Lean, Agile, Innovative. Development at SWMS

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Lean, Agile, Innovative. Development at SWMS

Unpopular Onlooker: The Risk

At some point we are all customers and none of us likes to buy a pig in a poke. The bigger the investment - for example an individual software solution - the less risk you want to take. Unfortunately, this risk seems to increase with the size of the project. This also applies to the contractor, depending on the contract.

Frequently, fixed budgets for a fixed scope of delivery are agreed in this way. Although this provides clarity about sums and deadlines, what happens until the project is completed, the laughter about some project cartoons gets stuck in your throat. In the best case scenario, the effort at completion was close to the actual project costs.

Agility. More than a Trend Word for SWMS

As companies grow, so does the need for organization. At first glance, predefined processes and hierarchies ensure transparency at the expense of flexibility and creativity. The renunciation of defined structures results in a loss of control and efficiency. The agile approach tries to create control through transparency without radically overturning grown structures and proven processes.

After SWMS 2015 was looking for a more flexible alternative to Scrum, we came across IT Kanban by David J. Anderson, whose evolutionary approach we liked very much.

Kanban can be applied to any process without having to change it initially. This was an important point for SWMS to take the employees with them. The philosophy behind Kanban and how it works in detail would go beyond the scope of this article, but they are definitely worth reading (see "More about this topic")! Without this knowledge it will be difficult to implement Kanban in a target-oriented way and to evaluate its success later.

ursprüngliches Kanban-Board bei SWMS

Fig. 1: The Original Kanban at SWMS

The introduction to the topic and methodology was accompanied by the Agile trainer Holger Koschek. A cross-project Kanban board was set up, a WiP ( Work in Progress) limit was set and a date for the Daily Standup Meeting was found. Furthermore, a set of rules was created from parts of the Kanban method portfolio that matched our processes. Three years have passed since then and it is time for a small conclusion:

Kanban at SWMS - A Success Story?

The superficial truth is: The Daily Standup is still taking place consistently. However, the processes in the company are still quite heterogeneous and the Kanban board is no longer one.

Did Kanban fail at SWMS?

Doubts about the success of Kanban at SWMS are also discussed internally: In the daily meetings with rounds of often more than 20 employees, the Kanban board was soon literally out of sight. The benefit of knowing what is happening in other projects is also not always clear at first glance. However, ideas for solutions are repeatedly ignited and the resulting knowledge about bottlenecks, processes and applied methods in the company is undisputedly a great added value.

If you also look at the working methods within the teams, we also find that all teams now work with pull-based ticket systems that are more or less similar to the Kanban. The standups have been extended to include project-internal meetings, whereby this increasingly also includes the client. The fact that the coffee reserves are also marked with a "signal card" - the German translation for Kanban - has more than an anecdotal character.

More transparency, more networking, more "We"

In this way, SWMS Kanban has spread almost secretly within the company. And what's more, in the spirit of Taiichi Ohno, the developer of the Toyota production system and also the origin of Kanban, SWMS integrates its customers into its internal task management if required:

A tried and tested variant of project management has also been established from this: Customers order individual requirements (tasks) on a "Kanban board" (e.g. Microsoft Planner, Trello, Excel-Online). Here the customer can prioritize these according to his wishes and also learns which tasks have already been processed or completed. This procedure guarantees customers a high degree of transparency, services that meet their requirements and calculable cost development. Regular partial deliveries in the form of betas, individual software modules or features allow the customer early control. At the same time, they act as feedback for SWMS in order to work efficiently.

During a daily, approximately ten-minute meeting of all employees, current tasks and problems are communicated in order to call up interdisciplinary solution ideas and to draw on tasks with expert knowledge. Afterwards, needs are deepened in a small group. The Daily Meeting provides colleagues with an overview of company activities, project managers with workloads and priorities. Empowerment and team building are also welcome side effects.

In short: Whether our method is still "Kanban", remains to be seen. However, the introduction has developed into a great success at SWMS.


Effect of our Lean Development in Key Points:

  • Short Response Times
  • Earlier Project Start
  • Higher Delivery Quality due to Regular
    • Adaptation of the Feature Set
    • Communication
    • Prioritisation
  • Empowerment of Employees
  • Transparency within the Company
  • Transparency of Order Status
  • Sense of Togetherness

More about this topic:


Anderson, David J.: Kanban. Evolutionary Change Management for IT Organizations
Epping, Thomas: Kanban for Software Development
Ohno, Taiichi: The Toyota Production System


Title photo credits: https://pixabay.com/de/problem-l%C3%B6sung-hilfe-support-3303396/

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