Explore how to manage dependencies in Kanban using an illustrative example of Kanban implementation in an advertising agency.
Lots of professionals struggle with managing dependencies. We can schedule something and often it turns out that it takes longer than expected because of some dependency that caused the delay. And we wish we had scheduled this task for earlier. Such cases often make people anxious, because they want to look professional in their work, to make good quality decisions with confidence, and to deliver in time.
Kanban offers a variety of solutions to facilitate the work with dependencies. You can explore them in the previous article “What is Dependency Management in Kanban?”. In this article, we will go through an example of Dependency Management using a Kanban Method implementation in an advertising agency. It is not a case study, so all the names and facts are invented. However, we`ve modeled a Kanban implementation to a real advertising agency, using their real agency structure and requests.
Meet our advertising agency “Sam&Sam”.
This agency has 53 employees that work within 7 departments. Every department is a separate service and has its own Kanban board. Some departments, like PR, Production, and Accountants, have their partners and contractors to conduct some projects and satisfy the client`s needs. Let`s briefly look at the 3 main departments that are the focus of this story.
The Client services department is responsible for key clients and also developing new business. Apart from the Client Services Director, this department has 4 teams of Account Managers, each one is responsible for 2-3 clients, satisfying all their needs and requests. Account managers have the overall accountability for the delivery, they are responsible for delivering the campaign/project/service that meets the client`s requirements. They are the ones who coordinate and lead projects, follow up on their results.
The Creative department apart from the Creative Director has 4 Art Directors and 5 copywriters. Art Directors are responsible for the quality and the ideas for all the work that comes out of the agency. Copyrighters are the ones who create crispy copy, slogans, memorable, concise, and clear texts.
Design Studio has 6 Designers and 3 DTPs. Designers provide graphic designs, such as logo design development, layouts of advertising materials or web pages, etc. DTPs provide different pre-press services as, as typesetting, setting out web pages/ documents, they work with high-resolution files and set all up, preparing the files created by the designer for the final release.
Each department provides a separate service, so each one of them has its own portfolio type Kanban board.
Meet our Accountant Manager – Rebecca.
As an Account Manager, Rebecca works with several big clients constantly. To deliver the services, Rebecca is in constant cooperation with other teams, like Design Studio and Creatives. Normally, new requests from clients come either to her or to the Client Services Director, who consequently appoints a team of Account Managers for this request.
Recently Rebecca received a new request from her client – a shampoo brand. They want the agency to create a key visual (key image for the advertising campaign) for their new shampoo. After analyzng the task, receiving all the materials from the client, and clarifying with him all the questions – the task is clear, and Rebecca creates a Kanban ticket for the Account Managers` Kanban board.
Account Managers Kanban board.
As long as the department deals with different work types, their Kanban board design is simple. It has two main swim lanes for billable and non-billable projects. As we know, apart from regular billable work, agencies do a lot of non-billable work such as bidding for new work and tender proposals. This is uncommitted from a client perspective (upstream) unpaid work that the agency is doing constantly to get a project or a new client. Therefore, a certain percentage of their work is non-billable. Their Kanban board design allows them to track the amount of billable vs non-billable work to control that an amount on non-billable projects does not exceed a certain limit and the agency maintains its profitability.
We can also see that each Account Managers team has its swim lane. This helps to track the workload of each team, to control that new projects are shared fairly, and no one is overburdened and the work flows as it should.
“Shoulders&Head” new key visual request.
When Rebecca is creating a Kanban ticket for the Accountants team Kanban board, she thinks through the process this request will go through. The process of this work type is clear for her given her previous experience and will include the following general stages:
- Account Manager writes Brief to Art Director to develop ideas for the key visual.
- Art Director sends a set of ideas after three days. Account Managers, Client Service Director, and Art Director meet to select and approve 3 best ideas out of the list.
- The Account Manager writes clear brief to Designers and Copywriters to develop these ideas: create a copy and a draft proposal design.
- After materials are ready, the Account Manager approves them with Art Director or communicates the corrections/comments to the teams.
- When all 3 ideas are ready, the proposal is sent to the client. Client chooses 1 idea and / or give his / her corrections or comments.
- With the Accountant Manager guidance, Designers and Copywriters implement the client’s corrections.
- Art Director approves final materials, and they are sent to the client for his/ her final OK.
- If no further corrections are needed, the design goes to DTP, where it goes through a final preparation process.
