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Agile brewing

16th April 2016

Must admit it, I love beer :). I started to discover and experience beer culture when I moved to Amsterdam two years ago and since then I have become more curious and picky about the beers I drink till the point to start brewing my own beer.

I have just started last weekend with a couple of friends and it was so much fun. Our first recipe is an I.P.A (Indian Pale Ale).

Brewing is an amazing process and as a newbie to this art, I wanted to make sure we were able to monitor what we were doing, and what was still left in a visual way.

Any step missing during our brewing could ruin our 31 litres I.P.A batch, which would be a disaster.

I thought I could bring my knowledge delivering software to the brewing field and I built a kanban board to track the process.

For the ones that know nothing about Agile, kanban is a framework managing the creation of products, and it is widely used in software development to see the evolution of the product.

Kanban is based on 3 basic principles:

  • Visualise what you do today (workflow): seeing all the items in context of each other can be very informative.

  • Limit the amount of work in progress (WIP): this helps balance the flow-based approach so teams don€™t start and commit to too much work at once.

  • Enhance flow: when something is finished, the next highest thing from the backlog is pulled into play.

In our case kanban would help us to have a clear focus, and visualise all the steps throughout the brewing cycle.

The Kanban board

Back in the 1940s, Toyota optimised its engineering process by modelling it after how supermarkets stock shelves. Supermarkets stock just enough product to meet consumer demand, a practice that optimises the flow between the supermarket and the consumer. Because inventory levels match with consumption patterns, the supermarket gains significant efficiency in inventory management and optimising for the customer.

Our brewing process was split into three user stories:

  • Check recipe ingredients.
  • Sanitise equipment.
  • Brewing.

Each of them was divided into smaller task that could be picked up by any of the brew masters :)

For example the user story, "Sanitise equipment" was divided into:

  • Sanitise the fermentation barrel.
  • Sanitise the Hydrometer.
  • Sanitise the sampling tube.

Simple and effective, we had three columns in our board: to do, in progress and done. Each column represents the status of any task at a given moment in time.

At the beginning of the process all our user stories and tasks would be in the "to do" column and they will move to other columns progressively as we start brewing.

Final results

The brewing process finished successfully, we have a 31 litres fermentation barrel, converting sugars into alcohol :).

I found the experience very rewarding and I could see it working as a team building exercise. I would call it "team brewing", everybody would be able to taste the results of their hard work and take credit for it too.

One other thing I loved was to bring something I had been using in my work for a long time using tools like trello to a complete different field.

I will let you all know how our beer taste once the fermentation process finishes, in the meantime I want to finish this post with one of my favourites videoclips. Enjoy the life!!

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