Kanban Throughput

Hands on laptop calculating kanban throughput

What is throughput? 

In Kanban, throughput is the amount of work delivered over a specified period. In short, throughput is a metric for how much work, or progress, you deliver by the end of a project. Throughput doesn’t count any unfinished work. 

To gauge team performance, you must be able to evaluate it. Evaluating your team’s performance and determining its capacity to deliver helps you make data-driven decisions. That’s where throughput comes into play.

Typically, Kanban throughput data is displayed in a bar chart or histogram. The throughput chart will show the actual throughput on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, which helps display the actual throughput data to the team and stakeholders. Histograms help visualize the frequency of distribution of the throughput data, enabling you to see the skew of the data, width of its spread, mean/median/mode, and how all of these factors change over time. 


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Why are metrics important in Kanban?

The Kanban method is one of the easiest ways to analyze and manage your workflow. It’s so simple because no huge structural changes or ceremonies are required to begin. Metrics are an essential part of Kanban, as they help teams identify problematic issues in their process. 

Agile metrics empower teams to identify areas of improvement to their current process and make any necessary adjustments to improve their workflow. Throughput metrics provide teams with the ability to track and improve their performance over time

Throughput is a good option for many teams for several reasons: 

  • Gauge team performance: Throughput histograms help teams identify trends in task delivery over time. If a team finds that they have a decrease in the number of delivered tasks, it could mean there is a problem with your team. If task delivery is on the rise or at a steady level, your team is in a good place.  

  • Improve collaboration: Throughput encourages team members to work together. Throughput also helps teams identify opportunities for improvement. 

  • Predict performance: Throughput uses metrics to track projects. You can use that data to make accurate predictions about a delivery and improve client relationships.  

Why throughput is an effective metric.

Throughput provides teams with accurate data gathered throughout a period. It measures a team’s performance over time. Tracking throughput using a chart enables teams to maintain a stable workflow. They can evaluate their daily, weekly, or monthly throughput and compare values. If the values are closer to one another, your process is more predictable. 

In one example, a team delivered eight, 12, ten, and ten cards over four weeks. As a result, the average throughput cards would be ten cards per week. By using these metrics to track their throughput, teams identify areas to improve in their process. 

What is throughput’s relationship with WIP and cycle time?

It’s important to understand what throughput, Work in progress (WIP) limits, and cycle time are. Throughput measures a team’s performance over time. Cycle time measures responsiveness. WIP limits are the number of tasks that can progress at a single time. 

Throughput, cycle time, and WIP are connected. Little’s Law, an equation that explains their relationship, concludes that a change in one will affect another, if not all of the others. This law only applies to teams with stable systems, as it works without making drastic changes to the team. 

Little’s Law: WIP = Throughput * Cycle Time

According to Little’s Law, teams with consistent throughput have reduced their amount of WIP. This means they reduce their cycle times, which results in faster delivery. Kanban relies on metrics to help teams identify shortcomings and deliver quality work faster than other methods. 

Here is a breakdown of how these Kanban metrics work together:

  • Throughput is based on the number of cards delivered within the period.

  • Cycle time calculates the time that the team works on the card until it’s delivered.

  • The WIP limit does not allow new tasks to begin until the previous task is complete.

Together, these metrics can help teams be more efficient, do better work, and increase customer satisfaction. Kanban relies on the premise that teams are faster when giving 100% effort to one task. As a result, throughput, WIP, and cycle time metrics are needed to complete tasks within a specified time and deliver quality work. 


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How to measure throughput to make your team more efficient.

A throughput histogram maps how frequently a team achieves a certain throughput during an amount of time. This histogram should give you some basic data, including the median value, width of spread, and distribution of the completed work. 

By tracking throughput, you can accurately estimate future performances. That is to say, once you have a throughput histogram, you can accurately estimate how long it will take to complete a project based on past performances. 

Increase efficiency with throughput.

With better metrics, teams can gauge inefficiencies and make adjustments to improve their work process. Accurate metrics allow teams to set reasonable expectations for project deadlines based on the projects they have completed. 

Throughput helps teams deliver quality work within a set timeframe, improve long-term planning, and build trust and better relationships with customers.

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