Unlocking Kanban: My KSD Course Experience

I’m not one for collecting certifications for the sake of having them on my résumé, but I have received some feedback about my LinkedIn profile that suggest I need to make my experience stand out more. As part of updating my work experience (still a work in progress!) I began thinking about coaching-related courses as a way to refresh and extend my knowledge… and as if by magic, a friend messaged me about some courses he had coming up. TLDR: I really enjoyed it and thoroughly recommend both Evolutionize and the KSD course in particular.

Kanban is one of those things where many people think they know a lot more about it than they really do; personally I have read books, watched videos, engaged in online forums, practiced Personal Kanban, attended introductory sessions, worked with teams who have been coached in Kanban, and even had the opportunity to observe experienced Kanban coaches, I still felt there were gaps in my knowledge. So when I saw that Jerry’s upcoming courses included Kanban System Design, I signed up immediately. KSD (previously known as Kanban Management Professional Part 1, KMP1) is focused on learning how to design predictable work management systems for teams and initiatives. Jerry’s company (evolutionize.ca) run introductory and more advanced Kanban courses (as well as other topics) but KSD seems to be a good point for me to jump in… and it was only a couple of weeks away.

It was a small class, and the initial self-assessment showed a range of Kanban experience from “informed” (e.g. been to a conference, watched some videos) through practicing (implemented a Kanban board with a team), to “master” – I rated myself as practicing because I’ve been through the initial steps with a few teams but only a couple of time have I had the chance to go further. Jerry used this quick exercise and a question about our expectations as a meta way to demonstrate “Fit For Purpose“.

Pond @ Imperial Palace East Garden @ TokyoI’ve read the story of how David Anderson’s visit to the East Gardens at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, how they control the number of visitors with a simple ticket system. The number of tickets reflect the garden’s capacity; when all the tickets are in use, they cannot accept more people; when someone leaves they return their ticket, which means a new visitor can take that ticket and enter. This low tech approach is the basis of Kanban: the availability of a ticket indicates room for a new visitor. Applying this to how a team use a Kanban board, they pull in new work when they have capacity for it rather than it being pushed on them.

Covering the Core Elements of Kanban, principles and practices was a good refresher and answered some questions for me. Often when people think of Kanban they concentrate on visualization, especially the “To Do, Doing, Done” boards used by Scrum teams, but our brief brainstorming exercise resulted in a list of other forms, e.g. architecture diagrams, story maps, and dependency network diagrams. After covering the practices, we played a cut-down version of the getKanban board game – it’s available online at http://www.kanbanboardgame.com/ The game was a great hands-on way to simulate a few days using Kanban and stimulated some interesting discussions.

In summary, the course was very useful. The content was great; it reinforced or corrected my experience, and filled in a few gaps. The instructor did a great job with the pacing, giving us time to delve deeper where we wanted to and answering all our questions. And my fellow participants helped make it enjoyable by sharing their questions and experiences too.

If, like the people in the cartoon below, you’re stuck, too busy, idle or just looking to learn more about Kanban, check out the courses at Evolutionize!

Agile PhotoWalks


Saturday’s outing with Toronto PhotoWalks (the photography group I started in 2009) was a good example of why I often refer to them as agile photowalks. (If you’re wondering what a photowalk is, then just imagine a group of photographers getting together to explore the streets and parks of the city, walking quite slowly so that we have time to see and shoot anything we find interesting, and then chatting about photography over a drink.)

From the early days of the group, I have always organised and led TOPW events in an agile fashion: walks have a start and end point, and a (somewhat flexible) time for reaching the end. Much like a project with a deadline, how we get from A to B and how much we do along the way are up to the participants. Sometimes the walk’s leader will suggest points of interest, for example there’s an historic building on road X, but when we’re in the area someone might spot a more interesting building on road Y, so we’ll head that way. (Sometimes part of the group takes road X and the others take road Y.) The main thing is that everyone knows the general direction we need to be heading, so if they take a detour they can adjust and still end up at the final meeting point.

