Personal Kanban : The Heart of Darkness

From the The Reluctant Agilist Blog
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Personal Kanban Experiment... Weeks 10-12


Kanban. (expletive) Still only in Kanban. Every time I think I’m gonna wake up back in the GTD…

Towards the end of my experiment with Kanban-for-1 I was feeling like I had lost my way. I was still carrying too much work to be able to make use of Kanban-for-1, but my attempts at using it had taught me a number of useful things.
  1. Whatever I use, it needs to be completely portable.
  2. Whatever I use needs to be available to me whether I am online or off.
  3. Whatever I use needs to be simple enough that the act of using it does not become a time/productivity suck. The tool can’t be in my way.
  4. I really like working with a physical board and would like something as close to that as possible.
  5. When I am home, and using the physical board on the wall, the process works quite well for me.

I toyed with the idea of trying to get a piece of plastic that I could use for a physical board and that I could roll up and carry with me. But I’m guessing that the person in seat 21A (who is probably still a bit irked about losing the battle for the armrest) is not going to take kindly to me unrolling my big Kanban board to work on it mid flight.

The Horror, The Horror


I did attempt to use my Kanban journal. This is the book I make notes in each week on how things are going. I carry it with me each time I go on the road, so it seems like a great fit. Exiting Kanban-for -1, I re-created all my post its and created a PK Board in my notebook that was just like the one on my wall. It worked great until I actually placed the post-its in the book. I was right back to the Kanban-for-1 issue. Drowning in a bunch of stuff I could not really see clearly. Just like with Kanban-for-1, if I had to move a task, first I had to dig through the piles of tasks to figure out where it was.

Disclaimer: I should point out that if you are reading this hoping to get to a point where I realize I’m just carrying way too many tasks… you might want to get a sandwich… it’s gonna be a while.
 
I decided to take a look at the Personal Kanban apps again. My requirements were the same:

  1. Must be available on laptop, iPhone and iPad.
  2. Must be as close to my physical board as possible (meaning must allow for swim lanes).
  3. Must have some capacity for dealing with recurring tasks.
  4. Must be available online and offline with a sync capability or something as easy as capturing notes on a post it or index card.

Basically I’m looking for Things, but Kanban style (cough cough Cultured Code cough cough).
Since I’ve started writing this blog people have been kind enough to send in a number of recommendations. Trello seems to be very popular. I’ve also received suggestions that I use Evernote for Kanban. I’d love to be able to do that, but I’ve not yet found a tool that would allow me to do so in as effortless a manner as I am looking for. Basically, if using the tool is more work than pulling an index card or a post it out of my pocket and capturing the item/updating the item while I am in an elevator, walking down the street, or sitting on a plane, it’s too much work.

Unfortunately, none of the tools I was able to find met all my requirements. However, after looking over the options, I decided o give Leankit a try. My reasons for choosing it were not entirely scientific, but I’m human…

Leankit allowed me to do the following:
  1. Set up my swim lanes just like I had them on the wall.
  2. Define the work state columns however I wanted.
  3. Establish whatever WIP limits I wanted and warn me when I tried to exceed them.
  4. It let me color code the cards based on work type.

The last point may seem trivial, but to me, it is very significant and one of the primary reasons that I have so much trouble with personal Kanban applications. The value of my physical board is that I can put everything I had to do up there at once. I can look at it all at once. It is a really big information radiator. For me, it’s a billboard telling me what is going on with the things I feel I need to do. No matter how awesome the software is, or how big my monitor is, there doesn’t seem to be a way to replicate the big thing on the wall + tactile interaction thing.

While my preference for a physical board is clearly established, there is no way that my physical board and my Martin travel guitar are going to fit in the overhead, so I need me some app-age.
 

"Never get out of the boat... Unless you were goin all the way."
(Capt. Willard)

Leankit


I used Leankit for about a month during this project. As far as Personal Kanban apps go, it is my weapon of choice. I’ve not tested out the paid version, which includes some extra features and more detailed analytics, but I found the free version to be very helpful in tracking my work on the road. My favorite aspect of the application was the customization. I really liked that I could set up my board in Leankit to mirror the one I have at home. In practicing any work habit, I believe the first step should always be the physical practice. If it moves to an electronic tool, then it is important to select a tool that allows you to mirror your physical behavior. Leankit offered me the most freedom there.

It even allowed me to set up multiple backlogs so that I could mirror how Things had worked for me. While I wasn’t able to figure out how to get recurring tasks going, I was able to create a ReUsable backlog so that each night I could move the recurring Daily items back into that backlog if I wanted. I didn’t actually end up doing that, but it somehow eased my mind to know that I could.

It also allows you to set due dates, mark work as blocked and it has an icon system for type of work.


So, Leankit allowed me to replicate my physical board on the web. It also has an iPhone application which took a little time to get the hang of, but which allowed me to update items as long as I could get online. With respect to my requirements:
 

  1. Must be available on laptop, iPhone and iPad (PASS)
  2. Must be as close to my physical board as possible (meaning must allow for swim lanes) (PASS)
  3. Must have some capacity for dealing with recurring tasks (FAIL)
  4. Must be available online and offline with a sync capability or something as easy as capturing notes on a post it or index card (FAIL)

From a mobility standpoint, with the exception of offline sync, the tool works quite well. It allows me to access my work, update it, enter new items, etc. You can even set it up to allow you to access multiple accounts. On my iPhone I have Leankit set up to access my personal account under one email address and another one I use for Scrum Alliance volunteer work.

The fact that Leankit did not meet all my requirements is not significant for me. None of the applications I looked at were able to meet all of them. From a customization, portability and usability standpoint, I am a big fan of Leankit.

You can't go out into space with fractions.
Initially I had planned to keep testing different applications. What I discovered after a few weeks was that while I want to the portability, the loss of big information radiator-ness was crippling. This was something I decided needed further research, but not so much in the way of testing additional apps. What I felt I needed a better handle on was why I wanted the apps and what I was actually doing with them. I do expect to go back and test out some additional apps – I really want to take a look at Trello because a lot of people have mentioned to me that they use it. But, after a few weeks with Leankit I decided to bail on trying new software for a while because it was time to start working with a Personal Kanban coach. Coverage of that will begin in the next blog post.
Posted on: May 14, 2013 12:57 PM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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Anonymous
A fascinating post. It is always great to see how others go about implementing Personal Kanban. I must say this is a question both myself and clients I coach have been confronted with. I much prefer using a board and post-it, in particular on account of the kinesthetic dimension of so doing, which was a real revelation for me. I have experimented also with softwares, but do not find that they work so well for me.
Here is how I go about things, for what it's worth. I simply use one of the walls in my study with post-it (super sticky one). When I am on the go I simply use a a signature book, what we call in France a “trieur-parapheur” — to keep my post-it. Typically this type of signature book would consist of about 8-10 sheets of cardboard, and that would be enough to transfer the post-it from my Personal Kanban board. When i set shop somewhere for any length of time, whether it is in an office or a hotel room, it is very easy for me to just transfer the stickies back on a wall. Easy does it. It works very well for me and may well be woth a try. I use a signature book, as I have one I brought in France where they are very common, but using a simple A4 or letter format exercise book or Moleskine could work just as well.


Anonymous
A couple of photos to illustrate my implementation: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pascalvenier/9405788004/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/pascalvenier/9403030085/in/photostream/. I am however not sure links will work in comments.

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