approach, which allows you to enhance team productivity. With this metric, you can choose whether you disperse attention between multiple tasks or concentrate on completing only one assignment. The ideal WIP limit you apply for your team will depend on several factors, such as team size. Try providing limits considering the number of team members, so you can allow employees to focus on one assignment at a time.

5. Queues

A red flag metric. Queues can appear in the workflow when the tasks await further action. Thus, a queue stage is considered waiting for review.

Queues are a big part of a task’s cycle time since work items are interrelated, so it is essential to monitor queues and analyze how they can impact team performance. Keep in mind that the longer time something is waiting to move to the next stage can translate to higher costs.

To analyze queues, you should apply a heat map. It allows you to see the amount of time your tasks take in all stages of the workflow so you can calculate the total amount of time items are in queues beyond the defined timeframe.

6. Process Bottlenecks

Bottlenecks that increase the amount of work not being completed are also red flags that indicate factors that contribute to poor performance. They show that your team does not have the resource capacity to perform the assigned tasks on time. You should try spotting bottlenecks and pay attention to both the increase in cycle times and the decrease in throughput. After identifying one, try to understand the reason why it occurs. Taking immediate action will help eliminate bottlenecks before they become bigger problems.

7. Time Tracking

Provides valuable insights regarding the time usage of team members individually or as a team. This particular metric contains information on the amount of time spent on each task. You can generate a report on all of your Kanban boards to view the whole project.

Kanban Metrics Charts

The Kanban approach is convenient for Agile development teams as it allows data visualization and analysis. You can get insights on your team performance and your process efficiency and predict delivery times using various charts such as:

  • Burndown Chart, which represents the number of planned and completed tasks within a relevant Kanban board. It also allows one to predict future performance because the burndown chart indicates when you will complete all project tasks if the process continues to move at its current pace.
  • Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD), which provides a concise visualization of the most valuable metrics of the project’s flow aggregated in three categories: the number of tasks the team has completed; the number of tasks the team is working on; and the number of tasks which are waiting to be started.
  • Cycle Time Control Chart, which shows the Cycle Time (or Lead Time) for your product, version or sprint. It takes the time spent by each issue in a particular status or statuses and maps it over a specified time.
  • Lead or Cycle Time Distribution Chart, which is a frequency distribution chart of how often tasks (work items) get completed at various values of lead time or cycle time.
  • Average Cycle Time Chart, which gives you the average cycle time trend over any given period of time.
  • Flow Efficiency Chart, which highlights the critical impact of wait stages in your Kanban system. The longer your wait times, the lower your Flow Efficiency will be.
  • Blocker (Clustering) Analysis Chart, which highlights impediments to flow in your system, which are the root causes of why tasks may be getting blocked, and it helps you deal with those issues.

The Bottom line

Kanban metrics are a valuable asset for Kanban teams. Using these metrics, your team can remove negative obstacles and increase effectiveness while improving processes and increasing team productivity. Whether you are just exploring possibilities to implement a Kanban approach for your projects or you already use it and want to involve more managed teams, do not hesitate to contact Cprime to discuss your project details. We can provide our experienced developers to supplement your team or assemble it for your project.

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Maxwell Travers, Content Contributor
Maxwell Travers, Content Contributor