What happened on our most recent walk was that the tail-enders (about six of us) had stopped to watch a few minutes of a football match and then took an unintentional detour (ok, we were lost), so when we reach a literal fork in the road we had to decide whether to go south and follow the route the rest of the group took, or go north taking a more direct path and skipping a couple of places we had hoped to see. There was one optimistic suggestion that we could walk faster and stick to the original plan but more realistic heads prevailed and we sacrificed the southern loop in order to try to catch up.

I usually try to stay near the back of the group to make sure no-one gets lost or left behind. The people at the front know the rough plan and can always contact me if they want to discuss options. Sometimes I need to call those at the front to ask them to pause for a few minutes to give the rest a chance to catch up, but the aim has never been to have the whole group (sometimes over fifty people!) walk in a single pack – almost as soon as we set off small affinity groups form because people like to chat or seek out similar photographic targets.

Then, when we reach our destination (usually a pub) we often discuss what we saw along the way – it’s surprising how often people miss something on the left because they were shooting something on the right, for example, so it’s fun to review a few pictures and learn from each other. Once in a while I’ll ask for feedback from a few people (e.g. a table of four to six people) especially those who are new to the group, because I know the regulars won’t be shy about telling me if they have a concern.

As the group has grown over the past 14 years there have been few problems. Membership is open to all but the Open Space “Law of Mobility” (used to be called the “Law of Two Feet”) seems to apply – those who find it engaging and beneficial stay with the group and those who don’t are free to move on.

With thanks to the TOPW members whose photos I’ve used to brighten up this post.


When I hear it said that we should celebrate our failures or that we should “fail fast”, I fear that some people may mistake the intent behind it. The aim is not to fail, but instead to learn from failures. What we should really say is “learn fast” and “celebrate our discoveries”.

As a fan of many forms of motorsport, I was interested to read about a recent experiment with adding “mudguards” to a Formula One car. (The aim being to reduce the spray thrown up by cars travelling at high speed in wet conditions.) One article caught my eye because its headline declared “First F1 ‘mudguard’ test ‘a failure’ – report“. My immediate thought was that the test probably wasn’t a failure – far more likely was that the test didn’t show it to be 100% successful which, given it was the first test of a new concept, would have been unlikely. The report said that “there was still too much spray” but that “The test provided valuable CFD correlation data as well as good driver feedback.” (CFD in this instance means Computational Fluid Dynamics rather than a Cumulative Flow Diagram.)

My takeaway from the article was that data from the test will help them improve the design and their approach for the next iteration of the device. Is that a failure? It didn’t solve the problem (how often does Version 1 of anything do that?) but I would only call the test a failure if they came away from it with no new information.

Rather than call it a failure, why not say the test was successful in generating further insights? Probably because that’s too long for a headline, and “bad news sells”. But when we’re talking about running experiments, especially when we know status reports are summarised as they go up the food chain, why not say the test was successful or that we now know more than we did before the test? Mislabelling it as a failure could lead to unfavourable repercussions, including senior managers wanting to stop experiments because “we don’t have time for failure”.

Insecure Website

You might be seeing warnings about this website not being secure (especially if you use Chrome) because it’s not using HTTPS. I’m currently trying to fix this but I’m a bit stumped because I’ve followed the same steps on all my sites and yet this one is not behaving the same as the others. They’re all hosted in the same place, with the same core plugins installed, and the SSL configuration appears to match… but only visiting TorontoAgileCoach.ca results in the “insecure” / “does not support HTTPS” warnings.

This is as frustrating as a flaky automated test – is there really a problem in the product or is it falsely reporting an issue? Was it last edited by Schrodinger? My next step might be to restore it to its last known stable state, because trying to make changes on top of unreliable foundations is not a smart thing to do… and yet the temptation is to do just that, in the hope that “just one more change will fix it”. Don’t do it!