Nowadays, the increasing challenges that businesses and organizations in general face to maintain good reputation in their fields of work, requires that project managers deliver consistent and good quality work to clients. In the course of a project, it is not rare that many issues may appear posing a high risk to the smooth flow of work and to the project’s completion as well. These issues are often called project “blockers” which need to be correctly managed at work. In this article we take a look at what project blockers are and how they can be efficiently managed at work by employing the Kanban method.
What are Blockers?
Blockers in a project can be understood as special events which either slow down or hinder the correct flow of work items during the project’s life cycle. In agile project management, both external and internal sources may lie behind a blocking event. External sources are normally related to events originated outside the work team (e.g. technological resource disturbances, changes in the project’s scope, etc.) whereas internal sources (e.g. miscommunication, lack of compromise, etc.) are dependent upon the work team itself. Project blockers generally tend to require urgent actions and teamwork to solve them.
Managing blockers at work is critical to maintain project consistency and usually requires some effort to efficiently carry out. If the management of blockers is not implemented properly, it is very likely that once fixed, the same type of blocker could happen again. Managing blockers is not simply fixing the blocker and moving forward, as the frequency of occurrence of blockers impacts both lead time and cycle time. It is important, therefore, to prevent blockers from happening by following some tips that could help managing them correctly, as follows:
- Gather and evaluate blockers. Collect as much information as possible concerning the occurring blockers. One of the most important metrics here is the total amount of time associated with the blocker that disrupts the project. This can help identify relevant blockers that need to be tackled.
- Cluster blockers. Grouping blockers into either internal or external helps classifying which type of blocker is impacting more the project as a whole. Usually, internal blockers are easier to work with and tend to have a straightforward solution.
- Break down blockers. By breaking down the blockers into specific types of groups, it makes it easier to identify critical groups that must be eliminated over time.
- Prioritize blockers. Make a list of existing blockers in the project and prioritize them based on some criteria, as for example, time, control, easy of resolution and costs. Time factor can be used to calculate the total amount of time that blockers have been active. The control factor refers to knowing which blockers are controllable and which ones are not controllable in terms of their impact on the project. A possible way to prioritize is usually achieved by considering, for example, the total blocker time and its easy of resolution. This allows achieving “quick wins” in the project by fixing blockers that are relatively quick to be solved and that represent a positive impact in the project´s performance.
- Solve blockers. In order to effectively fix blockers it is important firstly to find what is the real root cause of their presence in the project. Here, a possible tool that can be used is the “5 Why” technique, where you ask “why” five times regarding the challenge being investigated. For each “why”, you should state a reliable answer. This can lead you to the root cause of the blocker for which a solution needs to be implemented in order to eliminate the blocker.
Effectively Manage Blockers with Kanban
During the development of a project, it is common to note blockers along the way, from the very idea conception until the project conclusion. It is important not only to gather information regarding existing blockers that may arise during the project but also to understand the blockers and fix them as soon as possible.
The Kanban method can assist you to effectively manage blockers by providing firstly visual information related to existing blockers. This can be done by using digital Kanban boards which help identifying the corresponded work item that is blocking the project as schematically shown in the figure below.
Digital Kanban board for managing blockers at work.
In this case, there is a blocker hindering the progress of the project in the “Test” stage. The cause of such a blocker could be for example due to technical problems related to important resources that should be available at the right time.
After identifying the blocker, it is also possible to collect data related to it, as for example, the total amount of time the blocker was active until it gets solved. Additionally, the frequency of occurrence of the blocker can also be tracked as well as the many different types of blockers that are hindering the project.
Both the visual information as well as the metrics associated with the blockers can be further analyzed in order to find the root causes of the blockers and help the project team to solve the blockers aiming at avoiding project interruptions and leading to a better productivity during the project.