- The archive with final high-resolution files is delivered to a client and at this point, the work is considered to be done.
Obviously, the process may differ given the client`s feedback. The request may go through several client feedback loops. Or if required, it may include conducting a photo shooting and model`s casting which will require the involvement of external partners. Or it may be just in-house design which means the work will be done within the agency.
“Shoulders&Head” new key visual request – Kanban board ticket.
When creating a ticket for this task, Rebecca drafts the list of subtasks with the main stages this project will go through. Rebecca will be the one responsible for leading and modifying this ticket. When a time comes for a certain dependency, Rebecca will convert this subtask into a “child” ticket that will be sent to the corresponding Shared Service board, where it should be accepted and added to a backlog.
Before sending this ticket to the board, Rebecca needs to give it a proper class of service. As agreed between the teams, they use 4 classes of service which they highlight with different colors:
- Expedite (white) – the work is urgent, the cost of delivery is high. This work item goes as a priority in all the columns.
- Fixed Date (orange) – delivery needs to happen at a date in the relatively near future.
- Standard (yellow) – regular work with no fixed date for the delivery, expected to be delivered in a reasonable period of time.
- Intangible(blue) – the impact of delay is intangible, insignificant, or undetermined. The impact of delay may not happen at all or happen much later and be very significant straight away. The team agreed to choose several intangible tickets per month, so this type of work is done on a constant basis, but not constantly postponed for later.
Managing Dependencies among shared services
In this example, we can allocate several dependencies, for the beginning with Creative Team and Design studio. So how can we properly manage these dependencies using Kanban Method?
“Shoulders&Head new KV” ticket is done and submitted. When Rebecca reaches the moment to send a “child” ticket, she checks a Dependency Management Poster to verify whether she needs to change the class of service for a shared service Kanban board.
For example, the Brief for the Art Director is ready, and Rebecca wants to send a “child” ticket to the Creative Team board to Art Directors` swim lane to request the development of the ideas for this key visual. Rebecca knows the parent ticket is a Standard with a deadline, therefore she cares about the consequences of the delay and the class of service may need to be modified. After checking with Dependency Management Poster, she finds out that the class of Service for the Creative team board has to be changed to Fixed Date and added to a Reservation Board as a “Standby” class of booking.
Classes of Booking and Reservation Boards.
Each Kanban board has its Reservation board, displayed nearby. It looks more like a calendar of weeks that allows you to “book” a week to start working on a particular request. There are 3 classes of Reservation that the team is using: Guaranteed, Reserved, and Standby.
- Guaranteed – means this ticket should be included as a priority to go through a board during a particular week. In other words, its compliance should be guaranteed.
- Reserved – means that this ticket has a secondary priority and has to be included in an average amount of tickets, that normally goes through this board (average throughput).
- Standby – means this ticket can wait to be included in the maximum throughput of this board. This means that this work item has chances to go through the Kanban board on that particular week.
So, Rebecca sends her child ticket “Ideas development for Shoulders&Head KV” to a Creative Team board to Art Directors Swim lane and identifies a “Standby” class of Booking at their Reservation board for the next week. If her standby ticket will not be pulled during the assigned week, its class of Booking and class of service will be reconsidered. So, she may schedule it for the next week already as Reserved or even Guaranteed class.
When the work is done, Art Director fulfills the request and sends back several ideas for the Account Managers Team to choose from. The team conducts a meeting and chooses the 3 best ideas to develop. Then Rebecca creates briefs for Copywrites and Designers. She creates new “child” tickets out of her subtasks and sends these requests to Design Studio, Designers` swim lane, and Creative Team, Copyrighters` swim lane. Traditionally, she verifies the class of service for the dependent ticket and its Class of Booking for the Reservation board using Dependency Management Poster. The follows up on whether tickets were accepted and modifies their classes of service and booking if necessary. In general, Rebecca as an account manager will continue working on this project in this manner. She will be submitting further requests to other kanban boards as a consequence of the communication with the client until the project is finally delivered.
What does this approach help you with?
We only care about delays if their impact is large. Therefore, we need effective dependency management only when the impact of the delay is sufficient. Triage Tables help to understand the impact / the cost of delay. And only if an item requires the Fixed Date class of service, we need to manage dependencies. Otherwise, we can just let them happen and manage them as they occur. It massively simplifies the task of Dependency Management in Kanban and allows people to have a fast and low-cost solution to decide with confidence, based on the understanding of the cost of delay and the class of service of the item.