3rd Party Hand-Offs in Kanban

3rd Parties Kanban

There are times when 3rd party dependencies are unavoidable. Many teams attempt to avoid playing cards through the wall until they are sure 3rd party work is complete and won’t become a blocker by the time the developers pick up the work. But, the devil is always in the detail and hand-offs are inevitable in certain situations. I’ve also seen situations where a hand-off mid-development is part of the process.

When you do have a hand-off scenario many teams simply stick a blocker sticker (magenta post-it) on the card. This is fine for many situations where the 3rd party can give you a really fast turnaround. However, if the 3rd party is going to take several days or weeks to resolve the issue then teams get frustrated with a blocked card taking up a slot on the card wall – essentially undermining the limits.

3rd Parties Kanban

Here’s a quick explanation of the example card wall above to demonstrate how I’ve visualised the hand-off mechanism:

  • The Analysis Done column and the 3rd Party Done column are considered a combined buffer.
  • Developers pull work from the Analysis Done column or the 3rd Party Done column when they have the capacity to deal with it. An important conversation must take place at this point with the Product Owner to ensure the card with the highest priority is selected for development effort.
  • If a card requires 3rd Party work (a hand-off), cards move from the Dev WIP column to the 3rd party WIP column upon hand-off.
  • When the 3rd Party have completed there work and essentially are handing back, you move the relevant card from the 3rd Party WIP to the 3rd Party Done column. Yes! This is a right to left flow, but this is important.
  • As per the second point above, the Analysis Done column and the 3rd Party Done column should be seen as a combined buffer to pull from.
  • I’ve seen cards go around this loop several times as local teams and the remote 3rd Party work through the layers of the integration ‘onion’.
  • Column limits within the pipeline are still in place and you may want to think about placing limits on 3rd party columns, although in practice I’ve found this to be a challenge.
  • Another way to look at the 3rd Party section is as a normal dev WIP and Done, but with a left offset and the columns reversed. Not sure if what I written makes any sense so hopefully you catch my drift?

As always I’m interested in feedback, thoughts, or constructive criticism on this technique.

3 Comments on "3rd Party Hand-Offs in Kanban"

  1. Well, it’s a good technique in some regards. However, honoring the WIP limit for a “stuck” card would cause lots of pain: “Why is no one working?” “We’re waiting for 3rd Party.”

    The response to that pain could be to fix the delay. If only a few things go thru 3P, then maybe it’s OK. If most things go through there we might be better off to fix the problem

    • Hi Ron, the team build an aggregation platform which integrates with over 200 external data providers. They do a mix of maintenance (end points regularly change!) and on-boarding of new data providers. The 3rd party hand-off is part of the process. You’re absolutely spot on with “better off fixing the problem”. The team are working on fixing the problem but due to the specific industry (can’t go into much detail here I’m afraid) and the contractual relationships with the data providers, this reflects their current process.

  2. Hi Ian, good post as always, keep it up. I like to keep it simple and keep things moving and the way I find this works best is when third parties (which are often our direct clients or suppliers direct to our clients) are fully aware of the impact they are having (even if we can efficiently work around it) so we have a ‘blocked’ column which is smack bang between our backlog and planning columns. We rely heavily on third party API’s for some of our product development (which are worked on in parallel) and as such it’s really important for me to make sure our client is fully aware of the impact these blockers are having. I like to keep this smack bang in their line of site and not hive it off because I feel it would diminish the importance of the 3rd party work from our customer’s perspective.

    Loving your blog, I use it as reference for much of my work and within posts I write (I think you might be in one that gets published this week actually)

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