Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD)

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Oct 06, 2020

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The Cumulative Flow diagram helps one to visualize the workflow management system with the work progress over the cycle time. In the last few articles, we discussed about the Kanban system and Kanban boards, etc. There is a lot to learn in the Kanban system. There are various tools to learn and that helps implement and track the system. We need to know what cycle time is before we go ahead in this blog. The cycle time is the time taken for the goods or services to navigate from the beginning of “Work In Progress” to the “Work Done” state. The WIP and Work done represents the 2 important columns of the Kanban board. WIP is the state where the actual work of the goods or services commences and ends. 

Are you meeting the SLA? Are you delivering value at predictable intervals? Are you able to commit to the deadlines provided by the customer etc are the questions that bother the mind of even a very able project manager? In this article, we will discuss a tool that addresses all these questions and help you in delivering value, meet SLA, and commit to the deadlines.

Kanban boards as we have seen is simply a billboard or whiteboard that has a minimum of three important columns those are “To-Do list”, the “Work In Progress” and finally the “Work Done” columns. The Kanban cards which have the details such as task, the assignee, sequence number, what works, etc are simple cards that go in from the “To Do” list and navigate to other columns as we progress from left to right. In this article, we will discuss the cumulative flow diagram that helps in many ways. To know more you can take up the Kanban course with the StarAgile institute.

What is a Cumulative Flow Diagram

The Cumulative Flow diagram helps one to visualize the workflow management system with the work progress over the cycle time. It helps one to know the current progress over backlogs, Work in Progress, the work done, and the throughput over the cycle time.

There are three important parameters to look for in the Cumulative Flow Diagram they are as follows,

  • The throughput
  • The cycle time
  • The Work In Progress (WIP)

Work in progress is one of the core Kanban principles

A typical Cumulative Flow Diagram is as shown in the diagram below,

CFD Kanban

If this interests you and you want to know more then take up the Kanban Management Professional Certification at StarAgile.

You need to look at the diagram like this if it is evenly progressing from left to right over time that means it represents stable processes and a stable Kanban system.

Best way to read CFD Kanban

Lets us read the Cumulative Flow diagram from the diagram below,

 Cumulative flow diagram

As shown in the diagram above the purple color represents the work done state. The orange color represents the backlog or to-do list. The layers in between the backlog and work done are the work in progress state. There are 2 colors in WIP they are red represents the development stage and blue represents the testing or the QA stage.

Let us see the next diagram,

sudden scope changes 

If you see there is a change in the pattern in the backlog in which the vertical height represents that the new work is added and if there are scope changes than the orange layer that is the backlog changes a constant horizontal line that is from left to right.

Let us see discuss the next diagram, 

ideal progress

In the above diagram, there is constant change in the scope as indicated by the steep rise in the orange layer as a vertical line. Now if you read the diagram by comparing the days from day-x and day-y you see that there is constant change in the red and blue change the same way as it was from day-x to day-y, this represents that there is constant Work in Progress.

Let us consider another scenario,

Improper status of states in CFD

In the above diagram, as you see at day-x and day-y there is a lot of difference in the heights of the WIP that indicates that it is not stable and there is a lot of WIP added as the day progresses and it is not getting converted into Work done. So you need to think whether there is any issue or there are any blocker cards that are the blocker tasks in the WIP. Also if you are adding more and more to the WIP from the backlog this is not good either. You can add any new work only when you add the human resources to the WIP. From the diagram, you can make out that it is not stable and will cause less work to be completed or not meet the deadlines. The best way to prevent this from happening is to apply “WIP limits” to the Kanban board. One of the best ways to master Kanban is to do Kanban training online at StarAgile institute.

Let us discuss another scenario,

blocker for single teams

If in the CFD any of the WIP layers is constantly decreasing as the days progresses than it indicates that one of the teams from the diagram it is the development has been blocked. To rectify this scenario you set the WIP limits and ensure you have a stand-up meeting to overcome this.

Let us consider how the Kanban flow chart will look like when multiple teams are getting blocked. As shown in the diagram below,

blocker for multiple teams

As shown in the above diagram both the red layer and the blue layer are both decreasing as the day progresses this indicates that multiple teams have been blocked. This happens when there is any major issue or bugs in the work. Take up the Kanban certification program by attending the training at StarAgile. After successful completion, you will get the certification issued by world-renowned Lean Kanban University.

How to Understand the Data on CFD Kanban

There are three major data that you can understand on the CFD Kanban is to see if the WIP is stable, or inflated by too many tasks and underinflated that is flat by team blockers. By measuring the WIP you can see the throughput on any day of the diagram and measure the cycle time during any period in the diagram. Remember that you can check 3 important parameters on the CFD that is Cycle time, Throughput, and WIP. To understand and ensure you do the CFD correctly in the real-time scenarios attend the Kanban training at StarAgile institute.

Before wrapping up, know the advantages of using Kanban Cumulative Flow

The major benefits of CFD Kanban are as follows,

  • It is a compact chart that covers a large amount of data such as in months or years to check and analyze the data.
  • It is a great visual aid to look at the data such as WIP for understanding the general workflow management
  • It is a great tool to identify the workflow issues upfront such as blockers and work on solving them head-on to prevent major delays or burnout.
  • The steady CFD is the stable and smoothly rising curve from left to right
  • If the WIP is inflated then it indicates that it will lead to missed deadlines and more meetings
  • The WIP increases only when resources are added to the WIP
  • Put WIP limits to get rid of the blockers earlier in the stages so that there are no blockers created

StarAgile offers 2 certifications such as KMP 1 certification and KMP 2 certification to learn and train on Kanban. Enroll now to reap the benefits of the Kanban certification. Keep Learning!!!


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