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Continuous Improvement (Lean) – Event #2: Takt Board – Visualizing How A Project Moves

BIT Development is striving to make its work more transparent and is accomplishing that through the Continuous Improvement (Lean) process. The process began with a review of the rate at which projects move through BIT Development – from the time an agency requests an initial project estimate until implementation of the developed item. This is defined as the Project Cycle Time and is comprised by the phases of the Project Development Life Cycle (SDLC): Initial Estimate, Initiation, Analysis & Design, Development, User Acceptance Testing, and Implementation.

Before implementing Lean, BIT Development had no clear way to tell how many projects had been started or completed or where they were in the SDLC phases without manually counting them. Every development team had their own process and there were no standards followed across teams. Because of these challenges, BIT Development was unable to effectively manage its resources and manage the flow of projects coming in and going out.

In order to track and visually represent a project’s progression through the SDLC, a large Takt Board was created. This enables leadership, and others, to:

  • Identify SDLC and project bottlenecks;
  • Show how projects flow through the SDLC; 
  • Make decisions about choke and release points;  
  • Effectively prioritize projects; 
  • Identify opportunities to pool and temporarily reallocate resources; and
  • Identify when BIT Development is achieving its goals.
So, how did BIT Development do this? First, the team had to identify the bottleneck, the point at which projects slow down as they are waiting for resources to become available for the next phase to start. Second, it was necessary to identify the constraint. Every process has a constraint and the team recognized that when a project reaches the Development phase is where the primary value comes into the product, and the team identified this point as the constraint of the SDLC process.

The following picture shows Development’s Throughput Operating Strategy (TOS) which was developed during the Takt Board Event. . In short, it is a high-level division process that helps direct process improvement efforts. By developing the TOS, it is easier to understand which activities should be improved first and how the managers and employees can assist in the effort. As shown by the TOS, the Development phase was identified as the constraint. The next Continuous Improvement effort will be centered on Requirements Gathering/Analysis & Design.

How does the team ensure projects move smoothly through the SDLC process? After identifying the constraint (Development phase), encourage focus on project tasks and discourage multi-tasking. Then, subordinate the other areas to the constraint – make sure the other parts of the process are working at the same cadence so as not to overwhelm the constraint. For example, if the constraint (Development phase) can only handle 40 projects at a time, there is no reason to put more than that into the Development phase because they won’t get done. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest the whole system will slow down. A system of Choke and Release, ensures that the system only gets “fed” what it can handle.

The final step is to elevate and manage the constraint. After assuring that the Development phase is not being fed more than what it can handle, the team works to improve the phase so that it can handle more. This is will improve operations over time to ensure more projects can get completed and delivered to Agencies.

The Takt Board project not only encompassed the creation of a physical/visual Takt board, but also the foundational processes/practices that keep it accurate and up to date. Using BIT Development’s SDLC phases, projects are tracked digitally and visually.

“I was a member of the Takt Board Communications Team and not only did I appreciate working with such a great group of BIT staff, but also learned how BIT can leverage the Takt board to identify choke points and constraints to improve our processes.” – Wade Douglas

The digital Takt Board is taken from three systems within BIT – IT Priorities, PPM (Project Portfolio Management), and WoTS (Work Tracking System). The information is put into a spreadsheet and is discussed every other week with Development managers. The managers predict where each project will be at the end of the next two weeks and their predictions are recorded. If a project does not meet the prediction, the manager needs to explain why it hasn’t progressed as planned.

The resulting visual/physical Takt Board is deliberately low tech. Each Development team has its own sticky note color. The project name and IT Priorities number for each project is written on sticky note and is tracked through the SDLC phases weekly. This shows everyone how projects are progressing. The main Takt Board:

Not only is BIT Development utilizing the Takt Board concept, BIT Data Center has embraced it as well. Here is what theirs looks like:

The Data Center’s adoption of the Takt Board helps to demonstrate that this tool, and so many other Continuous Improvement tools, can be used throughout BIT regardless of that group’s activities.

BIT Data Center personnel manage dozens of projects on a daily basis, including internal Data Center projects and projects that are part of the BIT strategic plan. Not until recently was there a clear way for members of the Systems, Integration, Email, DBA or Web teams to track all projects involving Data Center staff. The projects that need to be monitored by this division include those that impact only members of the individual Data Center teams, the projects that impact multiple teams within the Data Center, and the projects that are included under the BIT strategic planning site.

In response to this concern, a Takt Board was created to not only show work involving all of these types of projects, but to also better track status of all projects. The Takt Board gives a visual understanding of the different projects the Data Center is involved with, and at the same time, it helps to clearly identify resources that are being used effectively as well as those that could be used more effectively. Moving forward, they will be able to better plan projects with a clearer understanding of their existing project commitments, including the human resources assigned to each of them.

Each project that is lead, whether it is in the strategic plan or internal to the Data Center, will now adhere to these principles:

  • All Data Center projects must follow a standard process based on the PMO Project Management template (scaled by project)
  • The Data Center will create and utilized a project FullKit (standard processes that each project will follow regardless of size or timeframe)
  • The Data Center will create standard project templates to be used for all projects
  • The Data Center will track projects based on LEAN processes (including Takt Board, FullKit)